I work in social media (Dialogue Consulting). My job, much of the time, is to develop policy to protect organisations, their staff and their users in online spaces. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time working on risk management and mitigation. My company’s core business isn’t young people / cybersafety ‘stuff’ but I have a personal interest. What would you say to someone who walked into your company/org as a ‘consultant’ and just told you ‘here’s your policy, off you go‘? No. I can’t sell business like that. Stakeholder engagement 101. Build policy in a vacuum = ruin the environment by printing more BS.
At the same time, I’m relatively young (won’t put my age on here though!). So I did grow up with some form of the internet (33k internet is a tad different), mobile phones (Snake was the best.game.ever.) and electronic toys (Angry Birds or Digimon?). And I remember a lot of the issues that came up then, and I’m not surprised they’re coming up now.
But the thing I’m surprised about is that the problems are touted as ‘new’. Sexting (sending of nude or sexually explicit photos/videos) is not a ‘new’ thing. MSN was around when I was younger. So was Yahoo! Chat. So ‘kids these days’ using their iPhones, laptops etc to do this – hardly surprises me. And certainly the older teens, it barely surprises me at all. Give any hormonally charged teenager the opportunity to explore their newfound urges, and they will. Doesn’t matter what the medium is. Let’s not forget here that across all ages, Facebook only recently overtook pornography as the #1 activity online. So sexting isn’t new.
Neither is cyberbullying. Because cyberbullying is bullying. No 2 ways about that one. Sure – it can follow them home. Not dissimilar to the use of SMS when I was younger. But at the end of the day, it’s bullying. And we know that young people don’t talk to their parents about problems they experience online because they are afraid of the tools being taken away (Inspire Foundation’s research). So what use is it telling people to remove the child from the problem? Facebook, tumblr, twitter, you name it – they are (like it or not) an inherently important part of a young person’s social life and development of identity and self (See Danah Boyd’s work).
I’m not saying here we don’t have a problem with bullying. We have a problem with bullying in schools, workplaces (see recently announced Government enquiry – adults seem to be just as bad..), homes, you name it. Humans aren’t nice at times. And that’s an unfortunate nature of reality.
My opinion? We need to build a sense of online resilience. I think many young people already have one – trolls will be trolls. The internet is full of a-holes…as with society. We need to build resilience, and tackle cyberbullying like bullying: with cultural changes, across schools, universities, you name it. It’s bullying, using a different tool.
And how should we do this? Collaboratively.
I spoke recently at a youth conference that had some ‘adults’ along as well. The young people and adults were split, to talk about how their organisations might use social media safely.
Both groups came up with the same answer: they needed to develop protocol/policy/guidelines for their use.
But the young people (who I was working with) really impressed me.
The adults wanted to create policy.
The young people wanted to create policy.
But the young people said that they needed to consult with stakeholders. They were ‘old young people’ (16+), but their organisations had people from younger ages (12+). And they acknowledged that they probably didn’t have all the answers, nor know all of the social networks being used (and why). So that was their first step.
And the adults didn’t identify this.
My challenge to you. Trust young people – they actually have a pretty good idea of how they want to be supported. Be weary of the ‘expert’ or person who is far removed from their age (even I would consider myself far removed from a 16 year old!). Because not only do they have very little credibility with the young people, they often don’t have mutual respect that they actually know how they would like to run their own lives.
The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other.