Raul A. Palacios, Ed.S.
Born This Way Foundation and University of Nebraska – Lincoln
In 2015, a CNN article reported that teen’s spend around nine hours per day on their social media accounts, with some teens checking their accounts over 100 times per day. The simple fact that this revelation is not as shocking as it should be shows us how desensitized and integrated social media has become in our daily lives. The truth is these days you can find just about anything, real or fake, on the internet. And while social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat are flooded with content ranging from silly cat videos to international news reports, managing the content that social media users are exposed to is an increasingly difficult task that these companies are being forced to moderate. However, social media companies currently do not have a standard protocol for content moderation given the complexity of free speech laws and cultural variations. What may be offensive for one group of people may be completely acceptable and appropriate for another group of people.
Adding to the complexity of the online community is that internet users are not afraid to voice their opinions, even when it means saying or posting messages that they might not have been willing to say or do given the opportunity in “real” life. Take a look at a controversial message board and you are bound to see conflicting ideologies clash in a hostile way. In fact, the 2016 Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America Report recently found that 70% of young adults have been the target of online harassment. The reality of anonymity allows internet users to harass their fellow social media peers with limited legal, administrative, or social media repercussions.
While the task of moderating social media content and users seems like an uphill battle, there are people and organizations that are more than willing to take the hike towards creating a kinder and braver online. This past week, Born This Way Foundation (www.bornthisway.foundation) launched Channel Kindness (http://www.channelkindness.org/), an initiative aimed at empowering youth and young adults to report on stories that focus on heroic acts of kindness occurring around our nation. These stories will not only be shared across social media platforms, but Channel Kindness provides a unique opportunity for youth to be a solution for making the internet a kinder and braver space.
Hack Harassment, an initiative founded by Intel, Vox Media, and Born This Way Foundation, is also looking to find ways to stop online harassment and cyberbullying by bringing awareness to the negative impact that online harassment causes. When you get a chance, take a minute of your time to complete the Hack Harassment Pledge, and commit to speaking up against hurtful comments online. Early this year, Hack Harassment awarded four #HackHarassment Grants to Hack Harassment Campus Ambassadors who are currently raising awareness about online harassment. My project, #HackUNL (go.unl.edu/hackunl), was fortunate to be selected as one of the four recipients of the inaugural #HackHarassment Grants. #HackUNL is a 24-hour hackathon event where diverse individuals will come together to create solutions to address online harassment and cyberbullying. #HackUNL will take place over Easter weekend (April 14th – April 16th) on the University of Nebraska – Lincoln campus in Lincoln, Nebraska. At the hackathon, participants will be asked to develop a project that creates a kinder and braver online space by 1) Increasing kindness online while decreasing negativity, 2) Creating a positive online climate focused on inclusion and safety, and 3) Fostering mental wellness. One unique aspect about #HackUNL is that we will bring researchers together with computer scientists and web developers to help create practical applications that are grounded in current knowledge and research that we have regarding cyberbullying and online harassment.
In the end, is censorship the best approach to creating a kinder and braver online world? Recent attempts at restricting and moderating content have proven to be challenging and counterintuitive to providing knowledge and awareness to a diverse set of ideologies. Instead, supporting initiatives like Hack Harassment and participating in projects like Channel Kindness and #HackUNL may be the key to real solutions and real change. One thing that all of these initiatives have in common is that they are collaborative efforts where everyone is part of the solution and the brunt of the issue is not left solely in the hands of the people and companies creating our technology and user experiences. Together, we can start to inform real solutions for both kinder and braver online and offline worlds.