Penalties For Cyber Bullies

October 21, 2009

Schoolyard bullying is a problem that has been around for generations.

In the past, whatever a person might face in their work or school environment, the problem was contained. Home would be a space of both physical and psychological refuge.

The internet is causing a breakdown of the barriers of time and space; this is exciting and promising for some areas of our lives, and frightening for others.

Cyber-bullying is an increasingly pressing issue. Most would be aware of the infamous Megan Meier case, where a 13-year-old girl committed suicide, allegedly because of a cruel cyber hoax set up by her former friend’s mother.

Megan Meier

Megan Meier

Courtesy: Tina Meier (ABC NEWS)

Megan MeierAccording to article “Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide

“When a cute boy befriended Megan on the social networking site MySpace, the two formed a quick connection during their more than month-long relationship.”

Turns out ‘Josh Evans” was simply a hoax account, however:

“The mother  created a fictitious profile in order to gain Megan’s trust and learn what Megan was saying about her daughter.”

More recently, a woman who was already had a protective order taken out against her violated it, harassing the victim via Facebook:

“Shannon Jackson, a 36 year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee previously had been accused of harassing, threatening and verbally abusing Dana Hannah and had a protective order put in place banning Jackson from “telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with the petitioner.”

Apparently, Jackson jumped onto the popular social networking site and sent Hannah a ‘poke.’

(See the full article: “Woman Arrested For Facebook Poke“)

Bullying is no new phenomenon. What is disturbing is that the internet can amplify the problem so that the victim is perpetually exposed to potential attacks. The emotional attachment to home as a ‘safe place’ is broken. I would speculate intrusive anxieties and fears become as intense as when the victim is at school or at work – in direct contact with the bully.

I believe that the Megan Meier’s case demonstrates not only that the consequences of this can be extreme, but also highlights the additional problem of anonymity on the internet. The bully has been traditionally typecast as the coward, and the internet provides the perfect impetus for a bully to harass and abuse someone without having to face the consequences of getting caught.

Perhaps better education on how young people should respond to cyber bullying is the answer.

I think, though, the Australian Government should seriously consider tough penalties in schools, similar to what some European countries have introduced. See “£1,000 fines for parents whose children are cyber bullies.



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Tweet For Your Supper

October 21, 2009

The article “Comcast: Twitter has changed the culture of our company” provides interesting anecdotal evidence of a trend that could change the nature of employment for future generations.

According to Comcast CEO, Brian Roberts,  Twitter has – as you may have already guessed – changed the nature of his company.

Comcast has for a while now been using Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers. The idea was not his, but rather rose organically when someone in the company realized that a lot of public complaints were being sent over Twitter.”

Now the company employees people specifically to work on the site:

Frank Eliason (Comcastcares on Twitter), now has 11 people working under him simply to respond to information about Comcast being broadcast on Twitter.”

Interest from younger generations in traditional communications and entertainment models is fading fast, while they flock to the internet and websites like Twitter and Facebook. Companies are guaranteed an immediate, engaged and active audience.

This could be a very good thing for the younger generation. Tides of young people are graduating in an increasingly hostile economic environment, and such websites could generate a multitude of new jobs – jobs which offer opportunities for graduates to be innovative and creative. Moreover, the younger generation have grown up with these websites – they already have the skills they need to exploit the websites – from hours spent networking with friends and family.

However, this raises other issues, particularly in areas like the ‘digital divide’. Are people that cannot afford the technology going to become increasingly marginalized in a new media society? Will Generation X struggle to produce marketing campaigns that are relevant to a younger generation or will they thrive and adapt?

If things continue the way they are going, this graph suggests such problems could prove to be pivotal for people looking to make the move into the workforce over the next decade:

The rising level of social networking related jobs

The rising level of social networking related jobs

Credit: Indeed.com

At a recent work experience placement at a local newspaper, I noticed the journalist sitting next to me would intermittently flit to her Facebook news-feed between phonecalls. (Or while on the phone if it was a particularly dry interview).

Such is no surprise. Doesn’t everyone use their Facebooks/Twitters/MySpaces (for the old-fashioned) at work these days?

Apparently not. According to this Computerworld Article , 54% of US companies have instituted a total ban on use of social networking sites during working hours.

Said Dave Willmer in the article:

Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access,”

This news startled me somewhat. I was sure a few months back I had read articles extolling the benefits of employees using these sites (albeit infrequently) at work.

Sure enough, here was the “Read Write Web” article I had read:

A new study just published by Australian scientists found that taking time to visit websites of personal interest, including news sites and YouTube, provided workers a mental break that ultimately increased their ability to concentrate and was correlated with a 9% increase in total productivity.”

Of course there are limits to this:

“…within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office.

Either American workers are spending much more than their allotted time on Facebook or  CEO’s are misguidedly taking a zero-tolerance approach when they really should be adopting a “little-but often” mantra?

From my own experience, a little time on Facebook at work does offer you the opportunity to rest your brain from the rigours of work. However, for me, it also allows a sense of connection to the outside world while you are glued to your desk.

In fact, there does seem to be a bit of psychology behind why social networking sites are beneficial at work. This article offers ‘5 reasons why Social Networking Websites Increase Productivity at the Workplace’.

It suggests technology is “the new cigarette break”, and brings “‘life into the workplace” . This acts as an antidote to growing resentment at long working hours and less time spent with friends and family.

You don’t need to rush home from work to plan your night out as “employees can now access social networking sites to make arrangements, plans and dates during the day”.

The writer also suggests that social networking can benefit the business, forging links between employees and allowing for business networking.

Off to go and check my news feed – guilt free.

Recent hacking attempts on websites Facebook and Twitter made headlines worldwide, when hackers launched a massive coordinated attack overwhelming servers with communications requests.

Turns out the whole thing boiled down to a petty dispute between some computer geeks in Abkhazia, caught up in the current conflict between Georgia and Russia.

In order to prevent one user posting some provocative tweets, they took with them at least a few hours of precious posting time from internet addicts all over the world.

This kind of incident shows not only the vulnerability of these websites to the most elementary of attacks but also the vulnerability of the posting public.

No doubt these websites have the resources and revenue to develop defence systems that will one-day outsmart the most astute of hackers and computer geeks.

In the meantime however, it appears the public has so widely come to rely on tri-hourly blogging, twittering and status-updating that an equivalent attack in six months time could have disastrous effects. Widespread withdrawal systems. Panic Attacks. Friendships ruined, families torn apart.

Maybe not to that extreme. But in all seriousness, this families business was seriously affected by the ‘blackout’:

Lev Ekster

Lev Ekster and His Cupcakes

Credit: The New York Times/Suzanne DeChillo

For Lev Ekster, who runs a mobile cupcake truck called CupCake stop in New York, Thursday’s twitter hiccup meant no tweets to customers and fans on  the truck’s locations and the day’s flavors.”

Their conclusion? Not to put all your eggs in one basket:

“As soon as I saw the twitter outage, I went  on to our Facebook fan page,” said Ekster.

(Story courtesy of the Jakarta Post).