CyberbullyingIn the wake of the last week’s column, Kevin Dugan, Director of Social Marketing for Empower MediaMarketing, was kind enough to share his thoughts on the subject via an email dialogue that I would like to share with you. He began by addressing my thought that while there are extremes at both ends of this issue’s spectrum, I believe that the approach taken to instances of cyberbullying, sexting, etc., will end up being somewhere more on the middle ground. Dugan wrote:

Let’s hope so. Both extremes scare… me. I have a 9 year old daughter and a 5 year old boy. Having them on either side of the scenarios you describe pull me all over the emotional map.

It starts with awareness and evolves into education with the hopes ultimately that we’ll see the needle move as it relates to activities and ongoing habits. As unfortunate as the crimes you detailed are, one hopes they can at least help fuel the awareness we need.

Another issue is the source of the message. Think back to your teenage years: How often were you warned away from something by adults, and then embraced it for no other reason than it was contraband cache? Be honest. Most warning messages of this type suffer a lack of authenticity from the kid’s viewpoint. Dugan phrased it better:

The education part gets tricky. MTV helping makes sense to me. We need someone who truly understands and relates to this audience to create these programs. Otherwise it might as well be Nancy Reagan telling kids to Just Say No. You can imagine the laughable result.

So I guess my answer is that for young adults and younger kids to stop the madness, we as adults need to do a few things… [raising] awareness is easy. Giving ownership to the right people to create a program that will educate is the next step. We can fund it, but we can’t be the ones to tell the story. Or it will never stick. Sadly I doubt that will change… regardless of how many people die in the meantime.

And those, I believe, are the most important aspects of this issue: authenticity and trust. Of course, there are some adults who, depending on their style of delivery, can get a trusted message to kids. One example is Rob Thomas, the triple Grammy-winning vocalist for Matchbox Twenty. In the wake of incidents such as the recent death of Tyler Clementi, he has posted an “It gets better” message on YouTube. Check it out:

Dugan also points out that it is no longer the legendary, Warhol-inspired, 15 minutes of fame that kids are after these days. Rather it is — and I love his phrasing here — 15MB of fame. I’ll let him explain what he means by that:

15MB of fame. Kids are seeing that everyone gets their 15 minutes online. And it doesn’t have to be complimentary of them. Reality TV has shown us we can see people at their worst and they get a TV deal out of it or licensing deals or other money-making opps.

This really is a big one that I must confess I had not considered. (Yet another reason why I’ve been grilling my colleagues who have kids.) It does make perfect sense. After all, how many TV appearances, book deals, etc., did Monica Lewinsky get when she was still in the news? Add in the media offerings like Jackass, which seem to revel in this sort of thing, and it all falls into place. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

Then we hit on one of the fundamental issues that is substratum to all of this: Privacy concerns. Often, digital harassment in the modern day takes the form of sharing someone’s private data:

I always point to Google Buzz’ launch as an example of the good and bad behind social technologies. It was put out there for good intentions (look at all the lightweight user actions we can build in — we’ll share for you) and it came back to haunt Google. Google Buzz inadvertently revealed the location of some folks that did not want to be found — by people they had restraining orders against. My point here is that sites like Facebook change their TOS all the time. Kids and adults don’t always realize what their revealing sometimes. So part of the education process needs to involved consumers taking greater responsibility for their privacy online and realizing that responsibility starts offline.

If you are a Facebook user, just think about how many times it has juggled its settings last year alone. If you do a Google news search for “Facebook Privacy,” you can see how much media and industry attention this very issue has garnered. It makes for a disturbing scenario, when something you post privately to a group of friends goes public — with disastrous results. It doesn’t have to be boudoir photography, sometimes it can be as simple as the text of an email discussing something private.

We are increasingly living in public thanks to social media, location-based services, and mobiles. Truly, all the world is now a stage, but one where the dressing rooms have glass walls. How will we evolve socially to meet this new standard? What course would you prefer and why?

Source: “Empower MediaMarketing,” via email, 10/13/10
Image by J.O.I.D., used under its Creative Commons license.

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