By Anne Collier
This is how safety, citizenship, and social change work best in social media. Count on students to lead the way. “After a bullying Twitter account at Linn-Mar High School [in Marion, Iowa] spurred copycats in Iowa City,” students at West High School in the latter city adopted countermeasures, the Iowa City Press Citizen reports. Their strategy was simple and effective: Identify a student being targeted by meanness, “find them on Twitter or Facebook, and say something nice.” Individuals can certainly use these countermeasure tactics too, but a group works better and faster because it can, with multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, quickly bury the negativity under a pile of support for the person being attacked. The anti-bullies who posted the compliments call themselves the West High Bros. A similar group has started at another school in the area, the Press Citizen reports. The students stay as anonymous as possible, knowing that the show of support is more effective when not seen as coming from personal friends. Read the last few paragraphs to see how this is about changing the school culture.
I’ve talked to security staff at Twitter about safety measures where bullying’s concerned (regardless of age levels), and they confirm how ineffective the alternative is: Block nasty tweets or delete a mean user’s account, and – just as in offline life – you often make the meanie even meaner. The aggressor doubles his/her efforts to upset you. And doubling or tripling them is easy to do on any service where five new accounts can pop up within minutes of one getting deleted. So blocking meanies or mean behavior often only increases: their determination, the amount of mean content, and the amount of attention drawn to the mean content. Much better to swamp the meanie meme with positive action online and offline.
This courageous kindness is the digital version of the “friend zone,” which students have established in high schools to offer lonely, new, or targeted students an ally to call in sticky hallway situations or a friendly place to sit in the lunchroom until they can make their own friends (one of the “Ideas for Student Action,” a paper some of us put together last winter for Harvard’s Berkman Center and the Born this Way Foundation).