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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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September042007

An Open Letter About Cyberbullying

To: Mathew Honan, Wired Magazine

From: Andy Carvin

Dear Matthew,

You don’t know me, but I was hoping I could take up a few minutes of your time today. I see we’ve got a lot in common; we’re both writers, Mac users, photographers; we’ve even both backpacked around Laos and written travelogues about it. You seem like the kind of guy I’d probably want to hang out with at SXSW or something, perhaps to grab a beer and swap travel stories. And that’s why I feel I can be straight up with you about something you wrote recently that really hurt a lot of educators across the country.

You see, in my free time I volunteer as the coordinator of an online community called Stop Cyberbullying. I founded it earlier this year as a way to give educators and parents a place where they could share strategies to deal with the issue of cyberbullying. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not intended as a place for primadonna bloggers with glass jaws to complain about how they’re being dissed by their peers, nor is it a community for humorless schoolmarms to demand that all un-PC online behavior should be banned forthwith by Congress. Instead, it’s just a group of well-meaning, concerned people who in some cases are trying to save the lives of their children or students.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic and overstate the situation here, so I won’t waste your time throwing out dubious statistics as to what percentage of kids get bullied via the Internet, text messaging and the like. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either a widespread problem or small minority of kids. No matter how you slice it, though, the fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of thousands of kids who are harassed by their peers on a regular basis. For some of these kids, the bullying is so bad it basically paralyzes them, making them fearful of attending school, going online or turning on their phone. And for a small minority of kids, it’s led to suicide attempts. Some of them have even been successful.

I’m sure you had none of this in mind when you wrote a short article for the latest issue of Wired Magazine entitled Beware These Six Lamest Social Networks. As both a Star Trek fan and a cat owner, I had to laugh when you cited social networks targeting those particular demographic groups; you definitely nailed those two, and rightly so. But you also included the Stop Cyberbullying community in your list, describing it as a place populated by “pussies” who will “gang up on you mercilessly” if you call them that.

Now, I know you intended this as a joke. And like I said, if this community were a place where whining bloggers or self-righteous luddites came to commiserate among themselves, I think it’d be fair game for some snark. Instead, though, you decided to go after a group of concerned educators and parents who are just trying to help out kids who are living in their own private hell. And by calling us out, it led to the unintended consequence of having countless vandals and trolls descend upon the site, for the sole purpose of - yes - bullying us. It left us with no choice but to put the community in lockdown, removing it from public view and preventing new members from joining unless they could prove they weren’t there to cause harm. We now must treat every prospective member with suspicion, rather than greet them with open arms.

I know what you wrote was intended to be funny - and in any other context, it would have been. But it wasn’t, and it’s demoralized a lot of people who are already fighting an uphill battle against a problem that all too often just isn’t taken seriously. And I know writing this letter will probably cause us more problems - not from you personally, but from a small minority of people who will read this letter and use it as an excuse to harass me and my colleagues, as usually happens whenever I write about cyberbullying in a public space. That’s the cost of trying to help these kids, I guess.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. If you’re ever in the DC area, drop me and note and we can find somewhere to grab a bottle or two of BeerLao and swap stories about tropical diseases and other backpacking disasters. Thanks again for taking the time to read this.

Take care,
Andy Carvin

Filed under : Safety

Responses

I think you struck the right tone here, Andy. Nicely done.

Great response to the issue. I hope that people see that bullying is truly an issue and respond with a bit more positive support. Thank you for taking a stand for our kids.

Andy:

Thanks for this post. As an educator with a high school full of laptops we work hard to promote appropriate digital citizenship. Helping students make the right choices is what we ought to be advocating for, not teaching them how to harass others.

Andy, YOU ROCK! Digital freedom walks hand in hand with personal responsibility. Thanks for standing up and doing the right thing.

How very sad that Wired figures that they have to substitute fashionable snark for their former style and intelligence — too common these days.

