A pilot social media helpline geared to school communities has launched for the 2015–2106 school year statewide in California.
The latest Pew Research Center Report on Teens, Social Media, and Technology found that, of middle and high school students, 92 percent are online every single day, and 75 percent have a smartphone. Kids are living a chunk of their lives on social media. With that comes problems.
Enter iCanHelpline.org, a free service that seeks to fix and prevent issues in schools related to social media use. That includes cyberbullying, mean gossip, and cruel jokes involving adults or students.
Launched August 17, the helpline is run by Anne Collier and Matt Soeth and a team of risk-prevention consultants. Collier is founder and president of nonprofit Net Family News Inc. and Soeth is co-founder of #iCANHELP, a nonprofit that fights negativity online.
The hub of the effort is a hotline. School and district personnel can call or email for help. The team works with social media companies to get abusive content taken down, provides primers to personnel not familiar with social media, offers a searchable database of case studies, and assists in coming up with best practices.
The second part is #iCANHELP, which works with students online. They book on-site training in digital leadership at schools for students designated as “upstanders.” The hope is eventually to have the resources to fly staff in as incidents occur. “Taking advantage of teachable moments as they’re happening is key to learning,” says Collier.
iCanHelpline was created thanks to crowdfunding and support from the nonprofit Digital Trust Foundation, as well as social media companies such as Facebook/Instagram. The social media companies will work with iCanHelpline to quickly and effectively deal with abuse. The partnership is a win-win. The social media companies often struggle with a lack of context, due not only to the sheer volume of abuse complaints from around the world, but the cultural contexts surrounding those complaints. Working with iCanHelpline will give them perspective into U.S. school communities.Internet helplines exist in other countries, but none are exclusively for schools.
Also, iCanHelpline focuses on student leadership. “Students are better than adults at fixing problems on social media,” explains Collier. “That’s partly because they understand that the problem is social, not technical, know their peers better than most school personnel do, and understand how problems and solutions play out on social media.” The plan is to scale the program nationally in one to two years.
Though up and running a relatively short time, the pilot program has seen a number of unmitigated successes.
After #iCANHELP conducted a Digital Leadership Day in a certain district, students started reporting a hate page on Instagram directed at a particular student by commenting with the hashtag #iCANHELP. In response, the organization used its Instagram account to join them in adding positive comments to the page. They also reported it to Instagram. In the meantime, it was brought to the attention of the school’s activities director that another Instagram account owned by a student had similar comments. That student admitted to creating the hate account. By then, Instagram had already deleted the page.
“It was the students…who’d taken care of the problem. It helped that the previous month we’d conducted a Digital Leadership Day with students and staff in that district, so they knew what to do,” notes Collier.
Users can call the hotline at 1-855-997-0405, Monday through Friday from 9am-4pm, or email at icanhelpline.org. The organization is seeking support via online posts with their logo, available for download at their site, as well as monetary donations at igg.me/at/icanhelpline.