A long overdue call to action on cyber-bullying

I watched Amanda Todd’s tragic video message today. Exactly one month and eight days after it was first posted and only five days after she committed suicide.

Words can’t possibly express how it makes me feel. But that’s irrelevant anyway. What’s far more important than expressing our feelings and condolences in my opinion is what actions we take going forward.

Amanda’s video wasn’t the first of its kind, nor is it going to be the last. Bullying has always existed, but never has it been so exponentially powerful and permanent as in the era of social media.

This is part of the “dark side” of the social web that I often speak about however self admittedly , still not nearly enough. As someone heavily involved in the modern digital landscape and its implications on organizational culture, I find I haven’t been acting enough on my greater interest, which is the implications of this space on humanity, national cultures, sub-cultures and our own personal growth and development as individuals. By “implications” I mean both the positive and more importantly, the negative.

I’m a firm believer in moderation, equilibrium, homeostasis or any other term that represents the balanced middle state. I strongly feel that the general mainstream use of social media tools and applications has blown past any form of moderation. The chief culprit of this being that our brains haven’t caught up with the deeper implications and side effects of living in a hyper-connected society, where anyone can publish anything at any time.

Some of us only choose to selectively see the benefits of this social space. Plenty of us (including myself) constantly talk about the great potential this space brings forth in terms of instant publishing, community formation, mobilization during revolution, professional development, sharing, collaboration, social capital building, marketing and personal brand building among other things. However the other edge of the sword has always been there staring right at us: new forms of bullying, death of privacy, forced publicness, forced vulnerability, security risk, instant reputation risk, identity theft, identity hijacking, personal safety, loss of social intelligence, loss of literacy, addiction to technology, reduced face-to-face interaction with loved ones, etc… (just read any book by Andrew Keen)

Worse still, how many of us have truly considered what it means to live in a society where we (especially our kids) are increasingly exposed to LIVE, unfiltered and often out of context videos of genocide, executions, famine, suicides, accidents, murder, etc…? All subject to interpretation by brains that in my opinion have not evolved fast enough to process this kind of collectively experienced emotional cognitive information.

These are real issues and serious questions that I find are unfortunately only discussed when a tragedy occurs (as opposed to year round discourse). I believe that ongoing training and education should be occurring at every level of the educational system for students, teachers and parents as a starting point. I touched upon this briefly in a blog post I wrote during the Vancouver Hockey Riot back in 2011.

I realize that we don’t live in a perfect world and that bullying in itself cannot be completely eradicated. However many modern forms of cyber-bullying can be outright prevented or tackled head on before it is too late.

Here is the kind of potential agenda (I’m drafting this on the spot) I would use for a “Responsible Digital Engagement” seminar for students (with mandatory attendance by teachers and parents). I would have a 50/50 split of positive and negative implications for each item (remember, moderation is key):

  • An overview of the modern internet as it relates to students including latest stats, global usage, key trends etc…
  • An explanation of the permanence of all digital content (including an innocent FB post ,tweet or even private txt as it can be easily converted to a screenshot)
    • How this can affect your friends , family and anyone else you care about (with examples)
    • How this can affect your future career (with examples)
    • How this can affect you personally as a student (with examples)
    • How this can instantaneously alter your life (with examples)
  • An explanation of how your social profile information is being used by various companies
  • An explanation of how your mobile device is tracking your actions
  • An overview of modern forms of bullying (bring in an expert, show videos such as that of Amanda, go over real-life cases, etc… )
  • An explanation of your school’s two-strike policy towards bullying (suspension on first warning and expulsion on second warning regardless of severity)
  • An explanation of how to use the provided whistle blowing channels (this would require a strong positioning effort over time to reduce the stigma associated with telling on someone)
  • An explanation of basic monitoring techniques to track your name in real-time across the public internet (unfortunately text messaging does not fall under this realm)
  • An explanation of basic steps you can take to manage your online footprint (e.g. get your parents to buy your domain, use consistent usernames, fill out your personal social media profiles responsibly, learn about your privacy settings, etc…). I posted up a free presentation for professionals in the workforce on this topic, some of the content can be applied to students as well.
  • An explanation of the school’s “social media engagement guideline for students”. Just like employees have guidelines to abide by 24-7, so should students. I realize this is controversial, but the new digital landscape we live in requires new approaches. For under-age kids, the sign-off and ultimate accountability would lie with the parents.
  • Information regarding bullying support groups that hopefully:
    • Have the ability for victims to contact help via text or instant messenger on their phone instead of just voice calling (which few kids use these days).
    • Have one-on-one peers available to chat in person any time anywhere

All of the above are very rough ideas, naturally a seminar like this would require a strong collaborative development phase including consultation with legal experts, parents, teachers and bullying specialists / psychologists. I’d like to reiterate that by no means am I implying that seminars such as this will stop bullying. What they can do however is reduce the amount of people who are wilfully blind and get them to take action instead of acting surprised and shocked whenever they hear about yet another tragic suicide such as that of Amanda Todd. They can also empower potential victims to speak out and arm themselves with the knowledge to understand the implications of their digital interactions.

I began this blog post by stressing the importance of the actions we take going forward. Those that have attended one of my workshops or have heard me speak before; know that this topic is a personal interest of mine within the broader social media sphere. I’ve been mentioning the need for more classroom education on media literacy and responsible digital engagement for 8 years now, especially as it relates to cyber-bullying. The actions I am willing to take on my behalf (using personal time) and publicly proclaim are as follows:

  1. Waive my speaking fee for the first 5 educational organizations that ask me to talk about cyber bullying related topics such as responsible digital engagement. Expiry: 2014
  2. Dedicate 3 working days to help any educational organization or anti-bullying nfp develop a draft course/seminar on “responsible digital engagement”. Expiry: 2014

It’s not much, but hopefully it’s at least a very small step in the right direction.

Rest in peace Amanda Todd and Jamie Hubley (another victim of bullying here in my home town of Ottawa).

Original post

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply