#BeStrong new emoji offers support to teens in fight against cyber bullying

BITCI News - Members News - Sep 28, 2015

Irish teenagers think cyberbullying is worse than face-to-face bullying (60 %) and over half (51%) believe it to be a bigger problem than drug abuse for young people, a global survey of almost 5,000 teenagers across 11 countries including Ireland has revealed. Conducted by YouGov on behalf of Vodafone, the research found that one in four teens in Ireland had been cyberbullied compared with one in five teens across the other countries surveyed. Many Irish teens said they felt helpless (45%) when it happened to them with three in ten (29%) admitting to feeling completely alone. One in four of those who had been cyberbullied went so far as to experience suicidal thoughts as a result.

Nine in ten Irish teens said they would find it easier to cope with cyberbullying if they received support from their friends on social media. However four in ten (41%) admitted that they would find it hard to find the right words to support a friend who was being bullied online. Almost three quarters (74%) of Irish teens (globally: 72%) surveyed said they would be likely to use an emoji to express compassion or support for friends being cyberbullied.
At a breakfast briefing in Dublin on 22nd September 2015 attended by Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD and representatives of children and youth organisations, Vodafone Ireland launched the #BeStrong anti-cyberbullying initiative, which aims to build emotional resilience amongst teens online. The initiative includes the creation of a suite of ‘support emojis’ for teens to use to convey compassion, sympathy and support when friends are being bullied online – download emojis here. The emojis* were chosen by the 5,000 teens surveyed from a wide selection designed by Vodafone and its anti-bullying panel which included NGOs, semioticians, designers and Berkeley University Professor Dacher Keltner – the psychologist who advised on the creation of the characters for Pixar film Inside Out.

emojii hugsLaunching the initiative Vodafone CEO, Anne O’Leary said: “We know that children want to reach out and help or support each other, that was very evident from the research, but there is an issue around how they can do that. Recent academic research has found that it is difficult for young people to show compassion and support for their friends in words if they are being bullied online. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to us. We have all been tongue-tied teenagers at some stage and have difficulty expressing what we feel. I hope that our research and the new emojis will be of some help in the battle against cyberbullying. We have a long way to go in terms of dealing with the overall problem but every small step helps.”

Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD said: “No one who is experiencing bullying of any form should suffer in silence and this is particularly true in terms of cyber bullying.  I want to acknowledge the tremendous work currently being done by a range of voluntary organisation, some supported by my Department, in tackling cyber bullying.  This research and the #Bestrong initiative will prove beneficial to everyone working in this important area.  One of the main themes to emerge from the research is that teenagers want to help and support each other when a friend is being bullied online.  Giving teenagers an additional communication tool to achieve that goal, through the use of emojis, is a great initiative.”

SPCC CEO, Grainia Long said, “The ISPCC is proud to support Vodafone’s #BeStrong anti-cyberbullying campaign. This innovative campaign seeks to tackle cyberbullying which we know, through our day to day work, can leave a young person feeling vulnerable, frightened and alone.  As a society we need to work together to tackle cyberbullying and equip young people with the confidence and skills needed to safely navigate this new world they inhabit and this campaign demonstrates how this can be achieved and utilises mediums that young people can connect with.”

Clinical psychologist, David Coleman said: “We all know that the non-verbal element of our communication is as important as what gets said in conveying our meaning to the other person. In an online world there is no such non-verbal behaviour. Instead we rely on acronyms and emojiis to explain the emotional tone of what we are trying to say. The development of these emojiis, by Vodafone, gives more choice and an easy shorthand for teens to show support, caring and empathy with their peers who are being bullied. Making it easy for teens to support and stand up for each other might lessen the distress and isolation that cyberbullying can cause.”

You can view a specially commissioned new video created by Professor Keltner  which discusses the importance of teens being able to offer support and show sympathy to their peers being cyberbullied.

To support the initiative the images are available on Vodafone and Vodafone Foundation social media platforms as part of a donation campaign. The Vodafone Foundation, Vodafone’s philanthropic arm, will help raise funds for five anti-bullying NGOs include the ISPCC by donating 14 cents (10p) for every Twitter retweet or public Facebook like of the campaign image. Retweet here.  The company is also talking to the major emoji app and social media platforms towards featuring the emojis on their platforms in the near future.