More than 50% of teens have experienced cyber bullying. Parents have historically looked to their children’s schools and local government to address the issue, but what about the social media sites which contribute to the continued existence of cyber bullying? Last week the world lost beloved comedian and actor, Robin Williams, to suicide. While I’m sure most of us felt regret and sympathy for his family, others responded by tormenting his daughter Zelda Williams with graphic, photo-shopped photos of her father. The definition of cyber bullying is “a form of teen violence that can do lasting harm to young people.” Zelda isn’t a teenager, but cyber bullying affects everyone, so this is a message for everyone. We need to do more to stop cyber bullying. It is ridiculous on one level, because if you’re old enough to use a computer and to operate Photoshop then you’re old enough to know right from wrong and how to treat people, but sadly it seems we need to combine some social media training with discrimination and harassment training.
What Social Media Sites Can Do
Six of the most tragic and unforgettable cyber bullying stories end in suicide. These victims who were harassed online via Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and more, experienced such distress that life became unbearable. Jessica Logan and Hope Witsell shared suggestive photographs with their boyfriends, only to find them shared with hundreds of people online. Ryan Halligan was befriended by a previous bully only to be publicly humiliated via shared AIMs divulging personal and embarrassing stories. Megan Meier was duped by neighborhood kids pretending to be a boy interested in her on MySpace. The kids continued their torment by ending the friendship and telling Megan “the world would be a better place without you.” They all killed themselves.
In a 2012 Mashable article, Facebook gave the public an inside look into how they handle inappropriate content. For the then 900 million person user base, the social network utilized four support teams (an Abusive Content Team, a Safety Team, a Hate and Harassment Team and an Access Team) to respond to inappropriate content. Anything found to violate the company’s policies, Statement of Rights and Responsibilities or Community Standards is removed and the publisher is warned… Warned? The content the publisher shared could have caused someone to kill themselves – seems less like suicide to me and more like murder – and we’re WARNING?!*&$ them???
Perhaps these sites should require social media training with an anti-harassment element as part of their “sign up” process. We have moved so much of our lives online that bullies are emboldened because they don’t have to face anyone; they can sit behind their computer screens all day. They don’t have to feel the repercussions of what they say. After all, they aren’t really saying it to an actual PERSON, it’s just a webpage, no one takes comments on social media seriously. Right? Well, 4,400 youth suicides say that is wrong.
What Corporations Can Do
Cyber bullying might not seem like a problem for corporate America, but the more integrated our personal lives become with our professional lives the more likely it becomes. We are just starting to wrap our minds around creating social media policies that will act as a guide for employees on how to accurately represent our brands online (and requiring social media training on those policies) and now we need to worry about harassment online?! Yes. Just because harassment does not occur at the office does not mean employers are not liable. A recent sexual harassment case in Melbourne, Australia proves that the workplace “could be anywhere you take your laptop.” Accountant Jemma Erwin was harassed by a co-worker after work at a pub. Although her harasser contested her claims – arguing that it couldn’t be considered workplace harassment, because they were not at work- jurors found him guilty as there was a work connection.
The pub where Jemma was harassed could have just as easily been Facebook or Twitter.
What’ the solution? You can’t prohibit your employees from “friending” each other on Facebook or “following” each other on Twitter. But, you can let them know what is and is not acceptable behavior. It’s not uncommon for co-workers to develop friendships, but there still has to be a line of acceptable behavior. If there is a falling out and work is dragged into it, you want to be able to show that your employees were trained on and attested to your discrimination and harassment training and policies.
In the title of this blog I allude to my “momma bear”; when I hear about stories like Zelda Williams or the countless teenagers barraged by cyber bullies, all I want to do is protect them and see their harassers stopped. Maybe cyber bullying and harassment brings out the momma bear in you, too. If it does, why not let your employees know? You could do it in the form of an awareness campaign. Show bullies you mean business and employees you care all in one simple meme: