We’ve all seen those unnecessarily mean comments and personal attacks, in response to articles, videos, and social media posts. The faceless “trolls” behind them seem to get a kick out of humiliating people; just for voicing opinions or sharing content online.
Though it’s clearly unpleasant, such behavior is often ignored or dismissed as an inevitable part of our online experience. But for many people, abuse like this can have very real consequences; when trolling turns into full-fledged cyberbullying.
A hidden epidemic
Often hidden from view on social media platforms, forums, or messaging apps, cyberbullying can be hard to spot. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. According to the anti-bullying organization Bullying Statistics, more than 50% of adolescents have experienced cyberbullying in some form, and up to a quarter have been repeatedly bullied online.
And it’s just as damaging as a school- or workplace harassment, hurting the victims emotionally and often leaving them too afraid to socialize or go to school. In more extreme cases, it escalates into physical abuse and has sadly led to a number of suicides.
As online marketplaces and classifieds sites increasingly chase community building, do they also have a responsibility for user actions on their platforms? How can they address the important issue of cyberbullying?
Germany sets an example
Germany certainly thinks businesses have a job to do. The country’s new “Network Enforcement Law”, which came into effect in October last year, sets a very strict precedent when it comes to dealing with offensive material on social networks.
The new act levies fines of up to €50 million if a social media platform – with more than 2 million users – fails to remove posts that break German law within a certain (very short) timeframe.
This law has already drawn international attention. And, as broader awareness of cyberbullying increases, governments around the world are likely to start following suit; putting regulations in place to ensure that businesses do everything they can to protect their users.
However, many countries are struggling to enforce action as current laws don’t categorize certain ‘bullying’ behavior as necessarily negative. For example, in Sweden, publishing a naked or sexual image is not seen as ‘defamation’ as being sexually active is normal adult behavior. A 2016 article in The Guardian, illustrates just how varied actions against online harassment can be.
From a business perspective, the time to start tackling the issue of cyberbullying is now. As companies everywhere begin to take action, the cost of not having an effective online bullying strategy will be high financially in terms of brand reputation and user churn. Recent statistics show that 30% of users that witnessed cyberbullying on a site stopped using the service afterward.
As the digital society continues to mature, we are also likely to see increasing legislation as governments start holding companies responsible for what happens on their platforms.
Taking steps to keep your users safe online
The growing problem of cyberbullying has been a difficult one to face for many companies. Reviewing billions of comments, messages and posts is impossible for a human team to do alone. However, there are a number of ways to handle cyberbullying and neutralize it on your website.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) filters can catch inappropriate comments or posts before they’re published. This not only prevents people from posting offensive content, but it also forces them to reflect on what they are saying.
- “Report” buttons allow users to flag offensive comments or content online; meaning moderators can then take the appropriate action – deleting the post, warning the user, or even banning a person from using the service. This type of moderation can also be applied to private messages, groups and chat functions; the worst kind of bullying often occurs in a one-to-one setting.
- Training should be offered to all customer support staff to know how to deal with instances of cyberbullying, especially when young people are involved. No matter how well-integrated your anti-bullying safeguards are, it’s important to be aware that digital harassment often occurs across online platforms. Victims are followed from service to service and your agents will often find themselves in situations where they have to take a decision without knowing the full context.
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