Highlights from the “Shared Action at the National Level to Prevent Cyberbullying Stakeholder Meeting”

Article first published here on the After School blog

After School joined thirty federal government officials, educators, nonprofit leaders, and social media representatives at the Shared Action at the National Level to Prevent Cyberbullying Stakeholder Meeting. Organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the Washington D.C. event was held to present and discuss the findings of the Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice report, and to formulate ideas to reduce cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is the second most common form of bullying after in-person bullying in schools, and can have a serious detrimental impact on youth. The federal government recognizes the significance of this issue — as evidenced by both the report and the wide range of agencies that attended the event. Conference participants, however, agreed that the public sector needs to commit far more resources to the topic, and that there should be an acceleration of public-private partnerships to address bullying.

Bullying starts young, and often both the perpetrator and victim don’t even realize it is bullying. “Gaming is often the first experience with online and bullying can and does happen there,” said one attendee, who also noted, “online and offline bullying at some point will just converge.”

After School’s Jeff Collins, addressing the paper’s findings and recommendations, explained the importance of stepping into a young person’s shoes when trying to understand and address cyberbullying. He explained that young people often don’t even use the word “bullying,” preferring terms like “shaming.” “Teens are two steps ahead of adults on all things technology, and often speak a different language. If we want to be effective in efforts to reduce bullying, we have to speak to teens in a manner that resonates with them, and is not boring or patronizing,” explained Collins.

“We have to get young people to understand what bullying is,” said another participant, who also shared a story of speaking to a child who didn’t feel she had been bullied because she hadn’t attempted suicide. “By understanding what it is, teens can then look out and stand up for themselves and others who are being targeted,” the participant explained.

The report includes recommendations on what social media companies should do to help prevent cyberbullying. It recommends that companies publish anti-bullying policies on their websites. While After School and many other social networks do have Community Guidelines and anti-bullying policies listed publicly on their websites, teen users rarely visit websites when using app-based social networks. “Users need to be presented with policies and guidelines upon downloading and using a platform,” explained Collins.

The report and conference also drew attention to the challenges faced in addressing cyberbullying. Conference participants focused on the difficulty of getting unbiased information to parents, who often formulate their opinions of bullying from the local news. “This is problematic,” said one attendee, who explained, “The journalist’s job is to report on airline crashes and not point out that flying is the safest transport form. They report the exception to the rule.” Another attendee agreed, noting, “Reporting only negative and sensational stories of bullying may be what brings attention to a story, but it also stokes fear and misleads readers and television viewers on the topic of bullying.”

Some of the other key takeaways from the conference included:

  • It is critical to collaborate across industries and organizations in order to come up with effective approaches to raise awareness, and develop educational messages appropriate to each target audience (parents, youth, teachers, etc.).
  • Organizations, including government agencies and social media companies, should share resources on important efforts and issues like bullying, rather than attack or compete against each other.
  • It is important to better utilize resources to have a bigger impact. In the fight against bullying, many influencers (like bloggers, social influencers, etc.) haven’t been asked to help in spreading positive messages against bullying, and educating the public about the issue.

“This has been one of the most beneficial events we’ve participated in as a company on the topic of cyberbullying,” said Collins. “The organizations and people involved genuinely care about our children and stopping cyberbullying, which we deeply care about as a company, and it’s inspiring,” he concluded. Many of the conversations at this meeting, and projects flowing out of the meeting, will help set the stage for this year’s International Bullying Prevention Association Annual Conference.

After School would like to thank the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for hosting the event and including us as a participant. To learn more about what After School is doing to prevent cyberbullying, visit the After School Safety Center here.

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