Twitter Polls Become Cyberbullying Tool

In late October of this year Twitter introduced a new way for its 500 million users to interact with one another by launching Twitter Polls. While Twitter has always offered ways for users to gather information and opinions TwitterPollsthrough hashtags or simply having users cast their vote through either retweet or favorites, this new polling option offers an easier alternative. While the poll questions and tallies are public information, who voted and how is kept anonymous.

Unfortunately, teens across the world have twisted this new option into a new form of cyberbullying.

Since being launched, reports of cyberbullying through Twitter polls have surfaced in middle and high schools in Utah, Montana, and Michigan.

How the Polls Work

The Twitter polling system is rather simple in nature. Users ask a question TwitterPolls02and can add up to four options as an answer. Once the poll has been broadcast the ability to respond remains active for 24 hours before polling is closed.

How Students Are Using It

In some cases, students have stated that the polls being posted were just jokes but soon they took a turn for the worse. Some polls being posted included: “Who is the Ugliest Girl In School”, “Who is Dumber: John or a Brick”, “Who is the Biggest Slut?” While the polling closes after 24 hours, the results remain on the account.

Is This Cyberbullying?

Absolutely! Bullying is defined by actions that are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviors intended to harm another. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” These polls have added an entirely new level to this.

Who Is Responsible: Parents or School?

I’ve spent the last hour pouring over all of the articles regarding this subject and there seems to be a common theme- no one wants to take responsibility over the issue. One school principal currently dealing with this issue had this to say in one story, ” the school has no connection to or control over the polls. That hasn’t stopped parents calling the school with concerns about what is being posted. He said he hopes Twitter can shut the accounts down before one of the polls leads to tragedy.”

I bring this up because it seems to be a common theme when it comes to social media, bullying and the law.

It’s important to first remember that each state has a different law when it comes to bullying both online and off. To learn more about your state’s law, I encourage you to visit bullypolice.org for a breakdown.

From there I want to remind both educators and parents that when it comes to raising our kids it takes a village. It’s corny. It’s overused. It’s true.

It’s important that communities work together to educate and prevent these issues from coming up in the first place.

Rather than turn myself into a broken record, I’m going to point you to an entry that I wrote last year regarding internet safety: Teaching Internet Safety: It Takes A Village. While a bulk of this entry talks about internet safety, I think the lesson can be applied to situations surrounding bulling. From there I’ll also recommend another entry for parents: Fight The Bully: What Parents Can Do.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Bullies Don’t Take a Vacation

I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that each year seems to go by faster and faster. 2015 was no exception. I can barely remember Halloween and my tree is up and my halls are decked. The holiday season has arrived!

Winter vacation is quickly approaching and people all over the world are gearing up to spend more time with friends and family. This downtime also means kids will be spending more time in the cyber world and unfortunately, bullies don’t take a vacation.

ID-100112944With this in mind, it’s important that parents and educators take the time to remind kids how to handle situations involving bullies whether they are online or off. This is a great time to have a conversations with kids about your expectations for responsible online usage and remind them what action to take when dealing with bullies.

Some Quick Facts On Bullying

  • 7in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying.
  • 37%of them are experiencing cyberbullying on a highly frequent basis.
  • 20%of young people are experiencing extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis.
  • Facebook (including Instagram), Ask.FM and Twitter found to be the most likely sources of cyberbullying, being the highest in traffic of all social networks.
  • Cyberbullying found to have catastrophic effects upon the self-esteem and social lives of up to70%of young people.

Your Top Tool: Communication

When it comes to students the one item I have on repeat is “take time to think.” For parents it’s much simpler: “COMMUNICATE!”

A tidbit I share all the time is how my mother raised us. Rather than lecturing about one issue or another, she would ask what we knew about something. She would take the time to get to know what we were into and who we were friends with.

It was an easier time for her with the lack of mobile technology and social media but I think that this ideal can easily translate into the digital world.

Stay on top of what is going on in the world by following news stories about bullying and other online issues and talk to your kids about them. Ask them what they have heard and if they have any thoughts about what is going on.

