It was one of the last days of summer before heading back to school and 25 NYC teenagers were clustered around laptops and easel paper, trying to map out their pitches for new tech tools to fight sexual cyber bullying. They were minutes away from presenting their ideas to a panel of judges. 17-year-old Radio Rookie Temitayo Fagbenle scanned the room and called the scene “a bit surreal.”
Just over a year ago, Temitayo was reporting a story on the problem. Online slut shaming was a topic that, she says, “I thought people should know about.” She had friends who had posted explicit pictures of their ex-girlfriends and knew girls who “liked” the images and called their classmates smuts and sluts. Before Temitayo’s story, there had been a lot of coverage of high profile and particularly horrific or controversial cases of this type of bullying, many of which had ended in suicide. In Temitayo’s radio story “The Modern Day Scarlet Letter A” what quickly becomes clear is just how run-of-the-mill the spreading of images and tearing down of character has become for many teenagers. The platforms shift (from myspace to texts to Facebook to Twitter), but the outcomes are the same: a young woman feels isolated and ashamed, while her peers “like” or disseminate the content, often well beyond their own community. After Temitayo’s story aired, many people (online and calling-in to talk shows) asked the question: what can be done?
This started Temitayo on a road of activism and advocacy she hadn’t planned for. She created a Facebook page and Twitter handle That Could Be Your Sister, trying to educate her peers about the scope of the problem. Then she co-hosted a Teen Town Hall on the topic. It all felt like the beginning of something, so in order to bring the conversation a step closer to action, Radio Rookies and Global Kids teamed up (with generous support from DML Project:Connect) to host a day-long design challenge, asking kids to compete to create new and bold tech tools to support victims, educate, and advocate.
On August 29th, in the Brooklyn Public Library, participants worked in teams of five or six to craft possible solutions to address the problem. Some of the kids saw slut shaming on their social media feeds every day, while others had barely heard of the problem before Temitayo’s opening presentation. Regardless of their personal experience, after learning the goals and parameters of the challenge, they got to brainstorming and designing. Judges included Mozilla coders, an assistant principal, and Development Associate from Common Sense Media. The winning team, Tech Geeks, created a multi-platform pitch with a support website (thatcouldbeyou.com) and a related app, “Report Get Support.” The pitch included branding and merchandise to help pay for the project. Winners received $50 gift cards and digital badges.
At the end of the day, 17-year-old Andianna, who sees slut shaming every day on her social media feeds, said before the Design Challenge she didn’t realize there was so much that could be done to prevent it, but "no one is doing it." So far at least.
(image courtesy of Kaari Pitkin)