Can Talking to Strangers be the Solution to Bullying?

Crowdsourcing confronts bullying and human connection wins

by Ariel Jalali

“I’m being cyber bullied and whatever I say only fans the flames.”

“People at school are bullying this special education girl.”

“Why do people pick on kids who aren’t like them?”

Those aren’t hypothetical examples…they’re real situations that young people experience at school, when they’re hanging out socially, and online as they use Snapchat and Twitter or play League of Legends. Every day.

In fact, nearly a quarter of teens are bullied at school, and nearly 30% of kids aged 10–18 have been bullied online via text, websites, games or social media, according to statistics gathered by the Anti-Defamation League.

Each day kids are the subjects of rumors, or insults. They’re left out of activities. Someone makes lewd or suggestive comments about them during a multi-user chat session. That brand new jacket you gave them for their good grades gets destroyed. Someone takes their new iPhone. They’re shoved or kicked. Or worse.

The more startling news? Most kids — 87% of them — have seen bullying happen.

For whatever reason, many of these incidents go unreported. Worse, the lasting effects of bullying can be devastating for young people. Even fatal. According to a Yale University study, bully victims are “two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children.”

While the best way to combat bullying is prevention, and efforts are underway nationwide to deal with the problem at its source, kids who are bullied need a support system. They need to know they’re safe, that their feelings matter, and that things can get better.

Fortunately, sharing with others is a proven way to help kids address and recover from these terrible incidents. And an NCBI study asserts that “social support can translate into more positive outcomes for students who are bullied.”

Survey says: Helping each other helps everyone

The results of Sensay’s October NoBully initiative in partnership with the PTA and mom bloggers offers some promising results. Participants sought advice and help for themselves, and also for those they witnessed being bullied.

Data collected from a cross-platform Sensay campaign spanning messenger tools such as Kik, SMS, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Slack overwhelmingly show that crowd-sourced help around bullying can offer potentially life-saving connection and advice.

“It was amazing to see Sensay’s community connect teens who sought advice with adults who counseled them through various bullying situations, ultimately to positive results,” said Josh Jacobs, president of Kik Services at Kik Interactive. “We’re extremely pleased that companies like Sensay are solving real world problems for our teen user base, and we firmly believe no one should be subject to bullying.”

We were also incredibly lucky to have anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky, who started the #clickwithompassion campaign and developed a set of #BeStrong Anti-Bullying Emojis for Support, serve as an advisor to our No Bully campaign.

“We’re extremely pleased that companies like Sensay are solving real world problems for our teen user base” –Josh Jacobs, Kik

What Is Sensay?

Sensay is a high empathy invisible social network that connects users via chat with other people they need but don’t know personally. Sensay’s growing community of over 1.5 million users help each other across a variety of topics, from relationships to travel to jobs and gigs. And one of the cool things about the bot-driven tool: It doesn’t pretend to be human; rather, Sensay uses complex matching and routing to get to directly into a relevant human conversation.

“We’re pleased to see Sensay making a difference because of its ability to build genuine human connection” –Erin Reilly, Twilio

“Enabling communications to support those in crisis is something we’ve been focused on at Twilio. We’re pleased to see Sensay making a difference because of its ability to build genuine human connection,” said Erin Reilly, Executive Director, Twilio. “It’s great to see technology working to help us become more caring toward one another. We’re proud that Sensay’s SMS platform is built on Twilio, and that we had a role in supporting this initiative.”

Data speaks volumes…of people helping people

The rousing participating itself is testament to the success of the campaign — more than 500,000 users participated, producing double the number of chats around video games or music in the teen and millennial demographic (16–35) . And 10% of all Sensay chats in October focused on bullying, where users addressed concerns tackling shyness, friends, fear, abuse, and more.

Interestingly, a large number of chats mentioned included the word “school” suggesting that schools do indeed play a central role in bullying, and thus are an important focus for future anti-bullying efforts.

Word cloud from chats on Sensay’s NoBully tribe in October

An impressive 62% of chats came from adult mentors — made up of PTA members, mom bloggers, and other user-community volunteers — who were helping teens or each other with bullying-related concerns. And 38% of chats were peer-related support; that is, teens helping each other.

These mentors drew from their own experience to help advise and lift up the victims they were connecting with. Their chats included words of hope and encouragement like this:

And interestingly, those providing assistance to the teens who sought help reaped positive benefits, too, as feedback from Kik users indicates:

“It’s crazy to hear all the stories and it feels wonderful to lend a helping hand.”

“Helping others made me feel great. The most satisfying was helping that person.”

Not only that, but helping others is a proven way to help reduce stress, feel more connected to one’s community, and foster stronger friendships, among other things.

And Julio Murcia, principal of Ánimo Venice Charter High School in Venice, California, agrees. “It’s important for teens to have a social support structure to give them the resilience to move past bullying and the empathy to encourage others,” said Murcia. “Sensay is helping to fill a critical need for kids that may not always have immediate access to someone they feel safe turning to.”

A strong anti-bully stance is the way forward

Today, bullying remains a serious issue that inflicts significant and potentially long-term damage on its victims. A strong anti-bullying stance at school, online, and in extracurricular activities like that highlighted in October of each year as part of National Bullying Prevention Month is a good start.

Meanwhile, and until we can stop bullying altogether, in all its forms, kids need to know there’s someone they can count on.

Going forward, support in all its forms is needed to make real and lasting change. And the good news is that can come in the form of a close friend, family member, a teacher, a hotline, and now, a (friendly) stranger in the machine.


Ariel Jalali is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sensay: One Contact with the Experience of Millions. Join the NoBully tribe on Sensay in your favorite messenger and you can chat to combat bullying, too.

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