Waltham Nonprofit Helping Facebook Find Cyberbullying Solutions

BOSTON — As investors, analysts and Facebook executives are zeroing in on the value of the social networking giant’s stock in advance of its initial public offering this week, the company is also in the midst of looking for solutions to one of the biggest challenges of the social media age: cyberbullying.

Facebook recently gave grants to four organizations around the world to study bullying in social media and how to combat it. One of those, Education Development Center, or EDC, is based in Waltham and was chosen both because it conducts research related to health and education and because it’s based in a state that two years ago passed anti-bullying legislation.

WBUR’s Morning Edition host Bob Oakes spoke with the lead researcher on EDC’s project, Shari Kessel Schneider. Her team is interviewing and surveying school leaders, students and parents in 20 school districts, as well as examining school policies and curriculum dealing with cyberbullying. They hope to pinpoint ways Facebook and educators might collaborate to combat the problem.

“It is a shared responsibility between parents, youth, schools and social media sites,” Kessel Schneider said. “They all play a role in helping to address the issue and prevent it from occurring.”

Facebook recently implemented a social reporting mechanism that allows any user to either request content of another user be taken down or report incidents of bullying or harassment to a trusting adult or friend, according to Kessel Schneider.

Every two years EDC conducts a survey of middle and high school students in the MetroWest region. Kessel Schneider says in the last survey, conducted in 2010, about one in five students reported being cyberbullied in the past year. She says reports of cyberbullying among high school students have increased in recent years, though the survey doesn’t determine if that increase is a result of more awareness or an actual rise in cyberbullying incidents.

Other recent research by EDC looked at the difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, and their association to students’ reports of psychological distress — things like depressive symptoms, self injury, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

“What was very striking in our findings was that we found that cyberbullying is more strongly associated with psychological distress,” Kessel Schneider said. “It can occur even when [kids] are in the safety of their own home — their home isn’t safe anymore, really. It can also be anonymous, so they don’t know in some cases who the perpetrator or perpetrators are. And there is such a wide reach if somebody does experience bullying online, those messages can be posted to hundreds or even thousands of people instantaneously.”

With over 900 million users, Kessel Schneider says, Facebook faces a daunting task in addressing cyberbullying. But she believes collaborative efforts can help to decrease it.

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  • http://twittgroups.com twittgroups

    There is a website at http://CyberCitizen.org that helps students and schools deal with Bullying and Cyberbullying on Facebook and other social networks.

    The media can sponsor a city to allow students to make “Anonymous” reports to their schools and to the social networks through this service.

    They have School Counselors, School Psychologist, Social Workers and a Computer Forensics Investigator on staff to help students, parents and schools.  Their free webinars feature many top speakers on Bullying, Cyberbullying, Character Education and Positive Psychology. 

  • stefitup

    I applaud Facebook for looking for solutions. My friends have been attacked on a website called Topix and that website refuses to do anything including refusing to require users to register for accounts, hire a good amount of moderators, archive forums, etc. I mention them to make a point regarding Facebook. Facebook is very popular and unlike websites like Topix and a few others, they do at least acknowledge it is a problem and seem like they are trying. I think part of the answer is to have a staff that handles complaints 24/7 (they certainly have the money to do so). There should be an easier way to report abuse and once someone is reported a moderator look at it immediately and if it cyberbullying is occurring that person in some cases gets one warning and is told never to contact the person again and if they do they receive a permanent IP block and ban. In extreme cases, they are banned immedately. In the case of pornographic material or fake facebook pages created to embarrass someone those should be removed immediately and an IP ban sent. Because it is a public forum there should be no nudity allowed because it is too accessible to children. Facebook should have a staff that roams pages periodically as well checking on compliance.

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