Informed citizens sometimes forget that the reason why negative, tragic or just plain-old bad news is news is because it’s the exception to the rule. That’s why it’s newsworthy. And this is true whether we’re hearing about airplane crashes or online bullying. Sometimes the news is unspeakably tragic, but it’s still the exception, not the rule. It’s not an event from which we can extrapolate what everybody’s experience is likely to be, or a set of conditions on which to base policy at any level – household, school, corporate or national policy.
Policy based on ‘the risk of the risk’?
It would be better to base policy on data that actually shows the likelihood of harm. That’s what we base decisions about crosswalks, stop signs and crossing guards on in school zones – the likelihood of an accident happening at certain intersections, a calculation we don’t have online, UK researcher Sonia Livingstone pointed out last fall. For example, when we’re talking about bullies online, we’re talking about “the risk of the risk,” she wrote. There’s the risk of bullying and then there’s the risk of harm that actually develops from this psychological bullying. Whether harm actually happens depends on a number of factors, including the target’s ability to shake off the harassment, get support from friends, and/or stand up to the bully, etc. Resilience levels have to be factored in, and of course the level of resilience or vulnerability is very individual, hard to generalize. Read more