I just got hit in the back with a flying ping pong ball. The schoolkid behind the errant ball apologises and goes back to his game with a girl from another school. That’s usually the hallmark of being in a funky social network’s offices: the familiar slap of ping pong/foozball/shuffleboard going on in the background as the pop music soundtrack blasts on. There are 20 kids in Facebook’s Sydney office right now, and everyone’s here having fun, but the subject matter is about to turn serious. Behind the guise of a DJ, a giant whiteboard people can write on and a bunch of hashtags around the room is a show of strength against the government’s plan to install an e-safety commissioner.
It’s run by Project RockIt, and it’s an organisation against online bullying, intimidation and prejudice.
Kids representing 20 schools have been brought to Facebook’s shiny HQ in Sydney to take a stand in their school against online bullying. These kids will be anti-bullying activists after their lightning workshop, and after that Facebook will develop a resource kit for other schools to use. That will compliment Facebook’s existing anti-bullying tools.
There’s the Facebook Wall against bullying in the middle of the room in the Sydney HQ, and people are filling it with their pledges to take a stand against bullying.
“I am too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful and too determined to be defeated,” one girl has written, followed by a love heart.
“Doing something is better than nothing,” writes another.
Positive signs are spread around the room that about leadership, responsibility and embracing who you are. They’re all clichés to you and I, but for a 14-year old kid who’s being teased non-stop on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it’s a message they need to hear.
I’m a fly on the wall for this workshop, and it’s a good time for it too. Today is the National Day of Action against bullying.
The Hunter Institute of Mental Health reports that suicide accounted for 25 per cent of all deaths among 15- to 19-year old males, and 21 per cent of deaths of females the same age.
Everyone is kicking around scenarios of what to do on Facebook when someone tries to get at you, put you off balance or bully you. Kids are talking about looking out for their mates online to identify warning signs before someone hurts themselves, and everyone is getting involved.
It’s cybersafety in action. It isn’t a government posturing about “keeping the kids safe” to score political points. It isn’t a nameless advocate going on TV saying that start-ups and social giants need to be more responsible. This is the youth leadership we need.
Facebook wants people to see this. Gizmodo wants people to see it. Because the alternatives aren’t great.
The Coalition Government thinks that the internet is a dangerous place. A place that needs to be fenced off from our kids so that they don’t stub their proverbial toes on the big, bad online world out there. They want their Government-appointed “cyber-commissioner” (kill me now) to help keep kids safe on big social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Wouldn’t you know it, though: Facebook, Twitter and Google all think that’s a stupid idea.
In a submission to the Government’s public consultation into keeping kids safe, the big social players who have offices in Australia roundly condemned the proposal for a Government-appointed online safety commissioner via their local industry body, the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA).
The submission says that the proposal should be “reconsidered”.
“A policy that clamps down heavily on the things that young people can say to each other on larger responsible sites has potential to drive young people to engage in risk-taking behaviour on services that have less well-developed protections in place and are not covered by the legislated scheme,” AIMIA wrote, adding:
“Given the government’s commitment to de-regulation and reduction in red tape and lack of evidence that existing mechanisms are not operating as intended, we respectfully submit that the government should reconsider the proposal to introduce legislation to take down content and rather work to extend [existing protocols] to apply to more services.”
On the one hand, it’s not an entirely bad idea to take action against online bullying. Clearly there needs to be more self-regulation at an industry level because right now, a lot of online bullying material posted by the attackers goes unchallenged.
On the other, it’s just more talk designed to placate parental interest groups that is potentially ripe for abuse.
Facebook has said in an additional submission to the government’s inquiry that giving people the ability too broad a definition of “objectionable content”.
Furthermore, the e-commissioner wouldn’t be able to achieve his or her mission of taking down content within 24-48 hours due to the need for proper investigation and action.
So Facebook is fighting back against bad ideas. It’s trying to show off its ability to self-regulate. Its fixing the problems in its own platform by taking the power away from those misusing it to make others feel small.
These kids are now armed with the right tools to take on online bullying. Those are tools that no government-appointed bureaucrat could give them in a million years, and that’s crucial in the fight against online bullying.