Posted by: elightkeeper | April 14, 2010

Cyberbullying and Social Media

Today is the ” Day of Pink” in Canada.  The idea for this day came out of a rural secondary school in Nova Scotia in 2007. As the story goes, a new Grade 9 boy showed up for his first day of school wearing a pink golf shirt and was bullied by others teens at the school.  

In response to his poor treatment, two boys from the same school went out to a discount clothing store, bought 50 pink shirts, and went online to get their classmates to come to school the next day wearing the shirts. The goal was to create “a sea of pink” and a sea of support for the new student.  

The inspired plan was a huge success.  Even students who didn’t get one of the 50 discount shirts arrived at school the next day wearing pink of their own – pink hair, pink ties, pink anything they could find. These two boys had decided to make a statement against bullying and they expertly used social media to mobilize their peers.

This is an example of the positive power of social media. It can connect people in a way and at a speed that is almost breathtaking. It can skirt informational filters within mainstream networks and organizations that are increasingly associated with bringing good intentions to a grinding, bureaucratic halt.  When something goes viral, it can help elect a candidate in a presidential campaign or make an overnight star out of an unknown talent contest singer in Taiwan.  

But social media can also have a very dark side.  It can be a haven of extreme bullying -or cyberbullying, as it is called –  and for students who fall victim to this, it can be relentless, devastating and even fatal.  

The internet appears to fuel this type of negative behaviour because cyberbullies are attracted to the digital veil of anonymity. A currency of untraceable, vitriolic commentary is common in cyberspace and it is not only teenagers who are trading in it.  Currently, online aggressive behaviour appears in comment sections of online news stories, blogs, chat rooms and video sharing sites such as YouTube. One does not have to look far to find extreme criticism and nasty personal attacks.

Social media provides the ability to network while remaining physically removed, and perhaps that creates an illusion of false protection, even as legislation is devised to deal with those who engage in cyberattacks.  According to author and ethics guru Rushworth Kidder, the only way to combat what he calls an infrastructure of harassment is to “so marginalize bullying that nobody, at any age, thinks it’s cool.”  Adults could start with leading by example.

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