Earlier this month Lady Gaga unveiled the Born This Way Foundation, a youth empowerment initiative to end bullying and foster a greater respect for individuality across the board. The foundation, run by her mother Cynthia Germanotta, is the result of a partnership with various organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and the California Endowment. According to the foundation’s website, the initiative’s mission is composed of three pillars: safety, skills, and opportunity, all of which are necessary to create a “better, kinder world.” Their work will encourage young people to use digital media to make this positive change.
In an interview with the New York Times, Lady Gaga said that her goal isn’t just to combat bullying, but to create a far-reaching movement that will encourage the culture to be generally more supportive and tolerant as a whole. Media, culture, and communication expert danah boyd described the effort as a “grass roots initiative” that is the culmination of extensive research. In a blog post on her work for the foundation, boyd said that Lady Gaga has reached out to researchers, youth, and the general public to engage in a larger conversation about intolerance and its effects. “They want all who are willing and able to help to join in and contribute,” she said. For more on the research supporting this work see the Kinder & Braver World Project: Working Papers at the Berkman Center.
Nothing Lady Gaga does is conventional and so it is unsurprising that her foundation take a similarly innovative approach to philanthropy that, as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times said, uses her followers to start a “bottom-up movement” in order to make it “cooler for young people to be nice.” Boyd agreed, stating that the foundation aims to “change the rules of philanthropy in order to create a movement."
As large of a task as that may sound, Lady Gaga has appeared confident and committed to fighting any cynicism surrounding the effort and there’s no doubting the importance of raising national awareness on such issues – especially since bullying and intolerance can occur online, right in children’s bedrooms.
A study on bullying behaviors in U.S. youth published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 found that approximately 30 percent of youth sampled were involved in bullying either as the victim or the perpetrator. Research conducted by i-SAFE Inc., a publisher in digital literacy, found that 42 percent of kids have been bullied while online, and well over half of young people who are being bullied will not tell their parents about it.
The significance of digital literacy education–especially with a focus on good “citizenship”– is immeasurable when it comes to preventing online bullying. One reason for this is because of the long-term harm bullying can have on the sense of self. According to the same JAMA study mentioned above, "Youth who bully others tend to demonstrate higher levels of conduct problems and dislike of school, whereas youth who are bullied generally show higher levels of insecurity, anxiety, depression, loneliness, unhappiness, physical and mental symptoms, and low self-esteem."
Common Sense Media has created a cyberbullying toolkit for educators, including first-person stories from teens who have been affected by online harassment. In one video, 15-year-old Stacey talks about how she was harassed on the internet because of a misconstrued Myspace comment.
“People talk really big when there’s miles between you, but they might think more of what they’d say if they were right in front of you and could see your reaction and could see how much it hurts someone,” she said.
The toolkit also contains grade-specific lesson plans to help identify and stop one of the most common forms of harassment faced by teens.
The Born This Way Foundation has posted “Stories of Bravery” on their website from teens who have been bullied to offer additional support for victimized youth. Check them out here.
Plus: For a round-up of research on cyberbullying, see our white paper, “Cyberbullying—Damage in a Digital Age.”
Photo by ama lia.