Checking in with them regularly and having conversations will help them feel more comfortable coming to you in the future with these types of issues.

By avoiding going into lecture mode, you will be establishing a great sense of trust for your kids. That’s what I loved about my mom. She hardly yelled or lectured and in turn we were more likely to come to her with problems.

Why Kids Don’t Report Bullying

1) Consequences- Technology has become an essential part of daily life and therefore people’s social lives. Many kids fear that if they report being harassed through digital means, parents will ban them or take away access to technology.

2) Humiliation- Many kids are afraid that when an incident is reported to parents or teachers they will appear weak or stupid in the eyes of their classmates.

3) Fear of Making It Worse-In addition to classmates learning of them telling, many kids fear that the bully will continue their harassments and even enlist others to take part.

Dealing with the Issues

So what to do when your child comes to you with an issue? Keep that communication going.

Ask your child what they would like you to do with the information they have given you. Do they simply want you to be aware of what is happening or would they like you to take action. If action is the answer, what kind? Talk to the other child’s parents? Talk to school administrators?

Let them be a part of the decision making and they will feel more in control for themselves. It will teach them the valuable skill of standing up for themselves and not always relying on someone else (mommy or daddy) to take care of all their problems.

Let them know that you are always and forever on their side no matter what!

Have your own thoughts? Please feel free to share them below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Image courtesy of Marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fight the Bully: What Parents Can Do

I get asked a lot of questions. Seriously, I’ll show you my inbox sometime. It’s truthfully one of the best parts of my job, being able to impart wisdom that I have picked up from over five years of travelling around the United States and talking with people. ID-10063311Of all the questions I get asked, the biggest from parents has to do with the issue of bullying both in the real world and the digital. For myself and even my parents growing up, when it came to bullies we were told to “suck it up” and that it was a part of growing up. More and more we are learning that these attitudes are dangerous when it comes to the health and safety of our children. It’s not as simple as sucking it up. The digital world has changed how we interact with one another and that goes for bullying. The advent of social media and mobile technology has created a breeding ground for issues that are constant, permanent and unavoidable. Some Quick Facts On Bullying

  • 7in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying.
  • 37%of them are experiencing cyberbullying on a highly frequent basis.
  • 20%of young people are experiencing extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis.
  • Facebook, Ask.FM and Twitter found to be the most likely sources of cyberbullying, being the highest in traffic of all social networks.
  • Cyberbullying found to have catastrophic effects upon the self-esteem and social lives of up to70%of young people.

Your Top Tool: Communication When it comes to students the one item I have on repeat is “take time to think.” For parents it’s much simpler: “COMMUNICATE!”

A tidbit I share all the time is how my mother raised us. Rather than lecturing about one issue or another, she would ask what we knew about something. She would take the time to get to know what we were into and who we were friends with. It was an easier time for her with the lack of mobile technology and social media but I think that this ideal can easily translate into the digital world.

Stay on top of what is going on in the world by following news stories about bullying and other online issues and talk to your kids about them. Ask them what they have heard and if they have any thoughts about what is going on. Checking in with them regularly and having conversations will help them feel more comfortable coming to you in the future with these types of issues.

By avoiding going into lecture mode, you will be establishing a great sense of trust for your kids. That’s what I loved about my mom. She hardly yelled or lectured and in turn we were more likely to come to her with problems.

Dealing with the Issues So what to do when your child comes to you with an issue? Keep that communication going. Ask your child what they would like you to do with the information they have given you. Do they simply want you to be aware of what is happening or would they like you to take action. If action is the answer, what kind? Talk to the other child’s parents? Talk to school administrators? Let them be a part of the decision making and they will feel more in control for themselves. It will teach them the valuable skill of standing up for themselves and not always relying on someone else (mommy or daddy) to take care of all their problems. Let them know that you are always and forever on their side no matter what!

