At yesterday’s Irish Youth Councils national showcase event, we were given copies of ‘Be a cyber buddy, not a cyber bully,’ a booklet produced by young people for young people.
Dublin City Comhairle na nÓg is a council of 56 elected young people between the ages of 11-18 years.
Their booklet includes poetry, stories, pictures, advice and links, for all young people who are affected by, or who witness, online bullying.
And the advice of these young people could also be useful for some adults, who face different circumstances but should still share the same underlying ethics.
A poem by David Curpen, aged 16, begins:
You hide behind a screen. You put on a mask.
You’re so mean to me. You’ve completed your task.
That poem ends positively, as does the booklet, which begins by creatively documenting the psychological trauma that online bullying can cause, then outlines how to be a friend to young people who are being bullied online, before concluding with advice from young people to young people on how to tackle online bullying.
The booklet’s advice is also relevant to some adults
Obviously the context and detail of adults publishing on their own online platforms is different from young people interacting on social media like Facebook, but the spirit of the advice remains relevant.
In particular, the spirit of the following short quiz by Katie O’Reilly, aged 16, could be extended beyond its intended audience to also capture some of the online behaviour of some adults.
Are you a cyber buddy or a cyber bully?
Have you ever seen something hurtful posted about a friend on social networking (e.g. Facebook, twitter, tumblr etc.)?
a. Yes! I posted it!
b. Yes! But I didn’t get involved or they might say something to me!
c. Yes! It was hurtful so I reported them and told a responsible adult!
If someone said something hurtful to you or one of your friends online you would….
b. Ignore them! (Especially if it wasn’t to me).
c. Report them on the sites help page!
Have you ever posted an embarrassing photo of anyone online to upset them?
a. Yes! He/she was snapping!
b. All my friends do it but I don’t like to get involved as it might make me a target!
c. No! I always ask permission before I post any photo online!
Do you know how to report someone on Facebook or other social networking sites?
a. No! If someone is mean to me I will fight back myself!
b. No! I usually stay out of online feuds!
c. Yes! It’s important to stay protected online!
Do you have someone you could tell if you were being bullied online or offline?
a. No! I don’t get bullied…….I am the bully!
b. If I told someone I might become a target! I stay out of other people’s problems!
c. Yes! I know I can tell a responsible adult like a parent, a teacher or a youth club leader!
How did you score?
* Mostly A’s
If you scored mostly A’s you may be what some people call a cyber-bully! It would probably be a good idea to look at how you treat others online. The internet is an amazing tool as long as everybody uses it responsibly. It can be a safe and friendly environment.
If you scored mostly B’s you might be considered a bystander! You may also need to look at how you behave online. Although you may never post anything hurtful online, is it a good idea to sit back while others get hurt?
Congratulations!! You’re a cyber-buddy!! Not only do you know how to look after yourself online but you also support others. Thank you for making the internet a safe and happy environment! Sign our cyber code and keep up the good work!!
The Cyber Code
I promise NEVER to Cyber Bully
I promise to be AWARE of how I present myself online
I promise not to be a bystander and REPORT any Cyber Bullying I see
Young people bullying and adults bullying
The context and detail of adults publishing on their own online platforms is different from youths interacting on social media like Facebook, but the spirit of the advice remains similar.
Some adults who publish hurtful material online do so on platforms that they themselves control, so they are not subject to the terms and conditions of social media sites, and the option of reporting their behaviour to a responsible adult is not typically relevant.
Also, there are nuances in the transition from childhood to adult life, including balancing the right to freedom of expression, the benefits of robust debate including legitimate criticism of ideas, the hurt caused by unnecessary personal criticism of individual people, and the harm caused by unlawful threats and defamatory smears.
However, sometimes as adults we can forget that the underlying fundamentals of ethical behaviour are pretty similar online and offline, and for children and adults alike, based on attributes such as compassion, empathy, cooperation, reciprocity, fairness, justice and minimising unnecessary suffering.
How we communicate online
I made the following suggestions two years ago, as part of a post titled Why atheist and skeptic groups should be inclusive, caring and supportive. I think they are still relevant today.
Continue to rigorously criticise bad ideas wherever we find them. Use reason, logic, evidence, humour, satire and ridicule to undermine the bad and harmful ideas that people promote, and to positively promote better ideas and better ways of thinking.
Criticise or satirise people only for their ideas and behaviour, not their personal identities. There are enough charlatans and abusers of human rights within the religious and pseudoscientific communities to keep us going for years without turning on allies with whom we disagree on tactics.
Online debates can magnify misunderstandings and intensify hostility, when compared to real-life conversations. Remember that we are dealing with real people who have feelings. Don’t humiliate, marginalise or ostracise people who are seeking to discuss things.
It’s important to be angry when anger is justified, but it’s often not helpful to publish what we feel while we are angry. Instead we could write what we feel then wait to review it before publishing it, or else share our anger privately with a friend. The best use of anger is for it to motivate us to take practical actions to make things better. We can best do this when we are thinking clearly about what we are doing.
When responding to something we disagree with, assume good intent. Respond to the issues. Point out what we agree with as well as what we disagree with. Ask them to also assume good intent on our behalf.
Don’t stereotype people who disagree with us. Engage reasonably with people who sincerely disagree with us on issues. Seek explanations and apologies from people who post personal attacks, but otherwise don’t let them dictate our agenda.
Try to find creative ways to advance the underlying interests of both us and the people who we disagree with, rather than just compete with them or capitulate to them on the specific examples we are discussing.
Accept that each of us is likely to be right about some issues and mistaken about others. Try to approach each issue on its merits, rather than on the basis of which side you think the person is on.
Accept that we might be mistaken about what other people are trying to communicate to us, and what their motivations might be. Accept that we might have made mistakes when communicating to others, and that we might have unfairly hurt people without realising it.
Be prepared to back down from our positions when we realise that we were mistaken. This can be harder to do on the internet, because our positions are permanently published not merely spoken. Do it anyway.