One specific group, Hollaback!, is trying to take this on via their project HeartMob. They're raising funds for this via Kickstarter and I have to admit... I'm worried.
The website will give users a place to seek assistance from other people with cases of online bullying. This doesn't sound so bad until you look at some of the reports:
The problem with this is pretty obvious. How are we to know that the version of events that we've been given are the true version? What type of quality checking is there? Even if the staff has checked things, what if all that the person is looking for is a group of people to come and help fight the opposing party? In other words, what's to stop someone from going to this site and getting a horde of people to go attack another site? This would cross a very thin line where the people who are bullied could potentially turn into bullies themselves depending on the situation.
I'd like to think that people would apply rational thought to a situation but group mentality and first impressions are powerful. If I were to read a post by someone who claims that they went to a website and were bullied horribly, I'd be more inclined to want to believe what I first read just based on that first strong impression. That I've been bullied and I'd go into this with the idea that I could be someone's superhero would also potentially prove to be a bias.
This brings up another issue- what are the qualifications of the people who would be responding to the posters? The average person might do more harm than good because sometimes bullying needs to be very carefully approached because you need to get all of the details and know how to properly respond to someone. Sometimes telling someone to confront a bully is not the right answer, nor is giving them only sympathy. Sometimes people can give wrong information or even inadvertently say something to shame the other person or make them feel less likely to open up about everything. What's to keep this from just turning into a forum- of which there are many similar ones out there? The Kickstarter says it'll be moderated, but moderating can mean a lot of things. For example, if I remove a comment in a blog then that's me serving as a moderator right there. Will the moderators be qualified persons or just volunteers?
I'm not condoning bullying but anonymous posts are kind of difficult to judge. Sometimes people are targeted for the stupidest of reasons and you can see this on places like IMDb where people will create accounts and target people just because they happen to like the Twilight series or because they have a differing opinion.
However sometimes you'll have someone do something like go on to 4Chan and do something insanely stupid. Again, I'm not condoning bullying and I don't want this to seem like I'm victim blaming, but sometimes you'll get people who won't tell you the entire story- something that can be incredibly important.
Something also important to note is that sometimes you get people who weren't being bullied to begin with. It's not insanely frequent but sometimes you'll get people who will create fake accounts in order to make it seem like they're being bullied in order to gain attention or get revenge against someone. The false rape accusations of late are a good example of how something can go very, very wrong very quickly and end up ruining someone's name, possibly for life.
That's not even addressing the issue about whether or not someone from one of the other groups would be able to get the same sympathy on this site. What if someone from MRA was getting bullied? Would they be able to receive the same care and sympathy or would they just be told that they shouldn't support the MRA? Would the site be able to adequately monitor this site to avoid this specific person getting bullied on their website?
Even if the website doesn't allow people to specifically identify and link to the sites they're getting bullied at, this still has several big flaws that will need to be addressed. A commenter on the Huffington Post article brought up a good point: without the support of the social media sites there's not much that websites like this can do. No social media site is going to openly say that they condone bullying, but you will have sites that say that they cannot oppose free speech- and that's how a lot of groups manage to remain on social media. That means that this website may not be able to do much more than what many of the pre-existing websites like Stopbullying.gov or the various anti-cyberbullying forums offer to their patrons.
I'm not saying that this website will fail, just that this needs to be done very carefully in order to avoid some of the pitfalls that I've mentioned here. Here are my biggest concerns:
- What type of quality checking and verification will this site do for the posters?
- How will it be moderated?
- Will they allow users to post links to the places that they claim are bullying them?
- Will each poster be guaranteed to have a qualified person responding rather than a random person on the Internet?
- What sets this apart from other similar things on the Internet?
- Where will all the money go?
- How will this organization work with other organizations and the social media outlets?
- What type of advice will they give?
- Will the site allow posts to go up "as is" or will they read over them first to ensure that they are appropriate?
- What will they do if they find that the person in question is not being truthful?
- What will they do if the person is not being bullied?
- If the person will not take advice, what will they do then?
Sorry if any of this seems rambling (because it is) but stuff like this always concerns me a little since sometimes some of these sites can do more harm than good and sometimes they can just perpetuate stereotypes of what a victim looks like, what a bully looks like, and what constitutes bullying.
It also doesn't help that a little searching about the organization asking for money (Hollaback) came under fire last year for editing a street-harassment awareness video to remove a lot of white men that were harassing women. They may not have meant to make it appear that a white woman was mostly getting harassed by non-white men, but this is what I mean by sites sometimes doing more harm than good. The comments in the Jezebel article are especially appropriate to what I'm talking about. This sort of thing needs to be done very carefully and be very transparent from the get go to avoid stuff like this whenever possible.
- HeartMob Will Provide Real-Time Support To People Being Harassed Online (Huffington Post)
- HeartMob at Kickstarter
- Hollaback responds to criticism of racial bias in street harassment video (Washington Post)
- A Hollaback Response Video: Women of Color on Street Harassment (Jezebel)