As I've written in this blog before, I have been studying and drawing attention to forms of harassment called "sexting" and "cyberbullying" for quite some time. "Sexting" is a pervasive problem amongst tweens and teens that use digital means to exchange racy messages and photos. See my prior blog posts here and here (hyperlinks) for more info on "sexting" and "cyberbullying" respectively.
I'm happy to say that this issue is finally drawing more mainstream attention. In October 2009, members of the StopCyberBullying Coalition met with a variety of industry leaders and experts on Capitol Hill to discuss the effects of digital abuse on our nation's youth. This event was a solid first step towards increasing awareness towards these issues, and I was pleased to participate.
While government involvement is important, I was even more pleased to hear that MTV is taking the lead on bringing these issues to their wide audience of young people. Their multi-year initiative, "A Thin Line," is specifically intended to empower youth to stop the spread of digital abuse.
MTV does this kind of thing well. Their True Life series commonly address issues that are facing young people by following them through their paths of struggle and redemption. This gives young audiences a chance to observe their peers who are facing similar problems and opens them up to being more receptive to talking about their own issues. It is a format that has proven to be effective and relatable.
In addition to producing True Life: I Have Digital Drama covering digital abuse, MTV will also release multiple public service announcements and create digital tools for young people to open up about their issues while also observing others doing the same. These multiple approaches should open up conversations about digital abuse even more.
Today, MTV and the Associated Press have released a report that shows some alarming statistics about digital abuse: 3 out of 10 young people have sent or received nude messages on their cell or online, and 61% who have "sexted" report being pressured to do so at least once. These statistics are the basis of MTV's multi-faceted initiative, which also include a 30 minute special report on digital abuse, a contest for youth to come up with creative ways to use mobile devices and applications to develop a safe space to talk about digital abuse issues, the creation of a Digital Abuse Advisory Board (populated with some of the members of the StopCyberBullying Coalition), and nationwide educational curricula for schools in all 50 states.
And while it's crucial that young people are given a platform to learn about their problems, I also believe MTV's initiative will help to educate their parents. Often, as is the case with most issues faced by young people, digital abuse goes unreported because kids are scared to discuss it with their parents. Because digital abuse is a "new" form of harassment, it's also not relatable to a generation of parents who never faced similar issues. Educating the older generations on prevalent issues facing today's youth while giving the youth a platform to also learn and discuss is a comprehensive approach to stopping the spread of digital abuse.
I'm glad these issues are being brought to light and am excited to see MTV's initiative help curb the spread of this new form of harassment amongst our youth, while informing their parents of the new types of problems that their kids face in the modern digital age.