By Anne Collier
This is great, an early sign of the Internet industry’s piece of OS 3.0: what the popular teen social site MyYearbook.com is doing for Reachout.com, a nonprofit support and suicide-prevention site for teens on the social Web (it now has a US base too, but since its start in Australia, that country “has seen a 56% reduction in youth suicide rates,” the site says). Here’s how Reach Out describes what MyYearbook is doing in the US: “Beginning on Christmas Day, five youth council members will be helping us to manage our new fan page on myYearbook.com, one of the largest youth online social networks. myYearbook has generously offered to donate regular homepage takeovers, which will drive thousands of users to ‘fan’ us on their site. We have been working with our council members to train them to be ambassadors on our behalf as well as monitoring our page for any posts from myYearbook members who may be in crisis.” When I called Anastasia Goodstein at Reach Out in San Francisco about this recently, she told me that myYearbook plans to devote its home page to Reach Out once every couple of months. That’s remarkable.
What Anastasia describes here is right in sync with where we ConnectSafely folk feel online safety needs to go: “This outreach is part of a larger strategy to be where young people are, i.e. ‘the digital streets’ vs. forcing them to find us. We feel it is important to have young people on the front lines (our council members), letting other young people know about our resource.”
* Moderators who are trained to support and model civility among members, not just at the “back end” as they monitor site activity but – especially in virtual worlds for kids – also in-world and in games.
* Community storylines, product features, incentives, and other environmental conditions (such as World of Warcraft’s guilds) that support a respectful or at least cooperative and well-functioning, non-hurtful on-site culture.
* Support staff (such as Facebook’s anti-hate and harassment team) or having on call 24/7 people trained in prevention and intervention of suicide, bullying, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and other risks.
Children’s advocates, risk-prevention specialists, and the industry need to put heads together to figure out the most workable approaches for both companies and users. And risk-prevention specialists, social workers, and mental healthcare practitioners need to be available in or at least to online communities, learning how to help right in the media where struggling or at-risk youth are.
The Reach Out/myYearbook collaboration represents one important approach and first step in creating a key piece of the puzzle: by raising awareness, encouraging users to be what the suicide prevention community calls “gatekeepers” (because friends are usually the first to notice when a peer is struggling or in crisis, they can help steer that friend toward the right kind of help, e.g. what Reach Out can provide). But on a Web with tens of millions of young users in the US alone, a single nonprofit organization can’t provide all the support needed. Helplines and other support organizations need to collaborate in figuring out how they can together best supply the social Web industry with prevention and intervention support. And both of those stakeholders – risk specialists and the industry – need input from other key safety stakeholders: users, parents, educators, and children’s advocates. Why all this pesky, complicated collaboration? Two reasons: Because the social Web is not just a business (risk on it increasingly approximates the offline risk spectrum) and the research is telling us that it mirrors and is embedded in young people’s offline lives.
* See this on why user efficacy, or agency, is important – and why we need to support our children’s sense of efficacy online by seeing their use of the Internet as consequential and helping them see it as such.
* “Reachout.com: Substantive help for teens”
* “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth”