Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Bullying: Is Technology Helping Us or Hurting Us?
Like many of you, my heart broke when I heard about the suicide of Tyler Clementi last week. Unsure of exactly how I wanted to focus my blog on this topic, I took a little time and read the comments coming through on Facebook and Twitter. I talked to colleagues and friends. And something that really struck me was that many people expressed that technology was the problem. All this new technology can only lead to bad things. Right? I agree that new technology has played a large part in our discussions around bullying the past few years. There seems to be an assumption on the part of the bullies that they can be protected by technology- that their identity can be kept "anonymous" in the cyber-world. Perhaps more kids bully online because it is easier to insult or hurt someone at that distance- versus right to their face. Of course, these hurtful comments or videos now have a much broader reach. They can be disseminated through the school, city, state, or even country in just minutes. And you can't take them back. I also think that technology is evolving so quickly that we don't always understand the new boundaries for privacy.
But even with all the new challenges and channels to bullying that technology brings, I still do not believe that it is the root cause. As a friend of mine tweeted this week (yes- Beth G you get a shout out here) "Thinking on the Tyler Clementi case. Tired of hearing that technology is to blame. I'm pretty sure Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei are, actually". Let's not forget the role of personal responsibility- I believe that gets lost when the blame falls squarely on technology.
So with all of that as a backdrop for this discussion, I decided that I wanted to focus my blog on how technology can also help us to combat bullying and help those at risk for suicide. Risk for suicide can increase among those who feel isolated and disconnected from resources. They can also suffer when surrounded by social norms that do not support help seeking for the resources that they need.
So I wanted to present these resources that have gone viral in just the past few days. I can't help but think about all the isolated kids/teens they may reach:
1. MTV launched an Iphone application to combat bullying called "Over the Line". Users can post a bullying scenario that they've experienced and other users can vote if it was "over the line". This has the potential to help promote positive norms/limits regarding how we treat each other. The peer support online may also encourage users to ask for help.
2. MTV was also involved in the launch of "Love is Louder". This "movement" has begun primarily in response to anti-gay bullying and suicides among LGBT youth. Viewers (and celebrities) can upload videos of support for these youth. It has been described as a way to channel the sadness and anger we all feel following these events. Again- this has the potential to build peer support among individuals that may be at risk. It also introduces celebrities or role models to support positive social norms.
3. Columnist Dan Savage has organized the "It Gets Better" campaign. The goal is to reach out to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual youth who may be the victims of bullying and remind/assure them that things will get better. This campaign has also attracted many celebrity supporters telling their stories (e.g., Tim Gunn from Project Runway was featured on many of my friends' Facebook pages today).
4. Four days ago, Ellen DeGeneres posted "An Important Message" on YouTube regarding the recent suicides of LGBT youth. As of tonight, there had been 235,627 views of that video. She pledged her support and encouraged all of us to have zero tolerance regarding bullying and the loss of these kids/teens.
So that's the complicated story. Technology brings new prevention challenges to bullying. But it can also build peer networks and deliver resources to those in isolation. It can bring the voice of celebrities or other role models into the discussion, which can be a strong influence on kids/teens. I urge us not to write off all technology in light of recent events.
For example, if anyone reading this blog needs help- please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Their technology even allows for Veterans to chat with an online counselor. Amazing!