Most social media sites don’t do a particularly good job of protecting users from online trolls and harassment. Putting up with extremely violent and sexually aggressive trolling has become the new “normal” of online life for frequent users of social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
For asynchronous platforms especially (those where you do NOT have to approve followers) like Twitter and Instagram, your profile is open to public consumption. Consider these apps as you would a bathroom wall assigned to an individual: where the user (the owner of the wall) can write whatever he/she likes for anyone to see. A visitor to that bathroom can also respond in a very public way on that same bathroom wall – for everyone to see.
(NOTE: Although you *can* lock down your Instagram and Twitter profiles to private which would require potential followers to ask for permission to follow you, only 12% of Twitter users employ this privacy option.)
Tweens and teens suffer at the hands of trolls and online harassment
As I travel around the country speaking to students (from kindergarten to college) the stories of harassment and trolling are not only frequent, but expected. In fact, whenever I am booked to speak at a large school district, I ask for school guidance counselors and law enforcement to be present. There is no question that situations will come up which will require some measure of intervention.
One of the most common questions I am asked by parents, students, and schools is: “What do we do once we see [insert flavor of harassment]?” The answer has traditionally been: take a screenshot and bring it to school and/or law enforcement. However, the strength of that evidence is largely dependent on the tech knowledge of the person capturing the evidence. Most parents don’t know exactly what to screenshot and evidence can quickly disappear.
Twitter embarassed by their ‘revenge porn’ problem
In a recent memo to Twitter employees, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said he was embarrassed about the company’s reputation (re: revenge porn) and took “personal responsibility” for the company’s failure to address the problem.”We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote.
Just recently, the “Twitter Rules” have been updated to include the following: “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent”. This so-called “revenge porn” has been an enormous issue on Twitter and other social media sites.
What do I do if my child is a victim of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, or revenge porn on Twitter?
Before today, I would have given you my standard recommendation: “take a screenshot and bring it to your child’s school and/or law enforcement” knowing that the success of that process depended on the relative tech knowledge of the parent. HOWEVER, as of this morning, Twitter has unveiled a fantastic new reporting tool making it far easier to act in a meaningful way.
Now, when you use the REPORT option on a specific tweet, you will see the following:
LEFT IMAGE: You will see confirmation that Twitter has received the report (this process is the same as it was before)
You also have the option to have a report EMAILED to you which can be brought to your child’s school and/or law enforcement. If you choose the EMAIL REPORT option…you will see the image on the right
RIGHT IMAGE: The report has been sent, and you then have the opportunity to either MUTE or BLOCK the offending user.
MUTE: This means that you will not see any of the offender’s tweets in your feed, but you will still receive notifications of direct messages
BLOCK: The offender will not be able to follow or view your Tweets (at all) AND you will not see anything from the offender – anywhere
You will receive a date stamped report including the names of the perpetrator of the abuse and the victim in addition to the date/time information of the offending content. The email also includes guidelines for law enforcement – which you should print off and bring to law enforcement AND to your child’s school.
NOTE to School Administrators
When parents contact you with a report of alleged cyberbullying against one of your students on Twitter, recommending that they use this tool will go a long way to making YOUR job as an administrator easier. Discipline cannot be meted out without evidence. The responsibility for gathering the evidence is on the parents and/or students – NOT on the school.
NOTE to Parents
Although this is a great tool (and I applaud Twitter for its development) it’s implementation on behalf of your child presumes that the damage has already been done. This is a reactive solution.
Remember that children under 13 years old are precluded by COPPA (Federal Act) to own ANY social media accounts. Your children under 13 years old have absolutely NO BUSINESS having any social media accounts of any flavor, under any circumstances, ever. The risks are and consequences are too high:
- Pornography consumption – the new age of onset of consumption of pornography is 8 years old (porn is everywhere, yes even on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, and Vine)
- Sexting – I’m seeing this start as young as the 4th grade. Children are being investigated and charged with felony child pornography charges all over the country
- Sexual predation – there are 750k sexual predators online at any given moment and they are hanging out and gaming with children who don’t even realize it
- Cyberbullying – including revenge porn and offline violence
Jesse "Big Mama" Weinberger is an Internet Safety Speaker for schools, the host of the Internet Safety Podcast: Big Mama's House Podcast, and the author of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket; a guide for parents and educators on how to keep children safe in a 24-7 always connected digital society. Learn more about how to keep your children safe online. She has been teaching parents, schools, and students how to navigate online and mobile risks since 2003. Jesse is available for internet safety presentations to schools, parents, students, and organizations all over the United States.