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.]
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 counterspeech, 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.