My nonprofit was a victim of that just a month or so ago in Wired Blogs, but to his credit, the author published a clarification from us. And it was only Wired Blogs, so it wasn’t in the print magazine — far less consequences.

I hope they pay attention to your post, but it sounds like damage was already done… So sorry for the setback!

Shava

I saw this article in Wired when it came out and it made me cringe at little, but I hadn’t though about all the idiots crashing the website as a result. That’s horrible! I bet Wired apologizes in the next issue, though.

Thanks for your masterful response! It is a model for others to follow.

Art

Hopefully Wired will publish a “clarification” on this as well— I would encourage others to speak out on the issue by commenting directly on the Wired article page. My additional thoughts are on:

http://www.speedofcreativity.org/?p=2171

Great response, Andy. As a teacher of 6th and 7th graders in a classroom with 10 iMacs where many of our science projects have an online component, I do work hard on making sure my kids understand on the one hand that there are real people reading messages and comments directed at them, and, on the other hand, that using any media to bully or belittle another human being is just wrong. And, for the record, I too am a Star Trek fan (haven’t been to a convention since I moved from L.A.) and my family has three cats. LoL

Al G

Elegant, composed and thoughtful Andy. The similarities that you drew between yourself and Mathew Honan truly bring home that in essence we are all very much alike despite our varied backgrounds. We all share this life on this planet and if only we could all pause, reflect and be mindful as you have demonstrated in your open letter above. Your thoughts are admirable and inspiring.

Nicely put, Andy. It does seem like an odd pick, among the many social networking sites one could target. Hey, let’s diss the breast cancer survivors social network!

Getting straight to the point, I’m on Andy’s Ning group because of my experience of publicising a report about corruption entitled “Death Camps for Children” and the flood of ad hominem abuse that resulted. it’s not cool, neither is it celebrity focused and a doubt whether Andy himself has seen it, let alone the editor of ‘Wired’.

The swipe at the Cyberbullying site, is by all other experience mild in comparison, filed under the “sticks and stones” category and forgotten as we haven’t been harmed, the authors that is, not the children.

Now the jury is out on whether “snark” as it’s been called, might actually be an unwitting force for good. In my experience, one might conclude that it made the cause more public and turned the spotlight back on the detractors and their motives.

So, lets just say I don’t really mind if in the end we raise awareness.


I just wanted to thank you for doing your part to help stop cyber bullying. You are doing an excellent job helping teacher, educators, administrators, and all of our students. I believe this is a big issue that needs to be taken seriously.

Andy,

I heard about this on TOTN today, and thought, once again, about how the internet continues to have setbacks. Even if my children don’t go up onto myspace, it won’t stop others from going there and being “mean” towards them. Fortunately, we emphasize making strong friendships that focus on face to face interraction, and hope the rest will take care of itself. Thanks for your efforts..

Thank you people that stick up for people like me i was once cyber bullyed but it was good after that Thank you people once a again

PS:cyber bullying hurts please don’t do it!!!

I have two little kids and the fear of face to face bullying always worries me as they get older. I hate that there is just one more way kids can be ugly to one another. What is a parent to do? Not allow technology or playing outside?

Andy,

I am amazed when I hear of some of the things that some students send to others. We need to educate them as to what bullying online looks and feels like so that they can identify it when it starts to happen to them.

Right on Andy! We are always looking for ways to enhance teaching and sometimes we don’t see beyond the outcome we are hoping for - by opening a door we don’t realize the millions of directions students could go in and how these students need to know how to do it safely. Cyberbullying is real and it needs to be recognized so students can be educated about how to stay safe.

I read this piece as a choice for evaluation of blogs for my Instructional Media master’s class called Web 2.0. I must say that I am horrified to think that people can be so hurtful of something intended to help protect our kids. Articles like that list make strong cases for why people like you (and me, as a responsible educator) have your job cut out for you. Thank you for caring so much about our kids and for continuing to educate people on ways to protect them from becoming victims. Because of people like you, the rest of us can feel some hope.

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