Behold our victimhood culture’s latest creation: a new G-rated social media platform for those too delicate to use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Chatroulette…
Well, here it is – the logical end result of a victimhood culture in the grip of an identity politics feeding frenzy. Camsurf present to you their new Safespace social network – a heavily monitored video chat site for people (including grown adults) for whom all of the existing online platforms are simply too unsafe to ever contemplate using.
Camsurf describes Safespace in these terms:
Camsurf is a family friendly, G-rated Chatroulette platform and as such is strongly against all forms of bullying. To help combat cyberbullies, Camsurf is moderated by a team of professionals who are trained to spot when users of our service are being bullied. We have a zero tolerance policy against bullying and will ban all bullies from using our service.
However, it is also important that our users are able to recognize, understand, and deal with different forms of bullying. To help any users of our service who want to know more about bullying or feel they are being bullied we have created “safespace”, a place where you can learn about cyberbullying, its effects, how to deal with being bullied online, and much more.
While the press release notes:
Camsurf is delighted to announce the launch of the world’s first ‘Safe Space’ social network, an innovation designed to put a stop to cyberbullying through education and active participation. The idea behind the campaign stems from the rise in bullying and harassment on the web, specifically on social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, a phenomenon which has grown rapidly in recent years to become more prevalent than bullying in the real world.
Users of Camsurf, and anyone else who feels overwhelmed by the rise in cyberbullying, can access the online arena and find a range of educational material and statistics, ask questions anonymously, and interact with other users in a safe and understanding environment. Participation in ‘Safe Space’ is solely focused on putting a stop to cyberbullying and all forms of online harassment. It is the first social network to openly place an emphasis on discussing and eliminating cyberbullying in a dedicated environment.
Camsurf Safespace is not merely a social network which takes a strong stance against cyberbullying. The whole ethos of the site sits in the shadow of cyberbullying – the “About” page says almost nothing about the technical or social features of the site, focusing exclusively on all of the measures in place to protect their oh-so-vulnerable users from ever being made to feel “uncomfortable” (a word that crops up frequently in the FAQs). And it freely uses the university campus-derived, identity politics terminology of safe space theory to promote itself.
But note the picture on the front page. These are not teens or tweens shown using the site, but fully grown adults – the woman is dressed in distinctly professional-looking attire, and the man is likewise dressed for work a shirt and tie. Safespace is not targeted specifically at schoolchildren (the group most likely to suffer from legitimate cyberbullying), but at people with jobs and mortgages and maybe even kids of their own – people who presumably shoulder all of the normal burdens of life, and yet believe themselves unable to participate in the same social networks as the rest of us for fear of being made to feel uncomfortable.
In fact, Safespace goes to great lengths to emphasise that adults are often the victims of “cyberbullying” too:
Q. Are teens the only people who get cyberbullied?
A. Not at all. Cyberbullying is a problem that affects both teens and adults. Although many adults would not like to admit it, cyberbullying is said to affect up to 40% of adults who use the internet. Cyberbullying transcends age or sex and anyone can be the victim of an online bully. In fact, many adults who are cyberbullied lash out by becoming bullies themselves. It is therefore extremely important to confront the problem by taking to someone rather than keeping it all locked up inside.
Yes, Safespace would have you believe that nearly every one in two adults are being persecuted online by nefarious cyberbullies right at this moment (of course, the term “bullying” has been defined downward to the extent that it includes any interaction which sees the victim come away with anything less than warm and fuzzy feelings of contentment).
And worse still, if these adult victims fail to take the correct protective actions and run to an authority figure (either a Safespace moderator or perhaps a trained counsellor) then they are at the risk of turning into a cyberbully too. Apparently being a cyberbully follows the same contagion principles as becoming a zombie.
Fortunately, Safespace has all manner of tools at its disposal to ensure that nothing remotely interesting or controversial ever takes place within its boundaries:
How Camsurf is Standing Up to Bullies
Our aim at Camsurf is to create a bully-free and family-friendly environment that is welcoming to all. As part of that mission we are taking a stand against cyberbullies by implementing various schemes to catch bullies and bar them from our service. We employ a team of moderators who monitor the chat platform for nudity, inappropriate behavior, and signs of bullying. All of our moderators undergo a course in understanding online bullying and how to spot the signs of someone who is being bullied. We are also implementing a series of informative articles and guides to help any victims of bullying and to educate our users to spot the signs of bullying. By taking these steps we will create the safest and friendliest Chatroulette platform online.
And they are very clear that when in doubt, users should err on the side of banality:
Q. Am I a cyberbully if I engage in an argument on Camsurf?
A. Not necessarily. It is important to distinguish the difference between talking to someone about a topic you disagree on and cyberbullying. On Camsurf you can meet thousands of strangers from around the world, all of whom have different opinions and views of the world. On some occasions you might find someone who disagrees with you about a certain topic. If you discuss this topic with them in a civilized manner where both of you can get your points across then it is not bullying. However, if you use insults and hurtful language while discussing issues then you may offend someone or hurt their feelings. This is the line between cyberbullying and talking about a topic you disagree on. The best way to avoid this is to stick to talking about topics you and the person you are chatting with are interested in. Remember, Camsurf is about having fun while meeting new people!
Cue lots of talk about the weather, and not quite so much about a certain American presidential candidate, then.
Note too the defining downwards of the concept of bullying, along the lines described by Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam in their recent excellent Guardian OpEd:
When research on bullying began in the 1970s, an act had to meet four criteria to count: it had to be an act of aggression directed by one or more children against another child; the act had to be intentional; it had to be part of a repeated pattern; and it had to occur in the context of a power imbalance. But over the following decades, the concept of bullying has expanded in two directions.
It has crept outward or “horizontally” to encompass new forms of bullying, such as among adults in the workplace or via social media. More problematic, though, is the creeping downward or “vertically”so that the bar has been lowered and more minor events now count as bullying. For example, the criteria of intentionality and repetition are often dropped. What matters most is the subjective perception of the victim. If a person believes that he or she has been made to suffer in any way, by a single action, the victim can call it bullying.
So this is what it has come to. Grown men and women forswearing online forums where they might potentially encounter a boisterous or rude opinion in favour of a “walled garden” where their every interaction is monitored by watchful moderators looking out for their “safety”. Everyday human interaction is now being presented as so fraught with peril that it is best not attempted at all without external supervision.
Fortunately, Safespace doesn’t have the feel of a platform that will be with us for very long, or challenge the major social networks for pre-eminence. But the mere fact of such a site’s launch is sufficiently alarming that we must take note.
Bear in mind that one of the key reasons why heavily moderated, anti free speech platforms are not challenging more aggressively for market share is because the big beasts – particularly Facebook – are choosing to respond to pressure to deal with cyberbullying in almost as draconian a way.
These are the options currently presented to users who want to report something on Facebook which they find to be offensive:
Note the third option – “It goes against my views” – which is now legitimate grounds to report someone else’s post as being offensive and deserving of removal from Facebook.
It can be tempting to make light of sites like Camsurf Safespace, regarding them as a sheltered playground for children, unrepresentative of the mainstream. But when the world’s pre-eminent social network treats its users in the exact same way, it is no laughing matter.
Cyberbullying is a real and concerning phenomenon where it occurs. But the idea of a fully grown, mentally capable adult being “bullied” is absurd, as are these incremental but damaging steps toward regulating and monitoring all of our online interactions to ensure that we are using the internet “safely”.
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