Getting Out the Message on Online Safety
I’ve often heard from educators and parents that there’s a lack of powerful messaging out there to help students understand the impact of cyberbullying and online safety in general. While it may sometimes seem like that’s the case, there are compelling public education campaigns worth noting. And one of them even wants students to be producers of those messages.
We see the pattern whenever there’s a major news story about cyberbullying, cyberstalking or some tragedy that takes place in conjunction with a student’s use of the Internet. Typically the story breaks, there are lots of talking heads appearing on TV, people ask a lot of questions, politicians make promises…. And then we go back to discussing Paris Hilton or whatever. It often seems like there’s a dearth of sustained conversation taking place about online safety in between these incidents. Sure, there are educators and other professionals who focus on the issue full-time and are doing important work, such as creating curriculum and conducting research, but from a mass media perspective, it often seems like we’ve all succumbed to a case of collective amnesia. We forget that it’s important to discuss these issues with our students consistently until the next bad news story comes around.
Thankfully, there are some powerful efforts out there to fill in these gaps. For example, the blogosphere has been buzzing about a pair of public service announcements that take a harsh look at the impact of teens showing too much skin in cyberspace. Anyone who’s ever spent five minutes on MySpace has probably noticed that lots of teens are surprisingly comfortable when it comes to posting revealing photos of themselves on their personal pages. Most of the time it’s intended as harmless fun, of course, but then there are those occasions when things spiral downward.
The PSAs, produced in partnership with the Ad Council, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Justice, are intended to show the dark side of posting suggestive photos of yourself online. In the first PSA, we see a female student going about her business on and off campus. As she walks around, she’s peppered with comments from people who have seen her photos online, from fellow students to the school football coach to the ticket guy at the local movie theatre. With each person she meets, the comments they make about her get more and more disturbing.
In the second PSA, we see another female student who’s taken a flirtatious photo of herself. In this case, though, the photo is displayed on the school’s public message board in the hallway. Random people, from students to even the janitor, walk buy and take a copy of the photo for themselves. Each time they grab a copy, a new one magically appears. The photo can’t be taken down or destroyed. Even when she has second thoughts and tries to remove the picture, it’s too late.
Of course, the problem with PSAs is that TV stations often relegate them to the wee hours of the morning, making it less likely that anyone will see them or be impacted by them. What makes these PSA so interesting, though, is that they’ve been placed on YouTube. Between the two of them, they’ve been watched nearly 150,000 times since they were published on YouTube this spring. And given the user demographics of YouTube, it’s highly likely that the majority of people who have seen the PSAs are young people who might benefit from the messages.
Meanwhile, online safety advocate Parry Aftab and her colleagues at WiredSafety.org have partnered with Beinggirl.com and Flip.com to produce a multimedia PSA using Flip’s Flash-based flip book tool. In this flip book, Aftab talks about cyberbullying and offers advice:
Of course, as an adult, Aftab’s message is most likely to resonate the most with her peers. As for getting the message to students, she’s challenging them to get involved by participating in a cyberbullying flip book contest. Students are invited to use Flip.com to tell their own stories about cyberbullying, whether factual or fictional. They’re accepting submissions until August 8, and the winner of the contest will receive a free trip to the annual WiredKids summit in Washington DC, along with a $1000 American Express gift card.
Even though there will only be one winner, the contest will hopefully aggregate a diverse collection of student-generated content, as more and more young people publish cyberbullying-related flip books on the website. Combine these with the PSAs on YouTube, and we might find ourselves with an excellent collection of resources for teaching students about online safety and cyberbullying. -andy