The problem of cyber-bullying hit me hard last week. As I wrote last week, I volunteer as a critical incident stress management debriefer. Most of the debriefings I do are with first responders – fire, EMS, police, dispatchers and similar workers. But our team also reaches out to the community; when you hear on the news that grief counselors are available to an organization after an incident, that’s us. The reason cyber-bullying is on my mind is that over the last few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time with teenagers who are trying to cope with the suicides of friends.
Confidentiality is paramount, so I cannot offer any details of any incident I’ve been involved in. But imagine a middle school or high school student who learns that a friend has committed or attempted suicide, who goes to that friend’s MySpace, Facebook or other social media home page and finds mean and horrible things written about them. What’s worse, imagine if those things were written after their friend took that awful step.
I came away from one recent set of debriefings absolutely convinced that if there is any possible way to do it, the industry should figure out a rapid way to disable, freeze or at least moderate the pages of any minor who has been a victim of violence. I emphasize “rapidly” because word gets around fast (a whole separate problem; texting is not a good way to find out your friend is dead) and cyber-bullies can post unbelievably nasty messages in no time at all.
One of those important things we tend to forget in designing sites; social sites need some way for the authorities to contact them quickly and reliably and get things frozen while real life gets sorted out. Sad that it’s needed, but it is.