Between #gamergate, Ashley Judd's op-ed over noxious tweets during this year's March Madness and Monica Lewinsky's recent TED Talk, cyber bullying has been getting major press lately. And according to some, it's not a moment too soon.
While speaking on In Deep Shift With Jonas Elrod, Maysoon Zayid, an actress and comedian with cerebral palsy, questions what social media has done to our compassion. "I think that social media has really empowered bullies because you get to do it from the comfort of your own home, completely anonymously, with no ramifications,” says Zayid, who has attracted plenty of hateful cyber comments about her appearance, religion and ethnicity. “That's what's happening on social media. You see people from each side dehumanizing the people around them."
Two thirds of of young adults 18 to 29 in the United States reported that they have been harassed online, and 92 percent had witnessed another person being bullied, according to a 2014 report from Pew Research. Women are also a particularly vulnerable community of users, notes the Pew study. While sexual harassment and stalking claims rank high among this group, 18 percent of young women report experiencing prolonged abuse--the kind suffered by Gamergate critics.
That social media companies--which earn a living by making you want to spend time on their sites--have hardly lifted a finger to prevent this type of bullying is particularly galling. It’s not just inhumane; it’s bad business.
That’s the opinion of Jamilah Lemieux, an editor at Ebony magazine, who describes herself as a feminist. In her view, which she expressed vigorously while on stage at Emily's List 30th anniversary event in March, women are a cash cow for social media sites. So, she says, they ought to do a better job securing them.
Here's her point: Women make up the majority of social media users--that's 74 percent women to men's 62 percent, according to a separate Pew study from 2013. They’re also the biggest buyers in the home and tend to be the main caretaker of children. So the money that social media companies make from advertisers surely stems predominately from women-driven products.
As if this wasn’t enough, women also interact with brands elsewhere on the web. They show support, access offers, like and comment far more than men do. They also deserve to be treated with respect from the companies that purport to serve them.
To be sure, social media companies are aware of the problem. Twitter, for its part, is reportedly rolling out a new quality filter that will allow tweeters to hide offensive or abusive posts from their timelines.
Other giants like Facebook may not be following suit with tools, but they do provide advice for victims of bullying. Further, several options, including untagging, unfriending and blocking, allow users to intervene and put a stop to abuse. One can also report a user for their bad behavior.
While these are steps in the right direction, they're certainly not comprehensive solutions. Twitter's filter roll out will only be available to verified users on ioS. When Twitter will make the filter more widely available remains unclear. Facebook's strategy of blocking bad behavior--rather than preventing it--doesn't go far enough either.
Still, in the vein of not letting perfection be the enemy of good, taking their lead--even if they don't go as deep as some would like--is worthwhile. As such, you might consider revising your own corporate policy on bullying. While your business likely doesn't have the same profile as Twitter or Facebook, allowing abuses to happen--even small ones--will surely be destructive.
Here’s how Lewinsky eloquently puts it in her TED Talk: "A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is the industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars." As more women realize and question this culture, the clicks are going to fade away from these platforms.
Let’s hope this happens sooner, than later.