The team who fight cyberbullying by creating empathy on Facebook

holding handsDid you know that there are employees at Facebook working behind the scenes to try to combat cyberbullying on the platform? If this doesn’t come as surprise, then maybe the way in which they are attempting to achieve this will raise an eyebrow… they are not just blocking or suspending users, or simply issuing warnings or threats over a need for good behaviour, instead they are combating bullying by telling the ‘bullies’ that what their actions are hurting the feelings of others.

Ok, so you might initially be skeptical about this idea but an article from the New York Times helps to explain what this team of researchers are aiming to achieve and why they believe this is a more effective way that simply banning users or censoring content. To summarise, the article introduces you to Arturo Bejar, the man in charge of addressing Facebook bullying. Bejar leads a team of 80 individuals who try to boost empathy between Facebook users by encouraging victims of ‘bullying’, or those affected by upsetting posts, to report the post in a manner which explains to the ‘bully’ that they found the post upsetting and why. You may have noticed that I am using the terms ‘bully’ and ‘bullying’ in inverted commas, that is because the team at Facebook believe that the majority of users do mean well and sometimes bullying is simply the result of a lack of thought or tact. Bejar believes this is fuelled by modern technology removing social cues such as tone of voice or expression…

The way our brains work, we have evolved to understand each other by tone of voice or seeing facial expressions, but that gets lost through the devices we use to communicate.

This could lead to misunderstandings when content is misinterpreted, or the lack of feedback could potentially contribute to a general lack of empathy as users do not see the impact of their posts.

Facebook now provides an open text box when users report a post; this box asks users to elaborate on why they want the post removed, including why they found it upsetting and how this made them feel. Their answer is then sent to the user who posted the content. This intervention appears to be a success amongst users with Facebook reporting that 85 percent of teenagers who wanted a post removed sent a message. By elaborating upon why the post hurt them, made them feel sad or embarrassed, it is hoped that the ‘bully’ will see, or rather feel, the results of their actions and help to reduce bullying behaviour on the platform.

What do you think, do you think that this approach is a good way forward? or do you feel a harsher method is required? Perhaps a combination of both would be beneficial?

One thing has to be said – at least these researchers are attempting to address the core problem rather than attempting to cover it with a virtual plaster.


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