Activists ‘Do Something’ About Bullying

Today’s youth don’t talk. They text.

So when they want to report bullying, they might not turn to a traditional hotline with an operator on the other end of the phone. They need a place to text their written cries for help.

That was the argument that the leaders of youth activism organization ‘Do Something’ presented at the Harvard Graduate School of Education yesterday, where they explained how a text message hotline and other social media-based programs for teenagers could combat bullying.

“Text messaging is how young people communicate with each other. Social change needs to be built that way also,” said Nancy Lublin, the CEO of the nonprofit organization, which encourages teenagers to volunteer for social causes.

The group runs many campaigns, from helping teens photograph shelter animals to up their chances of adoption, to asking them to provide their friends’ phone numbers so that they will get texts reminding them to register to vote, to running bone marrow testing drives. When it comes to the issue of bullying, both in person and via the internet, Lublin said, they go to teens themselves to find out how they can help.

“The youth knows about what’s going on in the bullying world more than adults,” Lublin said.

Lublin and fellow speaker Jeff Bladt, data scientist at Do Something, emphasized the usefulness of data collected from social networking sites and text messaging for garnering information about ongoing bullying.

“Most of the social work is done after the fact, but if you see the data out there, you can see patterns and you might be able to do preventative work,” Bladt said.

To try to stop bullying before crises occur, Do Something recently created a Facebook app that asks high school students to fill out an eight-question survey evaluating the prevalence of bullying in their schools.

Lublin complained, however, that even though Facebook can be a tool for tracking problems, it is also a common forum for bullying itself.

For example, even though homophobic comments on Facebook are public, social norms deter students from speaking up against this form of abuse, Lublin said. “The kind of bullying you see on Facebook is culturally acceptable,” she said.

Kerry Salvo, who attended the talk, said that as the senior projects manager at City Year, she also works to use social media to confront challenges in the education sector. “As an organization, we’ve gotten really good with social media,” she said about City Year, which puts volunteers to work in struggling schools. “We have a big Twitter campaign going on right now. I think it’s really interesting to share with the people the power of social media,” Salvo said.

The Do Something leaders agreed that social networking can eventually help charities accomplish their missions, even if their goals may not be immediately realized.

“Here’s our product: teenagers. Our enemy is apathy, and so we look at optimizing opportunities for teens to take action,” Lublin said.

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