In early November, Facebook rolled out a “bullying prevention hub” to report online harassment.
This launch comes not long after the widely reported suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, who reportedly jumped to her death after being cyberbullied on Facebook and other sites on the Internet. Supposedly having an HTML page to report bullying will alleviate or prevent deaths like Sedwick’s, but there’s a big problem: It’s not going to work. It’s not going to prevent suicide, and it’s not going to stop bullying.
First, there is the sensationalistic media that connected Sedwick’s death with the harassment she received by many girls, especially a cruel 14-year-old who allegedly wrote on Facebook, “I bullied Rebecca nd [sic] she killed herself.”
Kelly McBride, a faculty member with the Poynter Institute, said during an interview with NPR’s On the Media that we should be cautious about assigning single causation to a suicide. Mental health is more complex than mean girls verbally abusing a vulnerable one. McBride claims it’s the journalistic equivalent to an afterschool special. She also explains that while it appears cyberbullying is on the rise, the number of teen suicides has remained relatively stable.
Then there’s the little fact that younger teens are using Facebook less, not necessarily because of bullying, but possibly because it has gone out of fashion. The web is more fractured than it was several years ago, and sites like ask.fm, Snapchat, and Instagram (which Facebook owns) are segmenting Facebook’s previously captive audience.
The real reason the bullying prevention hub won’t work, though, either to stop bullying or prevent suicides, is because bullying is not a result of having space to bully. Bullies existed long before Facebook or the Internet, and while the Internet provides a vast expanse of opportunities to anonymously harass, bullying is, ultimately, not something that is going to go away because Facebook has decided to intervene.
Bullying is forever.
Facebook is just the principal or the concerned teacher, folding her arms and clucking at her bickering students. She may have a small influence, but just because she’s there and says she’s ready to help doesn’t mean it’s going to stop.
Instead, maybe we need to stop focusing on the mean girls, and start looking at the vulnerable ones who feel so cracked and broken they think ending their lives is a solution. We need to strengthen our understanding of mental health, our outreach skills, and our support for these kids, and that does not exist as an antiseptic HTML page, but in our words, our actions, and our treatment for these children.
We need kindness — and lots of funding. To learn more about teen suicide, not a marketing campaign from a corporation.