In light of Facebook offering a $200,000 grant for research towards cyber bullying, it has made many people wonder (myself included) about how social media has evolved the act of bullying itself.
Bullying was once seen as a normal rite of passage but, in fact, it is the opposite. It is what interrupts growing up, and social media added elements and means that have made it easier. Remember this story about Megan Meier from 2007 in which a mom bullied a teen in Missouri over MySpace on behalf of her daughter?
In general, teen suicide rates related to cyber bullying are on a troubling incline. ABC recently produced a made-for-TV movie on the subject. In fact, the local and national news and morning talk shows have been all over this decade-long epidemic.
Starting with chat rooms and migrating to MySpace, cyber bullying found more anonymity (fake profiles for the use of cyber bullying was and is en vogue), and it seemed more people were willing to engage in the act in the online world.
One could even argue that social media made cyber bullies of people, who would never engage in this sort of behaviour offline. I think we can all agree it is much easier to click “send” for a hateful message than speak hateful words to someone’s face.
Facebook has taken the most heat for cyber bullying, so it is refreshing to see them actively try to help the cause. You can’t blame Facebook for the actions of their users even if that seems to be the easiest route to take. As well, you can’t really fault Facebook for being reactive as opposed to proactive, since we can all share the blame.
Facebook is engaging the research community to provide ideas to end bullying offline and online. This seems like more than just a PR move, even though the optics are incredibly positive for Mark Zuckerberg and company.
Hopefully, the grant is awarded to the right research group, and there will be practical and preventative answers. Most important is not having any more incidents like the tragedy of 16-year-old Megan Meier.