Cyberbullying is a real problem. Several recent teen suicides have been attributed to kids being harassed and humiliated online. Many others have lost friends, been the subject of disciplinary action at schools and simply been made desperately unhappy.
Should Facebook and MySpace be doing more to stop it?
Slate takes a look at how the big social media sites handle bullying, and what more they could do.
Surprisingly, MySpace has taken the bullying issue much more seriously than Facebook. After getting a lot of bad press back in the dark ages of social media – say, around 2005 – MySpace hired Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor, to manage their privacy and and security.
The results please safety advocates like Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. Highlights of the MySpace approach to handling bullies include:
- default privacy settings for young users that keep their comments and posts hidden unless they choose to reveal them.
- a computer algorithm that trolls the site for fake accounts and deletes them.
- real live humans who troll the site for problems, and report obscene photos, runaways and suicide threats to the authorities.
- A 24-hour phone hotline for parents and school authorities concerned about inappropriate postings.
- An e-mail inbox with a person on the other end who reads and responds to complaints.
Good luck getting that kind of love from Facebook. They accept complaints about false or abusive accounts by e-mail, but don’t respond to those e-mails. There’s no phone hotline. No communication at all, basically.You can complain, and if your complaint is substantiated, they’ll delete the offending page or posts.
Both MySpace and Facebook blacklist e-mail accounts and usernames associated with abusive behaviors, as well as deleting the offending accounts. For some teens, this is a bigger threat than detention, being grounded or anything else parents or schools can dish out. Losing access to Facebook means losing a big part of their social lives.
The Federal Communications Decency Act prohibits social media sites from disclosing their users identities, as a protective measure to encourage free speech. You can get access to that information with a subpoena, though.
Some legal experts are challenging that, saying that aggressors should be easily outed when they harass private individuals. On the other hand, I can tell you from painful personal experience that a subpoena of someone’s online journal or profile is not hard to come by. Since online trolls can be sued for defamation and libel, the existing legal system can serve to out the worst offenders.
But maybe these social sites could do more to protect young teens, before it gets to the level of harassment that warrants legal intervention.
What do you think? Do MySpace and Facebook need to step up, or is bullying a problem for parents and schools to solve no matter where it takes place?
Photo: Daniel Foster
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