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White House conference aims to combat cyberbullying

Consumer Reports News: March 11, 2011 02:42 PM

President Obama and the First Lady meet with students
Photo: official White House photo

One in five teens has been a victim of cyberbullying, with threats ranging from "not-so-serious to death threats," said Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, speaking during yesterday's White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

The goal of the conference, said President Barack Obama, was to "dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up."

Cyberbullying was one focus of the event. "Today, bullying doesn't even end at the school bell—it can follow our children from the hallways to their cell phones to their computer screens," Obama said.

Conference participants offered advice on how to prevent cyberbullying. For starters, it's essential that parents be familiar with the technology their kids are using, said Joe Sullivan, Facebook's chief security officer. The number-one question Facebook hears from parents, Sullivan said, is whether they should "friend" their kids, a practice Sullivan encouraged.

Facebook also used the conference to discuss new anti-bullying features it is launching, while MTV announced a series of public-service announcements on the topic. Facebook says it wants to take a more community-minded approach to reports of cyberbullying. As a result, when you report an instance of bullying, one option will be to get help from a "trusted friend," who may be a parent or teacher. When you choose that option as you report a problem on Facebook, the offending material is forwarded to the "trusted person," who may be better equipped to confront the bully.

MTV also announced that it was teaming with a number of groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, and GLAAD, for its new public service announcements. The network's "It's a Thin Line" campaign encourages teens to consider the consequences of their online posts by asking questions like, "If you wouldn't say it, why would you type it?"

—Donna Tapellini

   

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