As the use of digital technology and social media have grown in our every day lives, so has the rise of cyber bullying. This is more than a social issue however, and is one that marketers should also be aware of, says Pete Wood, senior media account manager for STEAK as well as the impacts it can have on people.
The first time I heard about the phenomenon of digital bullying was about two years ago. My immediate reaction was quite insensitive. Switch it off I thought. Switch it off, block trouble makers and ignore the faceless entity harassing you. Simple right? Well, not really. Cyber bullying isn’t as simple as knowing who you’re being harassed by. It comes in many forms and affects people on different levels and anyone can be subjected to it.
Technology moves at such a pace these days. It races past old fashioned business models, it can change the way a fifth of the world communicates within eight years and it certainly out paces the law. Sadly, with all the good social media has bestowed on the world, it has a dark side. The utopic vision of social media ignores that people are cruel and the online space has done an incredible job at lowering the barriers to bullying to the point where it’s having a corrosive effect on society.
One in five teenagers in the UK have been subjected to some form of online bullying. That is an incredible figure when you consider that there are 10 million UK teenagers signed up to Facebook, which would mean roughly two million of them have faced online bullying. Britain’s fastest growing crime is stalking, which is being fuelled by the relative anonymity that can be achieved online. The law hasn’t caught up. In fact, prosecutions under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it illegal to send indecent or grossly offensive messages, have increased three-fold since 2004 to 899 last year.
It’s not just the kids that are suffering. On a personal level, I’ve faced some pretty grotesque abuse online for nothing more than having an opinion. I’m lucky enough to have an extremely thick skin, but it still knocks you for six that people can be so vile for no reason. I personally know women who are prominent figures within the football blogosphere who are regularly abused, threatened with rape and all manner of disgusting acts of violence. If we’re so aggressive in the pursuit of racists online, as an online society, why are we not focusing the same level of energy on making online abuse socially unacceptable?
Is it a case of general bullying not being fashionable enough to campaign for? Do we not see online abuse in the same way as we see it offline? Or does society just not see it as important because of the youthful fun nature of social media?
One thing is for sure. As digital marketers, we have the power to make changes and help drive through reform. The freemium model all social networks operate on is so because of the decisions we make to channel advertising revenue into the various platforms. If you have the desire of government to make changes and you have the full cooperation of the social networks, then it is possible to change things for the better. After all, why would your clients want to spend money with a company that ignores online bullying to the point where people are taking extreme measures to escape it?
Social media isn’t going anywhere soon. It’s a fundamental way in which we conduct relationships in the 21st century. The generation coming up only know life in this new connected way, so for me, we should be educating them early on about how to conduct themselves. Let them know that everything they do is recorded, tell them there are ramifications for their actions online and build support networks so young people aren’t scared to report cases of bullying. Schools should treat online bullying in the same way the deal with it offline - harshly.
If we can educate the kids, hopefully some of that will rub off of the adults and the world would be a better place for it. Question is, who is going to drive this forward?