In the time I’ve spent making Hitcher a reality, I’ve had to consider human behavior in ways I never anticipated. Pornography, terrorism, stalking – you name it and we had meetings about how to handle it. While it might come as a surprise, I feel that the most important issue we tackled was bullying.
Since our platform was designed for exclusivity, it never occurred to me that it could be used for such abhorrent behavior. The app is all about shared experiences with your “real” friends…what could go wrong? After developing the use cases it became quite clear that this could be a huge problem.
Our team devoted months to prevention features and I’d like to think we cover 95% of the problem but nothing is perfect. People are people and the other 5% is up to them. The point here isn’t just transparency, it’s to start a conversation. Sure, we’ve all heard about cyberbullying and the effect it’s had on kids in the U.S. but there is a bigger discussion to be had.
Americans use phrases like fat-shaming or slut-shaming, tossing the word shame around like it’s a joke but it’s no laughing matter. In other parts of the world, shame is much more meaningful and can make you a cultural outcast where death is a better alternative. Add to that, we've dropped Big Social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) into these regions like nuclear bombs.
Just because America was getting along fine with social media, didn’t mean the world was ready for it. Think about democracy and how disastrous it can be when adopted by a culture that isn’t prepared.
One look at what is happening with social media in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and you’ll get an idea of how bad things are. The press in India is reporting that bullying has risen to epic proportions and moreover social tech is being used as a weapon of shame, leading to public humiliation, ridicule, violence, suicide, and murder.
Tech companies need to respond urgently to this devastation. The first thing they need to do is assess their role in the problem and identify ways they can bridge gaps with technology and outreach. After that they need to open offices in these countries to work with local governments to help develop an appropriate narrative about usage and user rights. Understanding the cultural and technological divide at a local level is imperative.
Everyone should demand that Big Social take responsibility for what they’ve brought to bear, and in a way this is a call to arms — be ready to go to war and do battle over this issue or the shame will fall on you. Peace be with you all.