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Online harassment, bullying: Wisdom from someone who’s been there

To mark National Bullying Prevention Month, here – in addition to some fresh research on bystanders further down – are some simple but powerful insights from someone who has been and continues to be subjected to severe online harassment and is now helping other victims recover from it….

CC licensed

CC licensed

“I’m a game developer, I’m a systems thinker so I can see patterns in behavior,” said Zoe Quinn, who, at the XOXOfest 2015 conference, shared some behavior patterns she’s picked up on as a target of sustained online abuse associated with last year’s hashtag storm called #gamergate (as The New Yorker described it, her main “crime” and a big reason for all the harassment was Depression Quest, a free game she created to help people deal with depression). Quinn is also leveraging all she’s learned to help run Crash Override Network, which she co-founded to support victims of large-scale online abuse. With thanks to Kevin Marks for his notes from her talk, here are some observations from Quinn that anyone interested in bullying prevention might find helpful or confirming:

  • Upstanding is influential. “I talked to 300 former trolls and asked why they stopped. They said someone they looked up to said it wasn’t cool.”
  • Dehumanization’s the problem. “Another thing that got the trolls backing off,” she said, “is humanizing the target, not making [the target] a caricature.” This reminds me of deeper psychological insight from MIT Prof. Sherry Turkle in the New York Times last week: that when there’s a disconnect with ourselves, we can disconnect with and marginalize others.
  • Filling a void. Wise adults have been saying this to young bullying victims for years, but Quinn adds a fresh insight about the online kind: The cruel behavior is “not really about the target, it’s about belonging to the group that is attacking.”

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A prime minister & a professor: True connecting in a digital age

Two messages in two media – video and text – by a prime minister and a professor got me, and I’m sure many others, thinking about the good, not-so-good and necessary connecting we human beings are doing on digital devices now, at both international and personal levels.

ModiZuckI haven’t heard a politician from any country speak of using social media the way India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi did at Facebook headquarters today. Back in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did speak of using the Internet “to create norms of behavior among states [countries],” but Prime Minister Modi seems to be doing just that and then some, sending birthday wishes to fellow prime ministers in their own languages (Chinese and Hebrew) and hearing back from them in his own, Hindi, he told his audience at Facebook and – through livestreaming – in India and a lot of other countries.

Geopolitical but personal

This is a very humanizing kind of diplomacy – a kind so needed in our world now. Modi spoke of the world as a family and social media as a catalyst for keeping the family in touch with one another. It gives new meaning to the term “digital citizenship,” a meaning that might be meaningful for US parents and educators to bring into discussions at home and school. Though not without sectarian controversy (that followed him right to the Facebook campus), this is a politician with an approval rating possibly never reached by an American one: 87% by the end of his first year in office (see Wikipedia).

He was a “chaiwallah” as a little boy, a train station tea seller from a very poor, uneducated family, according to Foreign Policy, and he said at Facebook that social media helped him educate himself in a way that humans could never before learn about the wider world. He added that he first went on Facebook not to campaign but to find out what this social media thing was all about and now he sees it as a tool for “the government and the people to have daily bonding.” He said he urges government leaders around the world to try to get on social media because “it would benefit them greatly…. You’ll be able to have a good government if you have many channels of real-time information” from the people. So this politician sees social media as a tool for self-actualization, governance and diplomacy as well as politicking. [He also visited Apple, Google and Tesla Motors on his visit here to northern California, CNN reported.]

Global to micro-personal

Before that innovative geopolitical view of social media was shared across the world this morning, I read a thought-provoking commentary by MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle about social media at the most personal (and probably the most challenging) level. Read more

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From bystanders to ‘upstanders’ & leaders: How it’s done

This is one way it’s done, anyway – the way #iCANHELP does it. And in more than a decade of writing about solutions to anti-social behavior online, I haven’t seen one as effective, pro-social and pro-student as #iCANHELP. [Disclosure: I’m working with #iCANHELP to pilot a social media helpline for schools this year, so I’m biased, but this is why I’m working with them – besides the fact that 1) co-founders Matthew Soeth and Kim Karr are long-time, well-loved educators with deep experience in California’s decades-old student leadership movement and 2) I believe solutions to problems involving students aren’t really solutions if they don’t involve students.]ICH_horizontal-white

