Homotech: Facebook Faces Up to Bullying
Bullying on the Internet, or cyberbullying, is the digital version of schoolyard threats. The number of victims, with ages ranging from tween and teen to young adult, is chilling.
Thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet and mobile devices, what was once a local problem has morphed into an epidemic. A prominent child safety company named uKnowKids has cited results of surveys showing that fully four-fifths of youth surveyed agree that bullying online is easier to get away with than in person. According to a recent uKnowKids study, nearly all middle-school children have been bullied online, while only 10 percent of them reported the abuse to their parents.
Social media giant Facebook, along with some concerned politicians, are finally taking the problem seriously. Facebook has taken steps to help prevent cyberbullying before students return to school in the coming weeks.
Facebook is the most obvious battleground in the war on cyberbullying. With nearly 1 billion (yes, that’s a billion not million) members that login to chat, message, tag photos, and post updates, the social network giant has become the main disseminator for online bullies looking to harass victims on the most public of formats.
Recently, the company changed how content is reported by giving users tools to better communicate their feelings and handle conflicts themselves. The changes are the result of collaborations with three universities, Yale, Columbia and Berkeley. Facebook based its new policy on months of research and focus groups with kids, teachers and clinical psychologists.
"We feel it is important that Facebook provide encouragement for kids to seek out their own support network," Robin Stern, a psychoanalyst from Columbia University who worked on the project, told CNN. "The children tell us they are spending hours online.. They are living their lives with Facebook on in the background."
Getting Help Easily
Facebook has a rule on the books that users must be at least 13 years old to sign up for an account. It’s no secret, however, that Web-savvy tweens easily find ways around the restriction. And not a few of them: Over one-third of Americans under 12 are estimated to have Facebook accounts, according to uKnowKids. That equates to 7.5 million vulnerable adolescents.
Bowing to reality, Facebook officials have offered teens that want to report a threatening post or image a schoolmate a click-link to "This post is a problem," instead of the previously existing "Report."
Then they can answer a series of questions meant to shed light on how serious the issue is and help Facebook monitors to determine if, indeed, someone is being bullied. There’s even a grid for ranking emotions.
Once the intended cyberbullying victim finishes the questions, Facebook automatically responds with a list of actions based on how pressing the complaint is. If the teen is more aggravated than scared, they could choose to send a pre-written message to the other person saying that the post made them feel uncomfortable.
If the student is frightened or feels immediately threatened, he or she is prompted to get help from a trusted friend or adult. There are links to catch anyone who may be feeling suicidal and direct them to professionals and Facebook’s own suicide chat hotline.