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March 10, 2011 / assembled

The White House addresses Cyber-Bullying

On Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 President Barack Obama and Michelle made a video to announce the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, which took place today Thursday, March 10th, 2011. The White House has partnered with Facebook, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health, as well as students, parents and teachers everywhere to bring awareness to a very timely issue. Given the recent string of teen suicides over the last several months, it became clear that these tragic events were not isolated incidences, but rather an epidemic in the making.  Influential activists like Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga, Perez Hilton, and Anderson Cooper all expressed outrage over the devastating loss of life over something that had gone unaddressed for far too long.

The White House conference today tackled some of these important issues, and sought to address how we can unite as “digital citizens” to make the Internet a better (and safer) place for everyone. The fight won’t be easy, however, and we must all step up and police not only ourselves, but also our peers. In this case, we are just as guilty as committing the act if we stand idle and let it happen.

The issue of cyber-bullying is more or less an unprecedented situation. As we are well aware, bullying at school is usually handled by school officials. But what happens when bullying happens in “lawless spaces” outside of the classrooms and over the Internet? Should Facebook privileges be revoked if hate speech is being used to bully? What are the boundaries between hate speech and free speech?

Facebook has taken a proactive approach in answering some of these questions. They have created several resources for reporting cyber-bullying issues resources including stopping online bullying, a Safety Page and a Safety Center. The White House has also created its own website, StopBullying.gov. But this again raises a very important question: who should intervene and who should be responsible for punishing cyber-bullies?

To answer this question, I think we all need to be responsible; parents need to be responsible for teaching their children about the moral, social and legal consequences of bullying. School administration needs to be responsible for addressing all instances of bullying, punishing, and providing accommodations (in Tyler Clementi’s case, he requested a new dorm room but was not given the proper attention). Teachers need to be responsible for teaching students about safe and appropriate internet usage. Teachers also need to be responsible for alerting the appropriate disciplinarians. Students who witness acts of bullying need to be responsible for telling someone (and they also need to be given the proper tools to tell someone). Everyone can take a proactive approach to addressing this issue, and by bringing it out from the shadows and into the spotlight, it looks as though there is a real opportunity to put an end to cyber-bullying.

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