Cyberbullying: When social media hurts. Making it help.

Inside my workplace at SAP, we’ve got a vibrant intranet.  I was asked recently to contribute a story to a “Social Media Experiences” collection, and below is what I wrote today, which I also wanted to share on the extranet.

I also want to hat-tip @Karoli, with whom I’ve been having a vibrant conversation on Twitter about what we could do to help prevent online bullying among other things.  She’s got smart ideas around identity and authenticity online.  Being anonymous online can be incredibly liberating, but it also makes it easy to say incredibly mean things to people that you would not otherwise have said to their faces. We must work to prevent yet more cyberbullying that leads to suicide — and owning what we do and say would help.  As Karoli said: “It all goes to having some kind of reliable identity system. Not necessarily a real name, but a verified identity.”

Please let me know if you know of people working in this area.  I’d love to collaborate.

About Me: Being Out at Home and Work

I married my wife Leanne legally in 2008 in California. Shortly thereafter, California banned same-sex marriages.  We’re in a legal netherworld and are federal strangers, as long as the Defense of Marriage Act exists. I’ve been working at SAP for over 10 years, but only within the last couple of years have I been actively involved in our local LGBT community. One of our most recent and successful initiatives – and nothing short of a career highlight for me – has been to release the It Gets Better: SAP Employees film to great support and success.

Social Media Usage Scenario: It Gets Better

There are many ways LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are helped by being able to be themselves and connect online on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, formspring, blogging, and beyond.  There are also many ways it hurts – often tragically.  According to this recent infographic from The Advocate:

  • 7.5 million Facebook users are under the age of 13 (despite the minimum age requirement being 13)
  • 800,000 kids report being bullied on Facebook
  • Bullied kids are twice as likely to commit suicide as non-bullied kids
  • 1 in 5 cyberbullied teens think about suicide
  • 1 in 10 attempt it
  • 4,500 teens succeed in killing themselves every year

The It Gets Better Project, founded in September 2010, is a collection of over 50,000 videos submitted by individuals, celebrities, employees, and organizations in response to an increase in suicides of LGBT teens or those perceived to be gay or different. The goal of the videos is to counter bullying influences by telling personal stories about how life gets better – to offer hope by speaking directly to people at-risk of suicide.

I managed the making of SAP’s It Gets Better film, which we released on June 7. During this process, we discovered that SAP colleague Steve Fehr had recently lost his own son Jeffrey to suicide after years of anti-gay bullying.  Jeff was 18 years old.

Making the film was a profoundly transformative process for all of us.  Please watch and share here:

The effort involved in making this film was huge – over 100 people from around the company came together to create and support the release of this film, many being interviewed and sharing highly personal stories in service of making it better.

The Impact: Preventing Further Tragedies

As Steve Fehr said shortly after I met him: “I will do anything I can to prevent just one person from suffering what Jeff suffered and one family feeling the agony that we feel.” At the end of It Gets Better films, there is a phone number for The Trevor Project you can call if you are in trouble and need help.  Had Jeff known about The Trevor Project, Steve asks himself, would he still be here?  Steve and his family are not prepared to stop asking that question until they’ve done everything they can to spread the word that help is out there.

SAP’s It Gets Better film has been seen as of this writing nearly 23,000 times, making it the second-most viewed video on SAP’s YouTube channel in just over one month.  Publishing this film, and achieving the reach we have, would not have been possible without social media and all of us eager colleagues and supportive friends who helped spread the message (Cathy Brooks’ Huffington Post piece currently accounts for the highest percentage of referrals to YouTube).  The challenge is to take some of the very same channels and environments responsible for some of the staggering statistics above and turn the tables.

The It Gets Better Project shows how hard work every day in social media channels themselves can bring balance to the cyberbulling.  And the films can come from individuals as well as organizations.  This comes from all of us, and comes down to all of us, to make a difference every day and speak up where we see bullying happen, online or off.  As individuals.

 

PS: The night we released the film at SAP, we had a great panel of anti-bullying experts present.  Watch highlights from the post-event interview reel here:  http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-810994

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Cyberbullying: When social media hurts. Making it help.

  1. Pingback: Don’t Let The Bullies Win

  2. Pingback: From The Bully Files, 2012 Edition

  3. Hi Moya, I couldn’t help thinking that in addition to a persistent identity one could also get a reputation. That reputation could have various qualities, like the personality tests have.
    Of course the danger is once you have an identity the future totalitarian regime is just an SQL query away from identifying the usual troublemakers…

  4. great thought, martin — then the key is how do we prevent people ‘gaming’ that system. the impetus of this was exactly that – that people’s reputation can be slammmed and damaged by these phony ghost accounts… so it works both ways: how do you preserve and grow a legit reputation, but also downgrade or even disallow a “user” set up specifically to degrade someone online…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s