When something goes wrong with technology, my only troubleshooting go-to is turning it off and on or clicking the same button 25 times! When I was invited to participate in the Hackathon at UNL, I had no idea what I could contribute to a team. However, even though I knew very little about coding and creating apps, I did know something about bullying both on- and off-line.
One current issue in the research on cyberbullying is that adults often underestimate how often it is happening and don’t realize the severity of the problem. If adults do not fully understand the problem, this can be an issue when many solutions to combat cyberbullying are put in the hands of adults. When adults try to intervene in bullying situations, their strategies often include punishment, while they do not place the same emphasis on encouraging and teaching positive behaviors like kindness. Also, research shows that when adults intervene in bullying situations they believe they are helping, while the majority of youth say that they feel adults are actually making the situation worse.
One issue with online bullying specifically is that on many social media apps, like Twitter, the response choices when youth see a mean, hurtful, or bullying tweet are to either favorite, retweet it, or just ignore it and keep scrolling. In these situations, victims of bullying online would likely not feel supported by any of these responses.
We wanted to give youth another simple option that is just as easy as liking or retweeting and gives youth ways to empower others. We created a twitter bot that sends a pre-constructed kind tweet to another user if you type “#feedkindness @username.” There are a variety of messages, but the general sense of each message is “You are important, valued, noticed, needed, etc.” This way when youth see someone being bullied online or even others tweeting negative things about themselves, they can tweet the bot and the bot will send them an uplifting message. Other people can favorite and retweet it to show support for the person and drown out hateful messages. The twitter bot also sends a positive message to the user who tweeted the bot!
We aim to show young people that being kind online really is as easy as joining in or ignoring it. Our design is simple, but we wanted to create something that could be used in an app they already have and in the exact same way that they already use it (by hashtagging and tweeting at others). We named our idea Feed Kindness for multiple reasons:
- Our goal is to drown out hateful messages and fill social media feeds with kindness.
- We wanted to put the solution in the hands of young people in order to teach them that a kindness is something that needs to be fed in order for a kinder world to grow.
- We want youth to realize that there are many signs that someone may be hungry for kindness like tweeting hurtful tweets about themselves or to others so it is a reminder that everyone deserves to receive kindness and it is possible to overcome negativity in our online and offline world if we continue to feed kindness to all those around us.
Blog By: Kaitlyn Mosher, UNL School Psychology Doctoral Student