Being a teen is tough. I recall ups and downs of my own teen years – experiencing every emotion from the elation of being asked to prom by the captain of the football team to the lows of being shoved into a locker over and over by a bullying girl. While the lows still sting, I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely innocent, having joined some other girls in mocking the bully in part for the way she dressed.
In high school, a boy in our class was bullied so much that we were warned at graduation that in his fragile state we should all be on high alert that he might take action to retaliate against the class. Worried about our own safety, I can’t recall one classmate – or for that matter a teacher – who reached out to support the bullied boy – instead alienating him even further at what should have been among the most wonderful milestones of his young life.
Looking back on these experiences, I feel pain for the targets of my own and others’ bullying – but I simply cannot fathom the magnification teens feel today in the white hot spotlight that can be created by social media. Sadly, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old student at Rutgers University, became a symbol for just how badly social media can sting by taking his own life after a very personal experience was broadcast via live, streaming video.
As a new parent, my insides simply seize up over the obstacles that my son could face as he finds his place in this world. The rise in social media makes him vulnerable to cyber bullying, online predators and so much more. As a professional whose world revolves largely around social media on a daily basis, I’ve struggled to remind myself of the positive side of this revolution as I look ahead to how to address this new parenting challenge.
“CBS Sunday Morning” did a great story on teen suicide prevention this weekend, alerting me to the organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), which has done an outstanding job creating a safe place in a medium where, although potentially filled with landmines, teens often do feel solace – the Internet.
Additionally, Ellen DeGeneres has created a compelling video that employs both an appeal to people to stop bullying as well as a strong message to those who feel bullied: “I know how you feel, and there is help out there. Things will get easier, people’s minds will change, and you should be alive to see it.” I’ve seen this video spread by friends and family all over Facebook and Twitter – proving that a simple one minute 45 second video shared via social media can have an impact.
Joining Ellen are Chris Colfer of “Glee,” Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” and a number of other celebrities who have recorded PSAs for The Trevor Project which has done a great job leveraging its message across social media platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter – among others – in the wake of the recent spotlight on bullying, particularly of gay teens.
With these simple videos and social media posts – not to mention a text-to-give campaign also being promoted by Ellen – these celebrities and many others are making waves and rallying support all through the medium that just last week showed its dark side.
As we march forward as public relations professionals and stewards of social media – both personally and professionally – it’s imperative to be mindful of the impact our actions have both on and offline. Whether you’re blogging personally, creating a Facebook strategy for a client, or simply sending e-mails back and forth with colleagues, keep in mind that the simplest slip can have a strong impact. Whether that impact makes the world better is entirely up to you.