There are many forms of bullying in social networking sites, and educators should be aware of this particular one. Here’s what some middle and high school students do:
A Facebook user will post photos of 2 boys or girls and post the choices, such as “Joe or George?” and tag everyone wanted for the bully vote. Taggers then vote by choosing their favorite person and posting a response with one of the names, like “Joe.” Everyone that responds with a Joe vote piles up votes for him, and it’s possible that George may not receive any votes at all. To add more weight to the insult, taggers can subsequently Like all the Joe votes that individuals post, too. The most important step for the bully is making sure that Joe and George are tagged. No one expects them to vote, but everyone participating knows that the loser and winner will see all the activity. To further manipulate the vote, the user may also tag only the people he knows will respond in a way that supports his feelings about the candidates involved, a typical polling ploy.
Knowing the history of the product we all know and love, Facebook, it’s easy to see where this bullying activity had its origins. I didn’t realize, though, that so many students used it this way until another educator told me about it. One reason it may be popular is because of its seemingly lack in severity of punishment. Let’s say that the “Joe or George?” activity above is brought to the attention of George’s parents. They’re indignant and contact either the parent of the child who posted the vote, or they contact the school to put an end to it.
But what can the victimized child’s parent or school actually do? This is a form of bullying; in a court of law or in a school environment, not much can be done. There are no threatening or slanderous comments unless a participant chooses to take it to the next level. There are only names with Likes or no Likes. Following this is the justified activity, the unfriending. And really, “Aren’t these all the ways we learn about relationships?” we may think to ourselves.
I answer both yes and no to that question. Yes, we all grew up with some hard lessons about relationships as we went through educational systems. The difference is they weren’t so public and accessible, and there were no hard documentations of them. So, no, this is not quite the same.
That’s the message we absolutely must share with our children, schools, parents and the general public. All it takes is a screenshot to document that the bullying took place. A screenshot can be archived and shared forever. The hurt can be shared and relived indefinitely. It’s never too early for parents to understand the changes technology has brought to our relationships and for students to learn that it is wrong to support a bully, even when it’s pushing a simple Like button.