|Kristi Essler, who's studying at UBC Okanagan for her bachelor of social work, shows an online petition to put pressure on Facebook to help end cyberbullying. It has garnered 616 signatures.|
"I know of several people in the community who have taken their lives as well - whether it was during high school or after high school. A lot of them had gone through years of bullying," said Essler, now 21. "I'm all about the rights of individuals. It's been an issue that I have been passionate about for a very long time."
Her concerns with bullying were brought to the forefront with recent media attention on teen suicides, notably Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam Grade 10 student who died on Oct. 10 after posting a YouTube video about being bullied, physically assaulted and blackmailed.
Essler, now a third-year bachelor of social work student at UBC Okanagan, decided her passion was a perfect fit for a project in her Social Work Theory and Practice class with Dr. Susan Hillock.
"It's aimed toward getting students to go out and put our ideas into action to make a change," said Essler.
"The Amanda Todd story broke my heart, the fact that it got to that point. It's tragic that youth have to fear for their lives even though they don't have a face to go with it. As a direct result of the increase in young persons being victimized by online bullying, I thought it's time to really stand up against it, to raise awareness, to make a change, to hold bullies accountable."
So she partnered with fellow student Holly Weir and together they launched an online petition to convince Facebook officials to change their policies, to not only make it easier to report cyberbullying, but to make sure there is an investigation and consequences.
The petition is posted at www.causes.com. When you get to that home page, type cyberbullying into the search window and you'll find it from there.
"That came out of trying to report the I hate Amanda Todd page on Facebook in December. I was told that there wasn't enough material on the site to suggest it was a hate page. I felt that wasn't OK and clearly there was something wrong with the policy that was allowing that to happen." One of their major issues is that Facebook's complaint process is long, drawn-out and complicated, she said.
"A lot of the time, it deters a person from reporting it. It needs to be easy to report and there should be more awareness that you can report these pages. And subsequently, something needs to be done with these reports rather than sending out an automated message," said Essler who has not received any response from Facebook.
"I was curious to see if they would respond. Not a word. I'm quite surprised actually." Someone suggested she start a I hate Facebook page to see if that would spark a response.
"That would be very controversial. It would be very interesting how how long that would take to be shut down," Essler said with a laugh.
The petition was launched 23 days ago, and has received 604 signatures to date from across Canada, U.S., England, Zambia, the Philippines, Peru and several other countries around the world.
Their project is due on April 4, so petition results will be tallied in about two weeks. However, the two students plan to keep collecting signatures as long as it takes to influence Facebook to make the changes.
"Our efforts in raising awareness have reached across the world as a result of the connectivity of social media, and the support of the community. We're hoping this generation, and generations to come, no longer have to fear for their lives within the social media environment."
Essler was surprised at how many people commented on the petition drive and expressed support.
"There are more people utilizing Facebook than there are living in North America with an average of 30 billion photos, statuses, posts and comments shared every month," she said.
"This means there are billions of opportunities for users to experience online harassment, threats, outing, humiliation, discrimination, oppression and cyber-stalking. Victims of
cyberbullying cannot simply walk away from the harassment as the posts, photos and comments can be posted, reposted and viewed by thousands in a matter of seconds."
In 2012, a study indicated more than half of all Facebook users said they had experienced at least one form of Facebook bullying in the past year.
After graduation, Essler wants to work with at-risk youth.