The name #iCANHELP says much more than you’d ever think. It says…

  • “We speak hashtag”: Adults call or email for support; students use hashtags. No backstory or explanation is needed. When something nasty is happening in social media, a student can add that 9-character hashtag to a comment, post or tweet, and help is on the way – from peers and adults. Students are much more likely (or more often) to ask for help because it’s so much easier to use a hashtag than, from their perspective, to start a big discussion that’s likely to be more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Help in kind. The response is appropriate to the problem – not just in that it’s digital and in the environment where the problem happens but also appropriate in terms of impact and emotional investment. The latest research shows that digital harassment has less emotional impact than the in-person kind and a lot less than harassment that’s happening both in person and online, and #iCANHELP gets that. They help with a light touch, and they know to map the response – sometimes counter speech, sometimes a pile-on of support for the target, sometimes sending multiple abuse reports to the social media service in the background and, when called for, more than one of those – to the situation.
  • Help in the cloud. Support happens right where the problem happens – in the app or service where the anti-social behavior surfaces and support for the target(s) is needed. I’m not saying the whole problem’s in the cloud. It’s usually in “school life” whether during or after school hours, on or off campus, but help feels more helpful when it’s addressing the most visible representations of the problem.

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Digital citizenship’s missing piece

At the end of a long, thoughtful conversation on stage in Chautauqua, N.Y., last fall, public radio host Krista Tippett asked millennial author and commentator Nathan Schneider, “What makes you despair and what gives you hope?” His answer to both parts of the question focused on agency – the capacity to act, learn by doing and make change.

Nathan Schneider

Krista Tippett interviewing Nathan Schneider at Chautauqua

“I think the sense of despair I feel comes from … when people tell each other stories in which they have no agency,” Schneider said, “in which someone else has to do it for us.” This is how our society has approached youth online safety over the past 20 years, treating it as something adults had to make happen for youth, through “parental controls,” surveillance (monitoring software) and fear-laced “consequence thinking,” as Harvard University researchers put it (see this).

On the hope side of the question: “For me, the experiences of hope are often the stories … that we see in the world where people are living that agency and building the kinds of communities we need to resist the injustice that has sunk so deeply into our world,” Schneider continued. “I hope we can … learn to see that dignity that’s in all of us … to hold up those moments when we find our agency and our ability to make change.”

Agency online too

Add “social media” to that statement. We’re all too aware that the injustice in the world turns up in social media too. We know our children are among those seeing the injustice. Can we picture them having the agency and support to make change in social media and their offline communities (many already are, in fact – e.g., see this from the Today Show)?

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iCanHelpline launched!

I’m thrilled to tell you that, after a successful crowdfunding campaign and with support from a number of social media companies and the Digital Trust Foundation,, launched today. A joint project of Net Family News and #iCANHELP, it’s the California pilot for a national social media “helpdesk” for schools.

whitebg_icon_RGB-01Though there are Internet helplines in many countries, none are just for schools. The closest model, and one that’s owed a great deal of credit and gratitude for our great start, is the UK’s Online Safety Helpline for Professionals, based at that country’s Southwest Grid for Learning, which provides all kinds of safety and ed-tech support to the UK’s schools.

The U.S.’s helpline pilot represents a similar blend of expertise in education and Internet safety – with #iCANHELP’s 15+ years in media and student leadership education and NFN’s 15+ years in the field and service on three national task forces and – but the US’s is unique in its focus on student leadership. Students are key to social change in social media, as well as to resolving issues in social media involving them, and that understanding is at the core of #iCANHELP’s work.

