CNN just interviewed me for a 3 minute segment they’re doing on cyberbullying. Why me? Because they called the Berkman Center and I was around. They’re likely to take a few seconds from the 15 minute interview, and use it as something like color commentary. It’ll air on Monday morning.
I told the producer in the pre-interview yesterday that I wouldn’t comment on the awful specifics of the bullying of Kathy Sierra— the case that’s prompted them to do a “Dark Side of the Net” piece — because I know people involved in it. Also, (I told the producer) I’m not a good resource for telling the story of what happened because I didn’t know what was going on until Kathy posted about it. But the producer apparently liked what I said about the lack of norms of behavior on the Web. So, they asked me to do the interview anyway. And, true to their word, they didn’t ask me directly about Kathy, although several times in context I said how badly she was treated.
I agreed to the interview because I wanted to try to counter the fear-mongering story I’m pretty sure CNN wants to produce about the Web. So, I tried to simultaneously acknowledge the seriousness of the bullying that happens (including the reprehensible battering of Kathy, of course), and dispute the idea that the Net is all bullying all the time. But, in trying to steer them from their Fear Mongering story, I ran the risk of minimizing the awfulness of being bullied, so I tried to keep interjecting how serioius and unacceptable it is. It’s all up to how they edit it. And also how well I put it, of course.
They asked me about anonymity (me: we shouldn’t remove it just because it’s abused by some cowards), the need for regulation (me: real world laws apply, and the Web is constantly evolving ways to manage bullying and obnoxiousness…although none works perfectly), and whether this is a gender issue (me: that accords with expectations and intuition, but we need actual data). I also talked about the fact that we don’t yet have well-developed norms guiding behavior on the Web, and the Web brings people together from different backgrounds, although death threats and bullying are never ok; I’m afraid I’ll come off as sounding like I believe that bullying is really just a difference of opinion about acceptable levels of aggression. Ack.
Afterwards I realized that I should have made clear that I was talking about adults bullying adults. I have no idea what the level of bullying is among children online. Also, in talking about the ability to steer clear of sites that are nastier than you’re comfortable with, I should have appended something about it being different when the bullies are coming to your site. Damn.
The producer interviewed me over a speaker phone, but they had me face forward and talk to an intern seated in front of me, to give the illusion that the producer was in the room with us. After the interview was over but the camera was still rolling (foolish me), I turned sideways to face the speaker phone so they couldn’t use the footage, because I wanted to have a meta-discussion with the producer. (The producer promised me that he wouldn’t use it, and he seems to be a straightforward and honest guy.) I told him that I thought the CNN story was seizing on one case — a nasty, disturbing case without doubt — and using it to generalize without further evidence or research, because the media likes conflict and likes to raise fears about the Net. A serious piece would do some serious research about just how prevalent bullying is: It might be quite widespread, it might be unevenly distributed, it might indeed be usually gender-based. All that would be truly interesting and important to know. But I don’t think that’s the story they’re doing. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.
I left feeling crappy, afraid that as I tried to maintain two positions — bullying when it happens is shameful and wrong, but it’d be wrong to characterize the Web as dominated by bullying — the editors will use the juiciest quote from just one of those two points. It’s no fun to lose control of your words, although I knew that going in. [Tags: bullying media cnn ]
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