On March 18th 2015, I led a class discussion about cyberbullying which lead to a conversation with varied opinions on the subject. I led the discussion by introducing the concept of cyberbullying and the various solutions people are creating in order to prevent cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined as wilful and repeated harm through the medium of electronic text and has various sub-categories such as flaming and trolling.
The three programs I discussed in class were Stop It, Bullytracer, and Rethink created by Trisha Prabhu. Stop it and Bullytracer, are reactive programs that helped deal with cyberbullying after the fact. Trisha Prabu created Rethink to be a preemptive solution to the problem of cyber-bullying that detects when somebody is about to say something offensive and prompts the user to rethink their choices. My discussion of Rethink launched an interesting conversation involving values such as privacy, empathy, and more.
Various members of the class agreed that Rethink was a useful tool that should be implemented into social media. Some members of the class disagreed and thought the program’s ability to read the text that people wrote was an invasion of privacy. Censorship was another issue some people had with the program, believing that the program could eventually suggest mild conversations as being “offensive,” or “dangerous.” I found this second concern to be a non-factor, the program at its current state doesn’t even prevent somebody from writing what they want to say, it only gives the writer a chance to rethink what they are going to say.
Professor Tagliaferri likened the message received by Rethink to the visual expressions given off by somebody who is being bullied in the real world, which launched a new dialogue about the connection between cyberbullying and bullying in the physical world. Bullying as a phenomenon is easier to perpetuate online as it can provide anonymity as well as detachment from the victim. It is easier to harm another human being when you can’t physically see who they are or their reactions to your comments, while in the real world it is easier to notice pain and feel empathy. Rethink then stands in for the emotional response a victim might give. Some argued that bullying (and in connection cyber-bullying) helps people grow “tougher skins” and prepare them for a harsh realistic world. I find that the harm perpetrated through bullying is way more dangerous than the possible “growth” it can provide. Educating people, and giving them a chance to rethink their actions, reduces the chance that they would consider doing those actions again. There are also more effective ways of preparing children for the difficulties of life than having them be the victims of emotional or physical violence.
The dialogue that came out of my discussion on cyberbullying was an interesting one, that extended past what I was expecting, which I think was a good thing. As the conversation on cyberbullying continues to grow, new ideas on how to handle it will be created and any thoughtful conversation about cyberbullying is a good one.