Facebook extends its anti-bullying “compassion research” effort

Facebook is expanding its efforts to help teens (and adults) deal with annoying or bullying behavior on the world’s biggest social network, by extending its online reporting tools and promoting its new “Bullying Resource Hub” for kids, parents and educators.

And in coming months, Facebook’s Arturo Bejar says he hopes to adapt those tools for Instagram, the online photo-sharing service owned by Facebook that’s become increasingly popular among teens.

As we’ve reported before, Bejar is a Facebook engineering director who also oversees what the company calls its “compassion research” program, in which Facebook has enlisted psychologists and child development experts to help improve procedures for flagging items that make them uncomfortable.  The effort started with photos and has been extended to status updates and other comments posted on the site.

As Bejar explained at a day-long conference on Thursday, the company found that not many people bothered to use a blank message box to explain their concerns about a particular item. But more people are willing to voice their concerns in an online message when Facebook offers a series of questions or even sample language that people can use to say what’s bothering them.

Moreover, Bejar says many complaints involve photos or posts that an individual user finds bothersome or embarrassing, because of some personal connotation, when they don’t necessarily violate Facebook’s prohibitions on offensive material. So Facebook has also designed tools to help users communicate directly with the person who posted the bothersome item.

One sampling of 30 days worth of those communications found that 75 percent drew a response – which Facebook says is good, because it means people are talking to each other – and 37 percent prompted the person who posted the item to take it down, according to Mrinalini A. Rao, a postdoctoral research associate at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who is one of the experts advising Facebook.

Facebook is still refining the messaging tools, and studying how they are used differently by boys and girls of different age groups. They’re also testing the use of “stickers” or animated emoticons that kids can use to express different feelings.

Meanwhile, the company says it also sought input from teens, parents, teachers and other experts to create the new bullying resource pages, where the company provides detailed tips and suggested conversation points for kids who are bullied, their parents and teachers, and even for kids who have been accused of being bullies.

(Photo by Kirstina Sangsahachart/Bay Area News Group)

 

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