Students as part of the solution

The helpline and #iCANHELP’s work with students online are separate operations. The former works with adults – school and district personnel who call or email for social media help – and #iCANHELP works with students online. As far as their offline work goes, they do on-site training in digital leadership at schools for educators and student leaders. At some point, they may have the resources to fly in and do digital leadership training on-demand, when incidents occur. I hope that day comes soon, because taking advantage of school-wide “teachable moments” can have real impact. Read more

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Social media & what our kids could be teaching us

rachelsimmonsTwo years ago, when “selfie” was named “Word of the Year” and the spontaneous snapping of self-portraits on cellphones was being vilified as yet another example of youth’s narcissism, author and educator Rachel Simmons posted a bit of healthy disruption. She wrote in Slate, “Consider this: The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride – a shout-out to the self.” Simmons gets it. She adds, “Some girls are working it, sure, but others have their tongues half out as if to say, I know I look stupid. But I choose to, and I’m beating you to the judgment punch.”

And there’s the core issue right there: judgment. We so want our children to be spared the instant mass judgment that life in a fishbowl lets in. But our generation’s reflexive conclusions about their social photography and superficiality or narcissism look too much like that same snap judgment we want them to avoid receiving and sharing. When aware of that, we can consciously hold space for them to develop the resilience, agency and positive camaraderie that will not only protect them in and out of social media but also support their self-actualization. Simmons says it so perfectly that I’m just going to quote a whole chunk. She starts with the acknowledgement that, sure, “there is plenty that’s troubling about girls’ tendency to use Instagram to celebrate their physical appearance over their accomplishments….

But I worry more about a world of parents and educators that are overly invested in seeing all social media as problematic, and positioning girls as passive targets instead of agents of their own lives. Every girl is different, and context matters. The selfie flaunts the restrictions of ‘good girl’ culture like a badass teenager sitting in the back of the classroom, refusing to apologize for what she says. I, for one, want to sit next to her in detention.

Me too – what an interesting girl to get to know! I think the selfie also “flaunts the restrictions of” (or represents release from) an older generation’s unqualified, uncritical criticism of the media and media practices of youth – a generation that may not want to live as we do in a fast-paced, forward-projecting society that says “think before you post” but rarely slows down enough to do that necessary reflecting (think how we could deflate digital public shaming if the phrase went, “Think before you judge”). I suspect selfies, Snapchat snaps, little Vine videos and live blogging on Meerkat or Periscope are more about presence than ego – living this moment fully, together, and nourishing the camaraderie and community that protect and promote our (everybody’s) interests, including those of each individual in it. Amid all the likes, favorites and follows, something else is going on that, if we allowed them, our kids could be teaching us.

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Social media literacy 101 (for adults)

“I can’t even” possibly know what I’m seeing in teens’ tweets, texts and posts. Not until I ask them. The very fact that I continued that sentence past the close quote demonstrates that. What do I mean? They hide meaning in plain site. Have you heard researcher danah boyd’s term “social steganography”? It means hiding in plain view in social media. She wrote about that way back in 2010, and it’s no less a reality here in 2015.

We adults need context. Witness the “I can’t even” phenomenon. Which, by virtue of the fact that it was covered in the New York Times this past week, probably means it’s no longer a phenomenon. “I can’t even” can be an entire comment on things – whether tunes, posts, pics, people or anything. It’s words for speechlessness – expressing yearning or some other positive high emotion or just high sarcasm. It’s definitely a “you had to be there” kind of thing.

No time for snap judgment

“Teenagers may not be able to drive or vote or stay out past curfew or use the bathroom during school hours without permission, but they can talk. Their speech is the site of rebellion, and their slang provides shelter from adult scrutiny,” Times commentator Amanda Hess writes. And they (like all of us) deserve shelter from snap judgment, right? Read more

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Tech likely not the main problem in cyberbullying: Breakthrough study

There are some groundbreaking takeaways (and many more insights) in new research from the University of New Hampshire – “The Role of Technology in Peer Harassment: Does It Amplify Harm for Youth?” – and my headline is one of them. Another one is the answer to the question posed in the authors’ headline: “no,” their data indicates. But before going any further with the takeaways, a bit about the study first:

ccrc2Just published in the journal Psychology of Violence, the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 791 young people aged 10-20. Three things make the research itself groundbreaking: 1) unlike most studies about social aggression among youth, it zoomed in on the incidents rather than the people involved; 2) it compared three types of incidents: in-person, digital and mixed (both in-person and online/on phones); and 3) it’s the first to test a theory that has widely been treated as fact, that digital harassment is worse than the in-person kind (because, the theory goes, it can be 24/7 and distributed instantly and widely). The study also builds on the CCRC’s work to define “bullying” and treats it, with its unique characteristics of repetition and power imbalance, as a subset of peer victimization or harassment (see this about that).

