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.