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Fighting Cyberbullying Through Technology: The RETHINK Idea

Cyberbullying should not even exist. It represents the dark side of social media, and can have a tremendous effect in the long term, for a society trying to maintain a peaceful social link.

88% of the teens who use social media declared in 2011 that they have seen someone being mean or cruel to another person on a social networking site.

It represents a danger - not only because it hurts kids now, but because if we don’t change it, it will shape habits and become “normal” in the digital schoolyard. Less gracious or less popular kids are still broken in schools; the digital world could be better than a translation of this sad human routine.

The risk of communities: losing themselves in their own “values”

Social media tends to increase social mechanisms - either it’s a celebration of a new member, the reward for a specific action related to the values of the community or the flaw of on-going perks which make a member feel like they’re part of something…

Needless to say, sometimes mocking external individuals is part of the deal with the community - it’s a way to position against the “other”, to deny alterity and associate it as something wrong.

The business of trolling

Trolling is not necessarily something that media or networks want to forbid or forgive. If you ever read comments on The Guardian, trolling is also part of what feeds the conversational energy; moderators flirt between what’s acceptable or not. Playing with passion is also a way to generate engagement.

There’s a growing trend to provide platforms for trolling. In the case of “Secret,” the app that promises to “say what you’re really thinking and be yourself,” loads of commentators and little dramas are currently happening; the gaming mechanism is to spot someone supposedly anonymous and to highlight a ‘not so adorable’ secret to a crowd of second degree people, despite the community guidelines.

Technology to “fix” people

In the name of freedom of speech, very few actions have been undertaken by companies. Let’s be honest, up until now there was more money to make letting trolls satisfy their desires (and we can all become trolls at some point).

Tragedies driven by cyberbullying occurred all over the world. The case of Amnesia deeply shocked Italy , sadly echoing Hannah Smith in the UK. 

An amazing idea was born a few weeks ago, thanks to a 13 years old girl named Trisha Prabhu, who’s one of Google's 15 Global Science Fair finalists for her project about stopping cyberbullying. The idea is simple: making teens and tweens think before posting hurtful comments.

“In order to check if my hypothesis was true, I created two Software systems: 1) Baseline 2) Rethink. "Rethink" system measured number of mean/hurtful messages adolescents were willing to post after being alerted to rethink, while the "Baseline" system measured the same without the alert. Results proved that adolescents were 93.43% less willing to post mean/hurtful messages using a "Rethink" system compared with "Baseline" system without alert.”

So basically, instead of “patching” cyberbullying with new laws, the teenager uses a far more powerful weapon - our self-consciousness and a warning of what we really want to do as a member of a community. It’s an interesting stake against some start-up models which “sell” social relationships to “consumers”, as it’s forgotten that at the end, all we want to do is just have fun.

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