Meet the teens who are using peer pressure online for good, showing that allyship and advocacy are just as important in our virtual social lives as they are in real life.
Ofcom’s latest study of children’s lives online reveals that four-in-10 kids aged between eight and 17 have experienced bullying. More than four-out-of-five of these children (84%) said that the bullying took place on a device.
As a parent, this may seem scary; but it’s also an opportunity for us all to be allies for good online.
We want to celebrate kids around the world who have turned the tables on online bullies. Like Pakistani-Brit Malala Yousafzai and Swede Greta Thunberg, these young stars have made kindness and inclusivity go viral instead of hate, and created online pile-ons for positive ends. They show that influence for positive change can transcend borders and even language barriers.
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Calling out cyberbullying with Cyber Teens
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai has called him “an inspiration” and “a true changemaker”. And in 2020, aged just 17, Sadat Rahman won the International Children’s Peace Prize – an annual award, previously bestowed on Greta Thunberg, which recognises the work of young people who promote children’s rights.
He created an app that allows young people to report cyberbullying confidentially. Cyber Teens employs a network of volunteers who educate teens about online safety. They also contact police or social workers when appropriate.
Accepting the award in 2020, he said: “I strongly believe awareness, empathy, counselling and action are the four drivers of force to combat cyberbullying.”
He added: “The fight against cyberbullying is like a war, and in this war, I’m a warrior. If everybody keeps supporting me, then together, we will win this battle against cyberbullying.”
Today, his Cyber Teens Foundation is working with the Government of Bangladesh to build a safer internet for children, and a cyberbullying-free Bangladesh.
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Helping bullies consider the impact they have with ReThink
Trisha Prabhu was only 14 when she gave a TED Talk on cyberbullying that has now been viewed more than a million times.
In 2013, she heard about a young girl’s suicide because of cyberbullying, and was determined to do something about it. Her solution is an app that gives bullies a chance to think twice before posting offensive messages on social media.
“ReThink is able to detect when someone tries to post something offensive on social media and then alert that person and go, ‘Whoa. Hold on. Are you really sure you want to post a message? It could be offensive’,” she told ABC News.
And it works. Using her ReThink app, the overall willingness of teens to post offensive messages fell from 71% to 4%.
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Stopping hate by promoting self-esteem
YouTuber and influencer Emily-Anne Rigal established just three rules for people who wanted to contribute to her channel:
- Don’t make fun of people who are different from you.
- Think positive – not negative – thoughts about yourself.
- Pick friends who make you happy, not stressed.
WeStopHate, which she launched aged just 16, has attracted content from celebrities including Disney stars Mitchel Musso and Monique Coleman. The channel is now dormant, but in the heyday of its influence, Ms Rigal herself was named one of Newsweek magazine’s ‘150 Most Fearless Women in the World’.
Her motivation? “I was bullied as a child and my experience was so traumatic that I was forced to switch schools,” she told Teen Vogue.
“Overcoming my personal struggle with bullying and loneliness inspired me… My heart goes out to those struggling with self-acceptance. I believe it is my life’s work to help others turn self-hatred into self-love. If you’re happy with yourself, you are less likely to put others down.”
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Exposing hate crimes
This year, 18-year old American Landon Jones posted a video on Tiktok in which he shared video clips of the homophobic bullying he routinely experiences from his classmates, and called it out.
“Now, I don’t know if you guys know this, but these are hate crimes,” he said in the video. “This is harassment. The fact that they went to my house to do this, the fact that they followed me, this is a hate crime, this is harassment, it’s bullying. And after last night, I am fed up with it. I’m done.”
The video has now been viewed more than 1.3m times on TikTok, and attracted more than 15,000 almost exclusively supportive comments. In the immediate aftermath, a spokesperson for his school district issued a statement saying that Saddleback Valley Unified School District and El Toro High School “together with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), immediately launched a comprehensive investigation.”
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Leading with inclusion
Natalie was 12 when she switched schools and started getting bullied. In one fortnight alone, she was physically attacked three times. Eventually, the Californian started at a new school where she made friends and things were better. But she couldn’t forget the experience. Every time she saw someone eating alone, she would ask them to join her table. And then she had an idea for something that could make an even bigger impact.
Aged 15, she drew ideas in a notebook, took classes in basic coding, and eventually launched an app.
Sit with US is a social networking app designed to promote kindness and inclusion in schools. It connects kids in need of company at lunchtime with welcoming students who have volunteered to become ambassadors for their schools, so that no one has to eat alone.
We hope these inspiring stories will reassure parents – and kids – that although there is a lot of nastiness out there online, there is also a lot of positivity and love. It is in our hands to make the internet the place we want it to be and fight back against the bullies.