Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Choice of Media is Irrelevant.

I was in high school when a couple of girl friends placed a sheep's brain in my gym locker. It was supposed to be a light-hearted prank, I'm sure. But I didn't laugh when I lifted my hand out of my purse to discover a wrinkled up membrane that reeked of formaldehyde. I cried that day. And I hated those girls. And a little part of me hated me for being such a baby about the whole thing. 

Flash forward more than a dozen or so years and I can look back on that memory and smile. But some people are not as fortunate. Some stunts and tricks in elementary and high school turn nasty, even among friends. 

What's the lesson learned? Apparently, people don't change. Kids will be kids. People will be stupid. What does change are the tools we use to make things happen. New, flashy, fabulous tool will always emerge to support our stupidity and innovation. But that's not news to anyone, is it?

What is making the news lately is the amount of damage that can be inflicted via one of the more popular tools being exploited today: social media. Things like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, email and more have been blamed for a new era of cruel elementary bullying.

It's been called cyberstalking and cyberbullying, and the National Center for Victims of Crime defines it as "threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications." As of December 2009, according to the NCSL, 47 states have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws.

Social media experts tout that most of these channels of communication have security in place to keep non-friendly messages from populating if the user of the account sets it up that way. They call for more education on how to activate these privacy measures. To a small degree, I agree. But the fact is that if someone wants to call you a nasty name, they will do it. The choice of media is irrelevant.

Just because our kids are behind closed bedroom doors on a laptop all night instead of wandering the streets doesn't mean that they can't be harmed. Or do the harming.

Social media should be treated the same as any other device that offers the untapped ability to communicate, interact and transmit delicate human emotions via messages, images and more. From a public relations position, it's easy to see that a company needs to be mindful of the advantages as well as the pitfalls of using social media. It should be just as transparent to a parent, if not more. We protect our products, but what about kids?