The top 4 takeaways are important for parents and educators to know:

  1. Fresh data: About a third (34%) of youth had experienced harassment of some kind over the previous year, 54% of incidents involved no technology, 15% involved only technology and 31% involved both technology and in-person elements.
  2. The negative emotional impact of digital harassment is “significantly lower” than that of the in-person kind – contrary to that theory I mentioned above. “Compared with in-person incidents, technology-only incidents were less likely to involve multiple episodes and power imbalances,” the authors write, adding: “They were seen by victims as easier to stop and had significantly less emotional impact.” So, no, the idea that tech amplifies harm, is not supported by this data. But the second part of this finding is equally important: that the emotional impact of in-person harassment is significantly lower than that of mixed incidents (those that involve both digital and in-person harassment). However…
  3. The digital part is not likely the main problem in mixed (digital and in-person) harassment incidents, the kind that the study found causes the most distress. “It appears likely that it is less something inherent about the technology itself, and more something about the relational nature of mixed harassment incidents that make them so upsetting,” the authors write, adding that the data suggest that mixed incidents “are marked by more intense, personal, and complex negative interactions that have high emotional salience for those involved.” So because the root of the problem is social rather than technological…
  4. Social literacy is needed to grow safety in social media: “Our research suggests that those seeking to prevent the most detrimental forms of peer harassment might focus less on cyberbullying per se and instead [consider] prevention programs that teach youth to handle negative feelings and to de-escalate tensions,” the authors write. “These skills are the focus of a growing number of social emotional learning programs and comprehensive school-based bullying prevention programs that are increasing in sophistication.” [This is confirming – see my 2013 blog post “All kids deserve the safety & other benefits of social-emotional learning.”]

There are many more important insights from the study. Here are some especially interesting ones: Read more

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For kids’ sake, don’t ‘black box’ social media

For our children’s sake, it’s more important than ever that we not “black box” our media, whether as researchers or as parents and educators. An essay from psychologist and media professor Sonia Livingstone in the new scholarly journal Social Media + Society got me thinking about this.

SocialMediaSocietyJournalDr. Livingstone observes that scholars in disciplines other than media and communications are doing that black-boxing and cautions against it. I think scholars aren’t the only ones tempted not to “go there” where social media’s concerned. Not concerning ourselves with the inner workings of complex things started a long time ago – probably when it got tough to understand how an early machine worked, certainly pre-printing-press – but it’s interesting that we’re now black-boxing media too. In fact, Livingstone says we did it with media back in the mass-media era, homogenizing its audiences. I think by its very nature mass media itself homogenized audiences, and – though comparisons of the two media eras can get too simplistic and binary, as the professor writes – this is a fairly significant difference between mass (top-down, one-to-many) media and social (peer-to-peer, multi-directional, produced-by-anyone) media: social media far from homogenizes its users (if only because they can no longer be called “audiences”).

Idealizing ‘face-to-face’?

I’ll get to why it’s more important than ever not to black box media in a minute, but first a couple of other interesting questions Livingstone raises:

“Why is face-to-face communication still prized and practiced in an age of social media? Or, has it also changed, remediated insofar as it now represents just one communicative choice among many? Indeed, are these core dimensions of communication themselves being reconfigured by digital networks in ways that matter? Even, are other dimensions of communication (persistence, share-ability, edit-ability, etc.) now making rival claims?”

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Supreme Court decision & our kids: About context not free speech

Today’s decision by the US Supreme Court sent a clear message about the importance of context for making decisions about what we see online. It was bad news for victims of online harassment and their advocates but good news for parents of kids not thinking about the impact of their online speech and actions.

supremecourt“The Supreme Court ruled in favor of “a Pennsylvania man who posted several violent messages [against his estranged wife] on Facebook and was convicted under a federal threat statute,” CNN reported. But if this ruling comes up in classroom or family discussions, it’s important for parents and educators to tell kids that this decision was not the US’s highest court saying that physical threats in social media is acceptable. What the Court’s saying is that the lower court that convicted the man for his online speech didn’t have enough to convict him “based solely on the idea that a reasonable person would regard” the man’s comments in Facebook as a threat. “The Court held that the legal standard used to convict him was too low, but left open what the standard should be.”

