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Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, had struggled emotionally for more than a year after she was sexually assaulted and a police investigation failed to file charges, her mother, Leah, says on a Facebook tribute page.

Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, had struggled emotionally for more than a year after she was sexually assaulted and a police investigation failed to file charges, her mother, Leah, says on a Facebook tribute page.

Anti-bullying project seeks new way to wield social media’s ‘double-edged sword’ Add to ...

For Rehtaeh Parsons, starting over was not an option.

Changing schools would not have helped. The photos of her alleged sexual assault in November, 2011, had been passed around using the kind of technology that generations of bullied kids before her never had to reckon with. Last April, at age 17, she was taken off life support after a suicide attempt. But despite all that, her father sees social media as a force for good.

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“It’s a double-edged sword. Technology in the hands of irresponsible people can have disastrous consequences,” Glen Canning said from Halifax.

“On the other hand, you can reach millions with your story, and with an attempt to educate people. … This could happen to anyone’s child.”

Mr. Canning is part of a new project called No Place to Hide. On Monday, it launched a tool on Facebook designed to collect submissions on how to stop bullying.

The idea of crowdsourcing ideas came to Frazer Jelleyman, chief creative officer at Canadian ad agency Taxi, after he read Mr. Canning’s blog. Together, they presented the idea at Advertising Week in New York last fall.

“The only way we’ll solve a problem as big as this is by getting together people from different skill sets, with a diverse point of view,” Mr. Jelleyman said.

But the point is not simply to have another conversation on social media. A steering committee will review the ideas and the goal is to have a project in development by Advertising Week in September.

The committee includes Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the non-profit One Laptop Per Child and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab; Twitter’s head of event marketing, Tom Spano; Google Creative Lab chief creative officer Robert Wong; and Mark D’Arcy, director of global creative solutions at Facebook.

Many anti-bullying projects have launched in the past few years since the deaths of teenagers such as Ms. Parsons and Amanda Todd.

In 2012, Facebook Canada launched its own page asking people to pledge to take action; since then, more than 1,700 have signed the pledge.

In October, Partners for Mental Health created a national campaign called Right By You in a bid to persuade governments to increase funding to mental health and suicide prevention services for young people.

Some provinces, including Nova Scotia and Manitoba, have recently passed anti-bullying legislation.

The Canadian Red Cross has run a training program for more than 10 years that teaches young people how to fight bullying. Participants then act as advocates and conduct the training in their schools.

In the past two years, participation has quadrupled, said Leslie Dunning, director general of violence and abuse prevention with the organization. She estimates it will reach about 100,000 people in 2014. She welcomes the new project.

“You have to have multiple efforts; one thing doesn’t fix it,” she said. “…With the Internet, things happen and they’re more anonymous, they’re more permanent, more widespread. It can be anonymous. It’s not like the bullying that we grew up with.”

Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has also been asked to be on the steering committee. She studies the psychology of vulnerability and shame, and has argued that a pattern of cruelty is emerging in society that children learn from.

While technology is not the problem, it has created an unnatural extension of human cruelty, Mr. Jelleyman said.

In the past, bullying victims could try to avoid their tormentors or take a different route home. Now, there is no respite.

The No Place to Hide Facebook page has been up since last fall, with content its founders hope will be inspirational; now the group is working to publicize the new submission tool.

“A lot of this comes down to educating people,” Mr. Canning said. “…The message is getting out there. That’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

 

Editor's note: Brené Brown's involvement with the steering committee has been corrected in the online version of this story.

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