Have your own thoughts? Please feel free to share them below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s entry was prompted by recent events.  Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

Following the August 2 suicide of Hannah Smith, parents have become very concerned about their kids using the popular social networking site, AskFM. The site is in the vein of others like Formspring (which is currently under new management and closed).ask-fm

Founded in June 2010, the site’s purpose is simple enough in allowing users to ask one another questions anonymously. The key to the site’s popularity and overall appeal to others being the anonymous bit.

Like most site, AskFM has simple beginnings, allowing users to ask each other harmless questions like “what is the last movie you saw?” or “what’s your favorite YouTube video?” Like all well-intentioned things, the site quickly became grounds for anonymous hate messaging and cyberbullying.

AskFM has gained notoriety over this summer as it’s been attributed to a number of European teen suicides. From July to August, the deaths of Daniel Perry, Hannah Smith, Erin Gallagher and Joshua Unsworth were said to have been instigated by bullying on the site.

askfm privacyPrivacy
Privacy for the site is basic at best. You have two options: allow anonymous questions or do not allow then. The site also allows you to Blacklist or block users who you do not wish to interact with. I suggest, that if you are going to the site, do not allow for users to interact with you anonymously. This is only going to lead to problems.

User Interactions
Most users are just using the site for the reason it was intended. I joined up about a week ago to learn more about the site and just today received a question from a fellow user asking me “What is your one major weakness?” I have the option of answering with text or recording a video response. (For those who are wondering the answer is Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars from Disney world and if I had the ability I’d record me crying tears of joy while eating one in Magic Kingdom!).askfm002

Users can link their Facebook or Twitter accounts to find friends or search through the millions of users to find questions, answers or new friends.

The issue comes from the ability for users to interact anonymously. This allows for mean-spirited users to send messages like “drink bleach,” “go get cancer” and “go die.”

Reporting Inappropriate Use
Despite what the media is currently saying about the site, it is possible to report users for inappropriate use of the site. On a user’s pageaskfm001 in their questions you will see a downward arrow. Clicking on this bring a drop down menu with the option of reporting the content. That said, what the site does to control, remove or moderate this content, I have no good answer for you there. With 65 million users as of July of 2013, I can’t imagine that it’s easy to moderate every complaint that comes through in a timely manner.

That Being Said
At the end of the day, I can honestly say that when it comes to sites like AskFM, Formspring and others, do not allow your kids to use them. Any site that allows users to interact with complete strangers (see: Omegle) or allows for anonymous interactions is no good in my book. Any sane person would look at this site and say “No, thanks!”

I would strongly recommend sitting down and having a very serious conversations with your kids about sites like this. Remember to make it just that, a conversation. If you come in defensive and demanding, your kids will shut down and want nothing to do with the conversation.

I also have to say that I can’t help but point the finger at parents in these situations. Yes, Mark and Ilja Terebin (AskFM’s founders) should be doing more to keep their users safe and should rethink the way they are running things over there. Along the same lines, parents need to be paying more attention to the sites that their kids are joining and taking responsibility in keeping them safe.

If choose to allow your child to join sites like AskFM, I strongly encourage that you go over the site’s policies and privacy options with them. Make it a requirement that they cannot allow anonymous questions and users to interact with them.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Pixar’s Lesson on Bullying: It’s For The Birds

It is a very well known fact that I am nothing if not a massive Disney nut! I love everything about Disney and the Pixar branch of the studios is no exception. From their shorts to their full-length features, there is a wonderful lesson to be learned.

For The Birds ScreenShot 13

Pixar’s short film “For The Birds” teaches viewers a fantastic lesson on bullying. Check it out!

Here we have a group of birds choosing to shun an outsider. From there they learn, a bit too late, that their actions against someone else can have some pretty serious consequences for them!

This video can be used in a number of ways to teach a lesson to students (even adults) about the consequences of bullying!

Have you used this video in class? I’d love to hear the results in the comments section below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

The Bullying of Marissa Powell (Miss Utah)

Imagine for a moment: you’re on stage in front of thousands of people. Hot lights are shining down on you. Around three million people around the world are watching you on their televisions. Put yourself in that position. You’re in it to win it. Put yourself there.