The decision was about legal process not what people can or can’t say online or even how what’s said should be taken by others. It says that courts – and in the case of young people, parents, school administrators and law enforcement – need context. They can’t rely on what any “reasonable person” sees in a post or comment to decide what to do about the post or comment. Read more

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Help us build & pilot a Social Media Helpline for schools! logo

Click here to donate, learn more and spread the word

Hey, everybody! We at NetFamilyNews and iCANHELP would greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word about (and if possible contributing to) our just-launched crowd funding campaign at Indiegogo. We’re in the process of creating a hotline schools can call for help with problems in social media which we’ll pilot this coming school year in California. Please click to our page here.

We’ll help schools navigate sites and apps, report abuse, get to the bottom of an incident that shows up in social media and get content taken down that violates terms of service. This kind of helpline is unprecedented in the US. There are many fine hotlines and helplines in this country, but none are focused on both social media and schools, which deserve help in dealing with cyberbullying and other challenges involving social media. This kind of helpline isn’t unprecedented in the world, however. There are Internet helplines all over Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. Our helpline design is actually modeled on the very successful UK Internet Helpline for schools and other institutions.

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‘Game of 72′: Let’s apply a little ‘social norming’

This is a perfect example of why we need to apply what we know about social norming to social media panics. And in a rare show of levelheadedness from the news media, Global News in Canada helps us get there.

“The Game of 72 – a viral prank urging kids to disappear for 72 hours – is the latest in a series of risky pranks being done by kids and then shared to social media. But the prank, and others like it, may not be as common as many people think,” reports. It certainly acknowledges how scary this prank can be to parents dealing with it, especially those in the UK and France who’ had to – and this is why parents worldwide need to know about it. But not panic, for two reasons:

  1. The acting on it by kids probably isn’t as viral as irresponsible news media outlets would suggest.
  2. The powerful social-norming part of the equation: When we refuse to join in the fear-and-panic mongering, stay levelheaded and spread the facts as best we can, and work to change the perception from “everybody’s doing it” to “most kids aren’t doing this” or “most kids know this is a stupid, hurtful prank,” behavior changes.

“Confirmed instances of the game being played are rare,” continues. “It seems to have started in Europe with the disappearance of some teens in England and France and is believed to have made its way across the Atlantic,” but the piece links only to news over in Europe. Read it, though, because it links to other stupid, hurtful, short-lived “games” that went viral online. I wrote about the Neknomination one here, showing how good can go viral too, because neknomination led to raknomination, the spreading of random acts of kindness. There’s usually a flipside to online problems, but our brains get stuck on the negative side of things, as social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood at University of California, Davis, explained in a recent TEDx Talk.

I’d love to hear of examples of that in Comments below! You can read more about what we’ve learned from the social norms research here.

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Wise words on bullying from 11-year-old star of ‘Little Boy’

Remarkable actor Jakob Salvati is only 11 – and he was only 8 when he played the title role in the film Little Boy released today – but he already gets a core truth about bullying:

Little Boy image

Pepper (Jakob Salvati, left) eyeing his nemesis

“Usually the person bullying is someone who is hurting on the inside and hiding it,” he wrote me via his publicist.

Experts in juvenile justice get this too. At last summer’s national bullying prevention summit in Washington, D.C., a representative of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention called for trauma screening for students exhibiting bullying behaviors. So the OJJDP is saying what hasn’t been seen and acknowledged enough in this society: that kids engaging in bullying are hurting too, I wrote last August after participating in the summit. Do we stop bullying by punishing the aggressor or by healing – or at least screening for and acknowledging – the child’s pain?

