Bully Pulpit: Shops Battle Cyberbullying

As we shift our lives online, we often re-create and sometimes exacerbate society’s real-world problems. Such is the case with cyberbullying, as evidenced by the recent suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi after an illegally recorded video of his sexual encounter was posted online.

Teens are especially susceptible to online bullying. A recent study by the Cyberbullying Research Center (cyberbullying.us) shows that one in five middle-school students has been affected by such malicious acts, which the organization defines as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phone and computer technology.

AdweekMedia challenged agencies to create campaigns aimed at teens to reduce the incidence of cyberbullying. Six agencies participated and some of their work is presented here.









Instead of condemning kids about cyberbullying, we want them to feel empowered, educated and supported.

“Team up against digital meanness” would speak to kids where it makes the most impact: in their social networks. It’s where they spend their free time, where they converse and, ultimately, where the bullying takes place.

But how do we get them to listen?

We would enlist all of the social networks for one day to create a disruption at log-in. So, before a user could check his or her Facebook or Formspring pages, they’d be prompted to sign the Team Up Against Digital Meanness pledge.

The pledge would state: “Being mean, leaving nasty posts, sending around pictures that would embarrass and hurt someone else is totally uncool and unnecessary. I pledge to team up against digital meanness and to help others do the same.”

Users could then continue onto Facebook, or: sign up to become Team Up ambassadors; post their stories and experiences; and upload their photos and discover empowering tools that will guide them to make better decisions.


“Oh, yeah? Wanna say that to my face?”  That’s what tough guys in movies ask bullies who bad-mouth them. They know the bully will back down.

It’s easier to bully from a distance because the bully doesn’t see the response of his or her target. To remove the bullying, let’s remove the barrier. We would expose negative messages for what they are by having them read out loud. Using the power of voice, we’d make posts, texts and tweets raw and alive.

Who would read them? It could be a reformed bully who realizes he was hurtful  and wants to educate others. It could be a famous actor who takes the stage and reads someone else’s words. We could have bullies and victims take the stage together—real pairs or totally contrived pairs for dramatic effect. What if a bully had to read his words to his own mother? Whatever the case, it would amplify the truth. And it would force kids to realize how personal cyber messages are.
If the readings caught on, they could become a repercussion device used by families and teachers. And the posted videos could serve as a dramatic lesson and deterrent to others.


Hate is hate, whether it’s a Hitler rant, a nasty voicemail from Mel Gibson, degrading rap lyrics or hurtful texts. How do we combat all this hate? Let’s diffuse it. Flip it. Turn it into love.

We’ll invite users to take hateful content and, using their creativity, turn it into something positive and beautiful—into messages of love. Everyone is re-creating content through mashing these days, so we’ll be tapping into what they’re doing anyway, only now they’ll have a specific purpose and a forum.

We’ll host all the user-generated content on a Flip Hate-branded YouTube channel and other online video-sharing sites. Imagine a mash-up where a Hitler rant becomes Der Fuhrer singing lyrics to a John Lennon song. Or actual negative posts rearranged so their letters create a quote from Gandhi. The content will be varied, provocative and positive—the opposite of what was intended by the original material. And instead of spreading the hate we’ll be sharing the love.


What kind of energy are you sending out with your Facebook update and tweets? Are your messages mostly positive or negative? Do you even know?

While there’s a small percentage of true cyberbullies that don’t care what kind of message they’re sending, that’s not true for the majority of young people. Most teens just don’t realize the extent of the negative energy they’re sending out. The first step to creating a more positive cyber environment is helping people identify their behavior. We’ll create social apps that let people measure how positive or negative their posts are. It’s called the Karma Reader.

The Karma Reader would scrape your page and identify keywords using a data mining application. Based on the frequency of positive or negative words, it would calculate your score and show your results on a karma meter. Kids with a low karma score would be given ideas on how to boost their score.

As with all good karma, cyber karma would be rewarded. We’ll team up with Best Buy or iTunes to offer rewards that can be earned by trading in your karma points.

We could employ tactics like @Facebook tagging, third-0party applications based in social gaming logic, etc., that friends use to mark other people’s negative remarks or an affirmation of positive posts.


Every six minutes Facebook has 10,000 visitors.

Every six minutes eight kids in the United States are bullied, often through irretrievable, digital hate speech.

While this repulsive record can’t be erased, by filling out an anonymous profile (gender/location/what the bullying is about, etc.) and then pushing a single button—which would geotarget where and how it’s happening—this campaign could empower the oppressed.

CantErase.me would allow the historically voiceless to assemble in a choir of unity without the reprisal of being punished for speaking up while raising visual awareness about what’s happening across the country and in each of our own towns.


In today’s digital world, words are the new fists. They can trigger feelings that have a lasting psychological impact. They can inflict serious damage and make people do things they’d never otherwise do.

Sitting behind a computer or texting on a phone makes it easier for teens to bully others because there’s no physical confrontation or immediate consequence. Bringing these implications to the surface so they can be explained, explored and discussed is the first step in stopping the behavior.

This campaign would be built to be bold and to begin the deconstruction of the power of words. The sign-off on each piece would contain an e-mail and short code that students could use to continue the conversation. A confessional extension of the campaign would be placed in malls, movie theaters and schools to allow students to tell their own stories or to confront a cyberbully.

The phone skins would be created to take the positive antonyms of hurtful words and make them badges of honor, as well as reminders not to misuse technology. We would choose to partner with Above The Influence because of its history of attacking important teen issues with bold messaging and its validity within the demographic.

All in all, we believe when cyberbullies see the impact of their words and the true hurt they cause, there’s a good chance they’ll stop.


We would create a campaign that encourages teens to do the opposite of cyberbullying. Instead of tearing down someone’s self-esteem, we would try to build it up. In this way teens could remind teens that being nice to others feels good.

Here’s what our message would be: Your words make a world of difference. So, don’t spread hate, show love. Stop cyberbullying.

Possible testimonies:
“I tweet to share my world, not keep others from it.”
“I have 300 Facebook friends and we love to love each other.”
“Have you posted a positive message to your Facebook wall today?”
“I retweet positivity.”
“I spread respect on Twitter.”
“I can text 26 words in 26 seconds, and none of them are harmful to others.”
“I follow positivity on Twitter.”


With 19 percent of cyberbullying victims above the age of 13 attempting suicide, addressing the issue is urgent. If bullies, and those that take part in acts of bullying, knew their actions were directly traceable and had severe consequences, they might think twice about crossing the boundary between bullying and harmless “fun.”

So, instead of an awareness campaign, we would develop a Web application where victims or bystanders could report the incident via photo, video or posting a link. After they clicked on “report” our servers would track people who have passed along the bullying and immediately send them warning messages that their names were linked to the reported incident. If the victim chose to press charges, our servers would connect them to the case.

An instant response would not only confront people with the reality that they might have been a bully, but hopefully would stop them from spreading the link further. Hopefully we could save some lives with this strategy.