Now answer a random question read to you by Nene Leakes.

How are you feeling?

This is where Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, found herself on June 16th during the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. She fumbled, tried to recover, and did the best she could. Now she’s a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons (watch video).

325382-miss-utah-marissa-powell                               Image Source

Now, I will be honest. I wasn’t watching; I didn’t know it was on, and I could have cared less. Last time I enjoyed watching a beauty pageant- Sandra Bullock and William Shatner were involved and it was hilarious.

Moving on.

I knew nothing about the pageant or Miss Utah’s fumble until the following day when I spotted a video on the YouTube home page. I didn’t give it a second thought. Then it appeared on the Daily Show, Jimmy Fallon, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…it was viral.

I caved. I watched it. Frankly, I’m ashamed.

Being on stage is not the easiest thing in the world. I’ve been in front of hundreds of audience across this country ranging in attendance from 20-4,000. It’s nerve-wracking and I already know what I’m going to say. I can’t imagine being put in front of MILLIONS of people.

Marissa was first in line for the questions and she didn’t do so hot. She knew what she wanted to say but nerves took over and she fumbled, did her best to recover, and quit while she was ahead. I have nothing but respect for that.

What I’m ashamed of are the thousands of commentators out there bashing this young woman for her fumble. This is bullying at its worst. Isn’t this what we’ve been telling our kids is wrong?

On one YouTube video alone there are comments like “This is the reason why men make more than women” and “I am now dumber for having listened to this.” Others went on to comment on what she should have said. Of course you can do better; you’re sitting at home on the computer with no one watching.

This is a prime example that bullying isn’t just happening with kids. Bullying is an epidemic in schools, workplaces and all over the cyber world. In this instance we have thousands of strangers making fun of someone who was in a stressful situation.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is how our words can affect others. While Marissa has been able to laugh about her flub and make fun of herself, I can’t imagine these mean-spirited comments calling her “un-American” and “an example of why women will never be better than men” aren’t taking an effect on her.

It’s easy for us to judge from afar. But I want you to close your eyes. Imagine those spotlights. Put yourself in her shoes.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Demi Lovato: The Right Kind of Role Model

I’m not going to try to hide it, I’m a big fan of Demi Lovato. I’m listening to “Heart Attack” as I write this. I think her music is a lot of fun without being too bubble-gum pop and too risqué. I’m an even bigger fan of her as a person.

Demi Lovato

There are very few celebrities out there that I can honestly say serve as a good role model for kids today. I can count the number of truly inspiring young entertainers on one hand. That’s a big sad.

Demi Lovato is one of those people.

Before June of 2012, I knew next to nothing about her. I knew she was a Disney Channel kid and that at one point, she entered treatment.

That’s about it.

She jumped on my radar when I attended a taping of the X-Factor in Providence, RI. I wanted to hate her simply because so many young girls were SCREAMING at the top of their lungs at the very mention of her name. That’s enough to dive anyone nuts.

As the taping got underway, I couldn’t help but love her. She was smart, funny, and genuine. I was hooked.

I began paying more attention to her (following on Twitter, keeping an eye on the news feeds and I’ll even admit that I caved and watched some of the X-Factor as the new season began). That’s when I saw what a wonderfully amazing person she is.

Her anti-bullying efforts are to be commended and that fact that she is so open about her own struggles is both refreshing and inspiring. Recently, during a performance at the B96 Pepsi Summer Bash, she took a breather from performing to talk about her treatment at a facility close to the concert venue.

This is the type of person I would want my kids looking up to. She the type of person I would love to meet and have a conversation with (I’m sorry to say you won’t find me at a concert unless I was comfortable sat somewhere off-stage away from the screaming…backstage passes perhaps?).

I know this a bit of an “off-topic” entry for this blog, but considering her message to her fans through the above video and the difference she is working to make in the world, I think she fits right in!

What celebrities to do think kids should be looking up to?

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning speaker specializing in Internet Safety and Cyberbullying. For more information on Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com