Bullying is a theme that runs through the film, directed by Alejandro Monteverde. Set in a small town on the California coast apparently not long after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the story of a father and son separated by war is told through the eyes of 8-year-old Pepper Busbee, who’s bullied because he’s small for his age. Thankfully, the film also illustrates that bullying is not just “a kid thing.” A long-time Japanese-American resident of the town is bullied too – brutally – and the lives of the two victims become intertwined in a way that helps them both. Read more

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The universe in an app: Will youth create a trend within the trend?

The days of simple, single-use apps may be over. Or not, depending on the user, his or her context and a whole lot of other factors. But there is a bit of a trend among messaging apps. Not all apps – particularly the No. 1 messaging app, Facebook’s WhatsApp with 600+ million users – are part of it, though, so where you are in the world has been a driver of this trend so far.

(CC licensed)

(CC licensed)

The trend, according to the New York Times, is to offer messaging app users with just about everything but the kitchen sink: not just text, chat and photo-sharing, but shopping, games and so much more. The world’s No. 2 messaging app, WeChat by China-based Tencent, has a Yik Yak component (live chat for up to 500 people), a payment systems like Apple Pay or Snapchat’s Snapcash, hotel check-in with digital room key, appointment scheduling, prescription tracking, train ticket purchasing, Call a Chicken (for ordering food delivered to your house, presumably if you live in China) and more, the Times reports. Because Japan-based Line is built on, steeped in, providing and promoting pop culture, it’s a platform and offline world event organizer, not just an app, Fast Company’s description indicates. It’s hard to tell if the formula will work here in the West, but it does seem to be part of this trend everybody’s talking about. And Facebook Messenger seems to be moving in that direction, since CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Messenger is being opened up to app developers who want to “piggyback their own apps on top” of it, the Times reported, allowing Messenger to offer the rainbows of functions WeChat and Line offer. [See for more about the announcement.]

Kids will probably customize the trend

Our multitasking kids may like the multi-functionality, but I have a theory: They won’t only be users or consumers of multi-functional apps, they’ll be customizers of them. It just may be a trend within a trend: young users developing their own piggybacking apps for the app platforms of their choice, kind of like game mods or Snapchat geofilters (or remember how, in the last decade, younger users loved “pimping” their MySpace profiles, as they called adding their own design elements and apps that enhanced their profile visitors’ experience?). Read more

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Digital parenting: Individual, situational, contextual

It’s so interesting to see what British psychologist Sonia Livingstone zooms in on in American psychologist Lynn Schofield Clark’s book on parenting digital media users, The Parent App. Dr. Livingstone picked up on what I liked most about the book too: diversity and depth of insight. Dr. Clark interviewed “46 very different families” for a study that Livingstone calls “one of the most astute inquiries into the state of modern American parenting.”

theparentappThe diversity and insights into other families’ experiences and practices could well be comforting to parents, because we know that parenting is very individual (for the parent and the kids) and very fluid. It adjusts and calibrates to changing, maturing kids, to situations kids and parents encounter and to contexts both environmental and social. We also know that the digital parts of family members’ lives are just that: embedded parts of our communicating, relating, playing, working, learning, etc. So digital parenting, if there really is such a thing, is just as individual, situational and contextual as all the rest of it.

What’s just as individual but not nearly as fluid – thankfully – even across generations, is the bedrock of parenting: Read more

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The real privacy dilemma: Private or convenient?

When I read this sentence in a New York Times review of the Apple Watch, I thought of the privacy spectrum of the digital age:

WatchApple “seems to be pushing a vision of the Watch as a general-purpose remote control for the real world, a nearly bionic way to open your hotel room, board a plane, call up an Uber or otherwise have the physical world respond to your desires nearly automatically.”

That’s the “convenience” end of the spectrum that we all need to be aware is actually not “private” vs. “public.” More than anything else, what “threatens” our personal and data privacy, if we want to think of it in terms of a threat, is our collective (and seemingly growing) addiction to convenience. For example, if for convenience (so we don’t have to go into Settings to get directions to our kid’s play date in real time), we want to have our smartphone’s geolocation capability always turned on, our movements can be tracked. So we’re closer to the Convenience end of the spectrum than the Privacy end. The same goes for flirting or showing off using photo-sharing apps, having the state of our health or a child’s academic performance stored in databases, being able to secure our homes from a distance, and having all our contacts and other info about us and our lives at our fingertips wherever we are. Read more

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Growing empathy: How VR could augment our humanity online reporter Dave Smith recently experienced social virtual reality – not the videogame kind anybody who has demo’d VR has experienced, where you find yourself in some exotic activity like standing on top of a skyscraper or snorkeling by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. And Smith says, “social is the killer app of virtual reality,” likely why Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion last summer.

