A new resource from MTV is encouraging youth to "post an action" online that they have taken to combat digital abuse such as cyberbullying and sexting.
An action can be something personal such as deleting inappropriate messages or images, blocking a user from sending hurtful or harassing messages, getting help or changing passwords. Or it can be social, such as arranging a school assembly or speaking up on behalf of someone who has been abused. The idea, according to MTV, is for young people to "join forces to foster an environment of positive action, while working to stop the cycle of online bullying and abuse."
Youth are being encouraged to go to the site and report the good things that they are doing. Entries can be viewed on a map of the United States showing where the action took place. Young people who post an action between now and the end of 2010 can enter for a chance to win a free trip for two to the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards.
Examples of early postings include: "I just changed my password on my phone, social networking and email account" along with "I just talked to a friend about digital abuse."
Why we need positive actions
What's good about this campaign is that it emphasizes positive actions rather than focusing solely on negative teen online behavior. And it comes at a good time. There have been numerous recent media reports about cyberbullying and sexting, mostly involving teens. But most teens don't engage in antisocial online behavior. A recent study from McAfee, for example, found a decrease in the number of youth admitting to cyberbullying, from 15 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2010. A 2009 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 4 percent of 12 to 17 year olds say that have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves via text message and that 15 percent had received such an image. That's too many but still a relatively small minority.
The 'norm' is to be civil
The reason I point out these statistics is not to deny we have a problem -- whatever the statistics, cyberbullying can have horrendous consequences -- but to remind parents and teens that the norm is to be civil, not mean. Those who do engage in mean behavior are the ones who need to be isolated -- not the majority of kids who don't treat themselves and others respectfully.
In addition to launching the new service, MTV announced that it has added new "A Thin Line" partners including Common Sense Media, myYearbook, ConnectSafely, and the iKeepSafe Internet Safety Coalition. MTV said that it "recently joined forces with Facebook, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and others to form a "Network of Support" for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens."
Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet safety organization that is a new partner on the MTV A Thin Line project. Neither Larry nor ConnectSafely.org receive any compensation for this relationship.