Facebook fights bullying

By Dustin Petty
Staff writer

Katie Springer has just joined the social networking website Facebook.  She was 11 years old, two years younger than the site’s required age to gain membership.

“Most of my friends were already on,” she said, “so it wasn’t a big deal.”

Katie’s mother, Karen Springer, agreed to allow her to sign-up for an account as long as Karen were given the password and allowed to regularly check on her activity.

It wasn’t more than a few months until Katie started receiving taunts on Facebook from girls her age and in her neighborhood.  One night, her classmates were so cruel that Karen was forced into action.

“The girls were at a slumber party or something and they just wouldn’t leave her alone,” she said.  “So I went and kind of screamed at the parents of the one girl about what they were doing.  Her defense was that kids will be kids.”

Katie isn’t alone.  According to a poll conducted in January 2012 by Reuters News, 15 percent of American parents report that their child has been the victim of cyberbullying.

The impact of cyberbullying is felt by its victims.  An MTV study from 2009 on digital abuse indicated that 8 percent of cyberbullying victims have considered ending their own life, compared to 3 percent that have not been cyberbullied.

But Facebook is attempting to change that.

In March 2011, during the President’s White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, Facebook rolled out new measures that it believes will help students who are being targeted by bullies on its site.

Now, if someone is being harassed or bullied, they may contact a third party who can help with the situation.

Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, explained the changes at the White House Conference.

“We also want to encourage individuals to stand up and to share that bad content with someone in their life that they think can help them,” said Sullivan. “The idea is that when you go to report something on Facebook, you can tell a trusted friend who can act as an intermediary or advise you on the situation.”

The individual being bullied chooses which friend to whom they will report the abuse.

Facebook also offers three thoughts to those who are reporting harassment:

  • Don’t respond. Typically, bullies want to get a response — don’t give them one.
  • Don’t keep it a secret. Use Facebook’s Trusted Friend tool to send a copy of the abusive content to someone you trust who can help you deal with the bullying. This will also generate a report to Facebook.
  • Do document and save. If the attacks persist, you may need to report the activity to an parent or educator and they will want to see the messages.
To some, there is still more to be done to combat cyberbullying on the social networking medium.

Members of the Federation of Parents and Citizens associations in New South Wales, New Zealand, would like to see classes teaching youth how to properly use Facebook and other websites, sharing the risks of online bullying.

In a July 2011 interview, Thomas Tudehope, a representative of the organization said that “The lack of adequate social media education is glaringly obvious as each week brings a new social media scandal reverberating through the web and mainstream media.”

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