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, iCanHelpline.org, launched today. A joint project of Net Family News and #iCANHELP, it’s the California pilot for a national social media “helpdesk” for schools.
Though 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.
Meanwhile, our free helpline is now open, here to support California schools and districts whenever abusive behavior turns up in social media. Because of our task force and other advisory work with social media companies over many years, we can help schools get abusive content taken down. We can also provide social media expertise to school personnel not familiar with the apps and services and point them to the best resources for social media policy making and incident response – as well as to emergency and specialized help for specific interest groups. Solutions in social media are social, collaborative, so we think of the helpline as the hub of a help ecosystem – bringing help, resources and perspective to users and much-needed context to social media providers.
A new layer of help called for
That lack of context is one of the conditions of our now very user-driven social media environment which call for a new layer help, or “customer service,” that this helpline is part of. Other examples are Crash Override Network, HeartMob, #iCANHELP for student peer support, the revenge porn hotlines in the U.S. and U.K. and other Internet helplines around the world.
It’s not only the sheer volume of abuse reports in multiple languages from all over the planet that challenges the social media services, it’s also countless cultural contexts, from a single school’s culture to multiple ethnic, tribal, political and social cultures within communities and countries – when every abuse case is as individual as the people involved. The new help “layer” is both peer-to-peer (users with various kinds of expertise, including victim care, helping other users seeking it) and in-between, bringing something to the help mix that users and providers can’t provide each other: breadth of perspective and know-how to users and local context to global providers.