Oculus Rift

Checking out Oculus Rift (CC licensed)

Imagine the fun of watching a World Cup game with fans from a dozen countries – or an inspiring TED Talk and being able to talk about it afterwards with friends or relatives on another continent. In “I finally understand why Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion,” Smith describes hanging out in a beautiful virtual zen garden and watching a football game with people at social VR startup AltspaceVR.

So big deal – why my headline about augmenting our humanity online? Two things:

1. How real 3D makes it. Smith writes that “hand gestures and head movements were being translated to VR perfectly in real-time. This was noteworthy to me: Even though it was a robot avatar, the gestures made it feel like I was really in a room with this person.” He and the other person could chat, fist-bump, watch a game and just generally share an experience in the same digital space truly almost as in physical space. “Even though it was a robot avatar, the gestures made it feel like I was really in a room with this person…. His head even subtly leaned forward when he laughed. Read more

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How brave commenters are growing the power of Lewinsky’s talk

“Together, we have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us.” There never was a truer, more urgent call to the world’s social media users. It’s from Nadia Goodman, TED’s social media editor, in a blog post about the digital aftermath of posting the video of Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk in the TED site. [This is a followup to my post on Sunday about the talk, which has gotten nearly 2 million views within a week of being posted.]

Nothing prepared Goodman for the aftermath, she writes, describing an “outpouring of negativity.” She added: “As I read hundreds of hideous comments, I suddenly realized I was being subjected to a tiny fraction of what Monica has experienced every day since she was 24 years old, essentially every day of her adult life.”

Then Goodman describes exactly how we turn this around: social norming. Participants in that thread of comments on the Lewinsky talk page showed us how it’s done. The “upstanders” – a word used by bullying prevention experts, and by Lewinsky herself, for bystanders who stand up for the person being victimized – stood up. Brave people who had positive things to say did so. The conversation on that TED page changed. And that’s how cruelty gets marginalized. Read more

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Social circles, more than social media, cause stress: Study

Social media itself doesn’t increase our stress levels, but our social lives can. We knew that, right? Caring about others can cause us stress when we see them suffering, and that’s one of the things social media does: expose our friends’ challenges.

PewlogoWe can probably extrapolate a few things about our children’s experiences from the Pew Research Center’s survey of 1,801 adults that explored “whether the use of social media, mobile phones and the Internet is associated with higher levels of stress.” It found that…

  1. “Overall, frequent Internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies.”
  2. The not particularly surprising but confirming fact that “there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others.”

So here’s the important takeaway that I’m seeing more and more in research findings, something we all – whether parents, policymakers or society as a whole – need to remember if we want to help our children use social media enrichingly: Most of the negative impacts people attribute to social media are indirectly related to social media and directly related to the people involved in a situation in social media. Read more

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Monica Lewinsky’s talk going viral: A sign

At some point yesterday, shortly after TED posted it, Monica Lewinsky’s 2015 TED Talk had about 198,000 views. One day later, as of this writing, it had gotten 644,394. I believe the reason for this is not just because we’re encouraged ourselves when someone has the courage to turn horrific public humiliation into social change. It’s also because of the timing of Lewinsky’s talk.

“There are two kinds of timing,” wrote Chin-Ning Chu in her 2007 book The Art of War for Women (based on Sun Tzu’s millennia-old guide to life as much as martial art). “One is personal timing…. The other is universal timing, which … is like running with the wind at your back…. When you are aligned with an idea whose time has come, you are unstoppable.”

Lewinsky’s courageous talk about replacing public humiliation with compassion online is aligned with both great suffering and a great need on the part of too many young people, parents, LGBTQ people, women, people of color, people of disability and other victims of online hate and harassment. Read more

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