Welcome to the Organization for Social Media Safety! We are so thankful that you have joined with us in our fight to make social media safe for everyone. Since this is our introduction, let me take a moment to tell you who we are and what we do.
The Organization for Social Media Safety arose in response to tragedy. In late 2016, 14-year-old Jordan Peisner was standing with friends outside a local fast food restaurant when he was suddenly and viciously assaulted by another teen he did not know. During the attack and while Jordan lay helpless on the ground, witnesses and friends of the perpetrator stood and filmed the assault on their phones and then quickly uploaded their videos to social media. Now, this horrifying footage lives forever on social media already having been viewed by hundreds of thousands.
While Jordan slowly recovered from his severe, ultimately lifelong injuries, his father Ed resolved to make sure that no other child or family had to endure such an ordeal. Dedicating himself to public policy advocacy and spreading awareness, Ed began meeting with local legislators to explore solutions. That is when, as a senior staffer with the California State Assembly, I met Ed, heard his story and decided to help.
As we explored possible legislation, we learned that social media-motivated violence, attacks committed for the purpose of being filmed and distributed on social media to gain internet notoriety, were doubling every year since the birth of major social media in 2006. We learned of horrific stories like how a group of young adults live-streamed their kidnapping and torture of a special-needs teen in Chicago. We came across hundreds of other attacks filmed and posted on social media, including attacks on LGBTQ, elderly, homeless, and Jewish and Muslim individuals, among others. We identified websites dedicated to showcasing videos of fighting and attacks where millions logged on to stream them.
This picture that emerged was horrifying, and the need to act was clear. That is why the bill we ultimately drafted, Jordan’s Law (AB 1542), the nation’s first state law to deter social media-motivated violence, became law in California within only a year of its introduction.
In the process of advocating for Jordan’s Law, we immersed ourselves into the world of social media and became painfully aware of the long and rapidly escalating list of social media-related dangers.
- Cyberbullying: Day after day I fielded calls and heard multiple heartbreaking stories on cyberbullying, a problem that has become rampant on social media, particularly among our youth. About 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being mean or cruel on social networking sites. Approximately 34% of students report experiencing cyberbullying.
- Suicide: Teens’ use of electronic devices including smartphones for at least five hours daily more than doubled, from 8 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2015. These teens were 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
- Hate speech: We saw hate speech surge on social media with so many racist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic posts and comments littering our pages and the pages of our kids. During the U.S. presidential election, from August 2015 through July 2016, there were over 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets.
- Trafficking: Of incredible concern to us, trafficking rings have been proliferating online. A whopping 82% of child sex crimes originate from online social media sites where predators gain knowledge of their victims’ likes and habits.
- Propaganda: We had also just learned that social media had been infiltrated with propaganda by a hostile foreign government in an attempt to influence our democratic elections. On Facebook alone, Russian-influenced content reached 126 million Americans between June 2015 and August 2017.
- Privacy Invasion: And social media-related privacy concerns were continuing to become clearer. Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm had just gained access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users.
All of this has happened under the watch of government and the social media platforms themselves. And, shockingly, until today no nonprofit organization has arisen to serve as a consumer protection organization focused exclusively on social media, defending us from these serious, and even existential, dangers. That is why we founded the Organization for Social Media Safety.
The Organization for Social Media Safety will work to make social media safe through a comprehensive approach including education, advocacy, and technology. We are in schools educating teens and their parents on how to stay safe on social media. We are advocating for new, stronger laws. And, we are working to develop technology to provide real-time protection against social media-related dangers.
Thank you for reading this first newsletter. Each month we will provide tips, news, and perspectives that will help keep you and your family safe on social media. We very much look forward to being a resource for you and doing our part to make social media safe for everyone.