For work, I got to interview the minds behind Milton Stands Strong Against Bullying Facebook group. I don’t think I’ve met a more eloquent, and committed group of teens. They want to make a difference in someone’s life, and in a lot of cases I believe they have. These guys will meet with anyone, anywhere at any time to listen to their problems, and give them a hug, or provide them with advice as needed. I love what they’re doing; trying to stamp out bullying, focusing on cyber-bullying. I agree with that part; twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook has made bullying worse than it has ever been; there’s something about a keyboard and a screen that makes it seductively easy to say nasty stuff about other people.
These teens are doing something amazing; any time kids that age speak out on something, it’s to be encouraged. The way these guys have created a supportive, inspiring atmosphere on the group is fantastic. But what does that say about us when our kids are more comfortable talking about their problems on a “public” Facebook group than to their parents, teachers, friends, and school councillors? What does that say about the rest of us when our kids are more comfortable sharing their problems from behind a computer screen with complete strangers than in person? Granted there will probably always be those who are more comfortable expressing themselves in writing.
It’s the bigger picture that troubles me here. We’ve taught our kids the amazing stuff about technology; how easy it is to communicate through email, text message, and Skype. How fun it is to interact over twitter and Facebook, how easy it is to search out information. But we’ve failed to teach them the bad stuff the web can do. For example I’d forgotten the name of someone I interviewed a while back, but knew the business name and where it was located. Typed that information into Google plus the word owner, and presto I had the business owner’s name, and their LinkedIn profile. You can find anything if you know where to look.
I don’t think you can over-emphasize the fact that everything leaves a trace on the web. If you call someone a whore on Twitter, it lingers. That embarrassing photo that ‘seemed like a good idea at the time?’ That will always be on Facebook. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that with the good all this technology can do, there’s a bad side. There’s a side that can be used to stalk, insult, harass, and demean each other.
It’s a filtering thing too. I’m guilty of it, just as much as anyone else. I’ll sometimes to go tweet and be reading it over and think ‘maybe I shouldn’t say it that way’, then delete it without sending it out. There’s actually a small measure of satisfaction in just doing that. If we all did that, there might be a little less negativity around.