Cyber bullying is an issue that has been much in the public eye as of late. It’s awful. I want to see free speech protected, but wish people would treat one another with greater respect (a balance discussed in an earlier LAMPpost by Emily Long). Rather than relate the damage cyber bullying can do to a person, news we are surely familiar with, I thought I might take this week’s blog to evaluate some of the proposed methods of preventing or diminishing the effects of the problem.
Professor Garfield Cyber Bullying: For iPad and iPhone OS 3.2 or later
Garfield and Friends go to work educating the 4 and up crowd on cyber bullying with a story that puts the very cute Nermal in the victim’s seat. The whole thing is rather adorable and grants a certain gravity to the lesson it imparts without ever aiming at scary. Most importantly, it looks to teach kids early on not only how to best deal with a bully, but how to avoid becoming one.
STOP Cyber Bullying: A website created by the Wired Safety Group, a non-profit internet safety organization out of Washington, D.C.
Stop Cyber Bullying is more of an informational resource than an interactive means of dealing with cyber bullies. Nevertheless, this site presents some solid strategies. One of its best features is that it breaks down its audience: the homepage asks a viewer to identify as 7–10, 11–13, 14–17, parent, teacher, or law enforcement. From there kids can take a quiz that places them along a continuum of cyber saint to cyber bully based on answers about their online behavior and adults can find some fairly staid advice on how to prevent and/or deal with bullies.
National Crime Prevention Council: Public awareness campaign online and on TV
I am not sure that McGruff is a particularly hip spokesperson (you remember, the dog in the trench coat), but the National Crime Prevention Council does a good job of raising awareness about cyber bullying by reaching out to kids. I’m a fan of the PSAs that are part of the Delete Cyber Bullying Campaign. My favorite thing about McGruff’s Shrink the Cyber Bully game? In the simulated IM conversation “Don’t respond” is an answer (spoiler,the right one) to some of the would-be bully’s more heinous remarks.
Over the Line?: Website, App for Facebook and iPhone
There are a couple of things I like about this system. For one, it works in degrees rather than black and white. As much as cyber bullying is a serious problem, it is important register a difference between just sort of rude and truly offensive. Additionally, the site places teens in a community of their peers, so they might be more eager to share their experiences than on a site with even the impression of authority. That said, I spent some time on this site and while there are posts that have to do with cyber bullying or concerns of online privacy, they are surprisingly rare. For the most part teens come here to seek answers to complicated social situations that could not possibly be adequately addressed with the sites “under,” “over,” and “on” the line rating system. While it is good for teens to have a place to vent, there is a whole aspect to this idea that, I admit, I don’t understand. The site opens with the question, “Ever typed something you wouldn’t say in person?” suggesting that you use this forum to in effect check yourself before, well, you know. To me it sounds like asking for second opinions is a little redundant to logging on. If you need to seek out others to know if something you want to share online is too mean, it probably is.
On the other hand, if someone has done something to you online that hurt your feelings, no amount of voting is required to legitimize those feelings. Clearly this campaign has its heart in the right place and I would be happy to be proven wrong if it helps teens “define the line between innocent and inappropriate.” I have some concern, however, that this particular game-like strategy ultimately encourages them to walk that line and could just as easily be put to use as a sort of digital yo-mama meter, providing bragging rights to those who cross it.
I should disclose my own bias on the matter. Over The Line? is an MTV campaign. It’s hard not to be critical of the efforts toward social consciousness sponsored by the people who bring us Jersey Shore, Laguna Beach, The Hills, and The Real World—shows that feed on the rumor-filled, high-drama antics of teen (or slightly post-teen) life. Contributing to a culture that glamorizes ‘cat fights’ and finds excitement in the emotional confusion of young people is pretty much the MO of MTV. So, no, I am not particularly interested in hearing how the network is helping some young people cope with the same brand of heartache that turns other teens into stars.
What happened to Tyler Clementi was indeed online and malicious, but it was first and foremost a gross, and illegal, invasion of privacy. Nevertheless, his tragedy reminds us that the web is not a world removed. The way we behave online resonates in real life. More than viruses, identity theft, or any of the threats perpetrated by the few that we face online, the term cyber bullying defines those negative aspects of digital life that we do unto one another. Hopefully, our present state of increased awareness can be extended into a more permanent culture of online responsibility. In the meantime, any resource that aims at prevention through education or helps people find solace without becoming bullies themselves is okay by me.