On October 7, 2003, father and husband John Halligan was away on business.
Early that morning while his family was sleeping, his 13-year-old son Ryan went into the restroom at their home in Essex Junction, Vermont and hanged himself. Ryan’s sister discovered him that same morning.
His death occurred after years of bullying and cyber bullying in both elementary and middle school, and it tragically took its toll on the young teenager.
On his website, www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org, a website and organization dedicated to combat cyber bullying, John Halligan says, "It's one thing to be bullied and humiliated in front of a few kids. It's one thing to feel rejection and have your heart crushed by a girl. But it has to be a totally different experience than a generation ago when these hurts and humiliation are now witnessed by a far larger, online adolescent audience.” Mr. Halligan goes on to say, “I believe bullying through technology has the effect of accelerating and amplifying the hurt to levels that will probably result in a rise in teen suicide rates. Recent statistics indicate that indeed teen suicide is on the rise again after many years of declining rates."
Halligan’s story is only one of many others from across the nation that I have read about where the parents’ heart wrenching pleas have led to lobbying for tougher laws on cyber bullying. I have also seen increasing liability and accountability being placed upon school boards to not only police cyber bullying but to also provide training and information for the prevention of this escalating crisis. As the father of two girls, one who is currently in the 11th grade, I feel highly sensitized to the dangers of bullying through technology.
In recent workshops I have given on digital citizenship, I have asked attendees to do random searches on the Web in order to identify cyber bullying in school produced videos. In one such exercise, we went to YouTube and typed in the keywords, “video yearbook,” and found videos that contained elements of cyber bullying. In one particular video, hand gestures were used in a derogatory manner by what appeared to be the more popular students, toward a student who seemingly was an outcast.
Obviously, these videos were published in a public environment, and in one case, a video was being offered for sale to the general public on DVD. Since the video includes numerous copyright violations, the liability of the district, school and parents has escalated to monumental proportions.
Even though the attendees were instructed to look for copyright infringements, their priority was to identify those production tactics that could become a matter of life or death for a student. A copyright violation can be solved with a cease and desist or an out-of-court settlement, but productions that are emotionally damaging to students can have irreversible consequences.
There are some critical actions that students and teachers can take when screening, producing and editing their video projects. This will help to not only combat cyber bullying, but will also have a positive impact on promoting good ethics in media.
Screening the content of your school videos
In my exercise of screening random videos, we did not personally know the students who appeared in the videos, nor did we know the producers. Because of this, we could only make reasonable assumptions as to whether or not bullying occurred in the scenes. However, when screening your own videos, and knowing your students, you will have an advantageous perspective regarding the intention of your school’s videos.
Also, there may be times when bullying is not intentional. A video producer may or may not realize that they are showing a fellow student in a derogatory or unflattering manner that could be perceived by the video subject as bullying. Below you will find questions that can be used to evaluate your school’s videos in the screening process.
Are less popular students being shown in an unflattering manner? Examples of this would be highlighting clumsy behavior, mental or emotional deficiencies, or, making fun of one’s unique physical appearance.
Does the video make light of a student’s sexual disposition, race or religion?
Does the video contain elements of sexual exploitation?
Are the students in the video consenting to be filmed? If not, would they personally approve of candid shots where they are the subjects? Would their parents approve of the candid shot?
Is there a signed permissions form by the parents or guardians of the video subjects stating it is okay to film their son our daughter?
Make a positive impact through production
Evaluating a project focuses on the negative, but being proactive and using positive production tactics is also important. Here are some things you can do:
Many video yearbooks I have seen focus on what appears to be the more popular students. Try and include everyone who is willing to participate.
Behind the Scenes Contribution
Not every student wishes to be in front of the camera. For those students who do not wish to be filmed but want to be a part of the project, give them a job behind the scenes. This might include responsibilities such as writing a script, audio engineering, or lighting.
Focus on Talents and Positive Personality Traits
Every student has special talents. Whether they are an athlete, cheerleader or an expert at math, each individual possesses some talent or personality trait that makes them special. When gathering video footage, capture each student doing what they do best.
Make Public Service Announcements Against Cyber Bullying
Use your video tools for the good of all and make a public service announcement that educates your students on the perils of cyber bullying. This video by Childnet International – Cyber Bullying is an excellent public service announcement, and it also demonstrates the fact that this is a global crisis. You will also find some other great examples at www.schooltube.com by searching the keywords “cyber bullying”.
Share this information with those in charge
Use this information to teach these practices to your students and teachers who are in charge of your school’s productions. For more information on media ethics, you can view “How to Get Media Permissions”. This article will provide many tips on producing videos with positive results.
Post-production and editing
As video producers, we all know the power of post-production and film editing to show people in a good or bad “light”. Let’s use reality TV shows as an example. Here, we have seen the producers make someone look like the bad guy or good guy through editing. Video footage can easily be manipulated to make the viewers feel a certain way about a person in the video.
During editing, try and see your production through the eyes of your viewers. If you are a student producer, and your video is primarily for the student body, think about how they will perceive your portrayal of a fellow student in the video.
With this in mind, it’s great to get other perspectives, especially when your video uses people as subjects. Before you finalize your video, get the input of others.
There is an abundance of anti-cyber bullying campaigns and information on the topic. However, despite the awareness, it has been alarming to me the number of school videos that I have viewed that contain blatant and intentional production tactics that were damaging to students. More importantly, the fact that a teacher or administrator had approved some of these videos is evidence that we have a ways to go in our digital citizenship and Internet safety. As video producers, we should become highly sensitized to this topic so that we can not only combat the crisis, but also work to prevent cyber bullying both on and off our campuses.
Here are some related articles and sites on this topic:
Barry Starlin Britt is the executive producer and co-founder of Soundzabound Royalty Free Music. After being hired to head up the content and Professional development divisions at Soundzabound, Barry began educating the K-12 educators on various technologies and compliance in 1998.