The virtual world is taking on an increasingly important role in the lives of children and young people. For today’s youth, smartphones and other devices of virtual communication have become increasingly present in everyday life. Friendships are fostered through online social networks, relationships often begin and end in the Internet, and personal status is established by posting on popular phone applications. While it offers possibilities to connect with each other, the social networks are also a platform for cyber-bullying and violence.
Virtual violence can occur at any time or in any place.
In contrast to physical and verbal violence, virtual violence is not restricted to a particular time and a particular place. Children have daily access to an infinite number of online worlds at any time.
Kelling & Wilson’s Broken Window Theory contribute to explaining why virtual violence remains largely without interventions from others in the online community. A feeling of responsibility and sense of empathy decreases as the number of viewers increases. In addition, it is particularly noteworthy that, according to a survey done by Prof. Amos Rolider from Kinneret College in 2014, children would rather report physical violence than virtual violence, as they are scared of being excluded and cut off from the virtual world as a consequence, either as a reaction from their elders or from their own peers.
For these reasons, dealing with violence in the virtual world is especially challenging.
A few facts from the Israeli Internet Association:
Matzmichim does not want to advise against the use of social networks, but encourages children to use them correctly. Technology can be a positive part of pupils’ lives, but can also be used as a medium of mass circulation of negative messages. Without guidance, youth have a hard time understanding the extent of possible harm caused through social media. One touch of a button is enough to cause enormous and widespread suffering. Children run the danger of causing immense harm in a matter of seconds – often in a manner that is very hard to take back. Often, they only become aware of the extent of their actions when the damage is already done. Therefore, it is extremely important to bring up this topic among pupils and teachers alike – rather now than later.
In our workshops for pupils, Matzmichim gives youth a place to discuss their experiences and stories within the virtual world. Together we review various forms of virtual violence, give an opportunity to reflect on ethical behaviour online and equip children and adolescents with methods and tools necessary to reduce virtual violence. To achieve this goal, we create a supportive working environment, which is free of judgement concerning specific, personal actions. In this manner, we help the youth in finding new and constructive ways to communicate on the Internet – in a way they will not regret later. Two important aspects that we never fail to address are courage and authenticity.
Here are some of the questions that we ask the pupils to discuss during our workshops:
What do you think of a boy or girl who sends you a photo which you did not want to have – nor did you in any way indicate that you want it? For example a picture that shows something intimate.
Imagine that you meet a nice boy or girl who has just moved into the area. You do not know anything about him or her, but want to find out more. You look at his or her Facebook page and discover that he or she is a member of “hate groups” and shares negative pictures and videos. Does this change your attitude towards this boy or girl? If yes, what can others see on your Facebook page?
What do you think of a person who is always commenting what they do not like about you online, yet never approaches you personally to talk to you about it?
A majority of adults claim to be unequipped to deal adequately with virtual violence and children in their environments being cyber-bullied.
Matzmichim (Uplifters) developed specific tools to raise the awareness of children and youth about the potential impacts of online actions and bullying taking place in the virtual realms. Our workshops for adults dealing with virtual violence and cyber-bullying provide information on the most popular current media platforms as well as techniques for parents, educators and social workers to tackle this sensitive issue with this generation of young people.
These are the main issues our workshops address:
What is virtual violence and how is it different from traditional bullying?
When we should be concerned – Warning signs that indicate a child is a victim of virtual violence.
What is the best way to act if my child is a victim of virtual violence?
The damaging effects of cyber bullying.
What factors encourage the brutality and intensification of the conflict?
What are hate groups and how do we deal with them?
What are the main reasons that cause children to hide the abuse?
Key tips for safe and appropriate use of the internet and social networks.
In order to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology, Matzmichim (Uplifters) is continually adapting our programs on the subject of virtual violence to the newest innovations in the use of social media and communication as well as integrating new research data concerning the subject into our practical interventions.