Previously unknown footballer cum boxer Curtis Woodhouse came to the fore this week over his response to a cyber-bullying incident. As so many of these things seem to, it occurred on Twitter after he had lost his latest bout. One of his followers felt it suitable to berate him for his performance, suggesting he should retire immediately.
It turns out this wasn’t the only time this Twitter user had berated Woodhouse, and this latest insult proved the final straw, prompting him to take matters into his own hand. He preceded to find out where his abuser lived and paid him a visit, posting regularly on Twitter about his journey. Suffice to say, having a professional boxer knock on your door asking about your behaviour is not something many would appreciate, and it prompted a rapid about face by his abuser, who blurted out that he was only joking and things have got out of hand.
Whilst Woodhouse was largely praised for standing up to the Twitter troll, this isn’t a course of action open to many victims of online bullying, especially amongst the young. Statistics reveal that as many as 50% of youngsters have been bullied online at some point, so if you run a community online, and youngsters are a part of your audience, this affects you.
Submit the Documentary
It’s against this backdrop that a documentary was made about online bullying. The film, called Submit the Documentary, looks to chart what cyber-bullying is and the often terrible impact it has upon the lives of those affected. Central to the story are parents of children for whom cyber-bullying was too much, and prompted them to take their own lives.
Whilst each story was tragic and heart breaking, I was left with the impression that the film merely scratched the surface of this very serious issue. For instance there was little context provided as to just how large this issue was or whether it affected particular communities or websites more than others.
For instance one story told of a girl who was befriended on MySpace by a ‘boy’ who subsequently turned abusive. It later transpired that the boy in question was actually a grown up neighbour and her own child. Clearly not a nice tale, but there was no context given as to how common a problem this was or whether more recent social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have made any improvements to combat this kind of issue.
Indeed, there seemed to be no mention of the community managers at all. Insight was sought from teachers, parents, children and various other groups, but nothing from the people actually running the communities where these issues take place. Given that there are a large number of communities designed specifically for children, this seemed a wasted opportunity to provide an insight that seemed largely lacking.
The film was also kinda light on the legal backdrop. Last year alone 653 were charged here in the UK with offenses allegedly committed via social media. The Crime Prosecution Service has even released some guidance on this issue recently. Instead however, the only legal coverage in the film was a policeman saying that they’re too busy to worry about this sort of thing.
Tackling bullying on your community
So whilst the movie might provide an introduction to the topic for people with little insight into the topic, for those of us in the business of running communities it was a little light. It made a good point about the importance of peer pressure, and community managers can certainly play a part in promoting the culture that bullying is not acceptable in any way.
I wrote a month ago about some research conducted by Michigan State University into online bullying. It recommended that messages around bullying on a community should be positive, so the right behaviours are promoted rather than drawing attention to negative traits.
The trailer for the film is included below. Have a look and see what you think.