Book Review: Sticks and Stones

I recently came across an article about Facebook and cyber-safety that as a middle school principal certainly captured my attention.   In the article the author, Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate magazine, provides a behind-the-scenes look at what Facebook does to monitor what is posted by its 1.1 billion users. Facebook does have a department that investigates the authenticity of its users, their age (which it states should be 13), and posts that they feel violate the user agreement.  The exectives at Facebook purport to understand that they have a responsibility to protect its users.  However, as Ms. Bazelon reports, although the effort to monitor its own product is sincere much more can and should be done to create a safer experience for its users.  

We know that many middle school students have Facebook pages, and we also know and increasingly see how our students mistreat each other on Facebook.  Of course, Facebook gets most of the attention because it is the #1 social network; there are many, many more that our students are using that do very little to control the tone and content of what is posted.  As more (and younger) students gain access to social media through smartphones and/or tablet devices schools are forced to develop, review and evaluate how to address the inevitable conflicts that arise as a result.  I was relieved to read this article from a mainstream media source because it clearly pointed out- as few similarly themed articles do- that there lies a responsibility on those that have created these networks/apps (facebook, twitter, vine, snapchat, kik, on and on..) to protect its users and therefore the value of the user's experience.  Although many who use these networks see it as a free and easy means of communication, in actuality the companies that own the network are making millions and billions of dollars through the advertising that comes with it; advertising that is specifically targeted at the user based on the social network sharing user-data with other companies (example: Facebook sells user data - gathered in the form of posts or likes- and sells this information to a separate company- say Hollister or Coke or Under Armor who target specific users with ads and emails). Play the video below for an explanation of how Facebook (or other social networks) make money.

As a new fan of Mrs. Bazelon's writing and perspective- I picked up her book on bullying entitled, Sticks and Stones.  It is, without question, the best book I have read on the subject of bullying.  It is a thorough and personal summary of the latest bullying trends. In the book, Ms. Bazelon takes the reader through a history of school bullying, with  a major focus on recent incidents that received national attention, and provides a thorough analysis of the causes of bullying and the most effective, research-based, methods to reduce it.  She is able to present to the reader a fair evaluation of the bullying culture that has received so much attention in recent years.  Sticks and Stones provides many insights that parents, educators and media can certainly benefit from listening to.  Mrs. Bazelon does not point her finger at one group over another, rather she makes the appeal to all of us to consider how we can reduce the impact that bullying has on our children.  Some of the main topics of the book include:
-what bullying is and what it isn't
-what brain research says about why we bully

-summaries of real-life "bullying" situations and how the media got it wrong
-internet safety and the responsibility of Facebook and others have to protect kids
-common sense suggestions for how parents, educators and students can address conflict
-effective strategies implemented by schools to improve school climate
-distinguishing between conflict and bullying
-the power of empathy

In the reference section of the book, Mrs. Bazelon included a list of helpful video, book and internet resources for all ages.  

Additional Resources:

Interviews with Mrs. Bazelon:
WGN News
Colbert Nation- Pick through the sarcasm, but Mrs. Bazelon makes great points here

Other Videos:
Random House Interview- "building capacity for empathy"

SMS Website