The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated October as Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. In good spirit, let's give October back to the ghosts and ghouls and TV back to The Walking Dead by making every day of the year from this point forward a commitment to action against cyberbullies and online stalkers.
Recent statistics show that up to 50 percent of students report being cyber-bullied at school. Forty-nine percent between the ages of 14 and 24 say they've experienced electronic harassment. As a friend of mine would say, "Do the math," which tells us here that our kids are needlessly falling prey to faceless forces that see pain as a form of empowerment.
These numbers demand attention. They're telling an unhappy story, but the ending has yet to be played out by us. You see, we're the protagonists here, fighting not against Magneto, technology, or a herd of zombies, but against ourselves. We enable today's leading social media providers, the wizards behind the technology curtain, to put our children's safety at risk online by not using our unbeatable superpower: our voice.
Our voice tells us we love hanging out online. Social media is awesome. It lets us share. It keeps us connected. It makes us think we're aging better than our high school classmates. But our voice also says, "I want to feel safe online. I want to protect my privacy and the safety of those around me." To address that point we must ask a simple question, "Where can I feel safe online?"
On Facebook? Try again. Just this month the company removed privacy settings that enabled you to keep people from seeing your profile. Now we're all public pawns to anyone. Seek and ye shall find. Furthermore, in its attempt to recapture the teen market, Facebook also decided to let teenagers share posts publicly, claiming that "Teens are among the savviest people using social media." Very true, but teens also eat frosting for lunch when allowed. Basically Facebook is opening a Pandora's Box for online stalkers. Let the chips fall where they may.
Where can we feel safe online?
Not on Google+. Google+ enables asymmetric relationships. No, that's not a Match.com dating app. Asymmetric relationships let people follow and interact with you without your knowing them. Basically, it's a great way to build your own private network of anonymous online stalkers. Google+ also recently announced its intent to use friendorsements that repackage user photos, names, and comments in promotions without their permission. So have your friends keep a lookout for you online on Alpo and Twinkie ads.
Where can we feel safe online?
Not at popular teen sites such as SnapChat and WhatsApp. Members may think their images and messages vanish into thin air, but multiple companies have detailed how they can retrieve erased SnapChat messages from Android or iPhone devices and hack into WhatsApp using freely available tools that enable data scraping accounts and sending and receiving messages. Overall, it's a sad state of affairs. Even PATH offers no solace -- their privacy policies reveal a startling willingness to scrape and share member data, and the FTC fined them for egregious violations of their young members' data, amongst other miscues.
Where can I feel safe online?
I think there are two places we can lend our voice. One is teaching our children and ourselves about online dangers and being responsible online citizens. We also need to ensure proper safeguards are in place on our computers and within the social media providers we use.
Here's a fine example of one voice. Just last week Facebook decided to remove limitations on letting members share gory videos. Forty-eight hours later, under a maelstrom of verbal vinegar and written wrath, they quickly changed their tune. All in all, a nice day's work.
I think the other way to lend our voice is to form our own safe social networks, much as I did with Sgrouples. My passion behind Sgrouples is to move the conversation forward concerning online safety and social media. Sgrouples offers a privacy-centric community platform where we blend together social and safety into a model that empowers members.
How do we empower? We let members define their own groups. We let them limit their public exposure. Members decide who sees their content and there is no "friend of friends" peering or anonymous stalking/bullying. And we don't look at any of it - we don't have tracking cookies and aren't analyzing members' personal posts and shares. We provide direct relationships. We give the ixnay to friendorsements. Sgrouples is a forum that lets real life close-knit groups of friends, relatives, and co-workers stay active and provide updates in real time. It's a platform meant to discourage electronic harassment of any kind.
Some call it a privacy revolution. I call it common sense. We are social creatures by nature and private people by right. Sgrouples is meant to celebrate and enhance both in a positive light. I truly believe we are at the brink of the next great Internet transformation, one that offers safety to us and our children within amazing social platforms. I think it's about time that safety catches up to technology and forges ahead in a true partnership that respects and protects us while delightfully enhancing our lives.