Young Voices: Lessons from a Moment in Cyberbullying

Today's guest blogger, Parth Singh, was a former member of the Unmask the Media Project, a student-run program, developed by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Youth Philanthropy Initiative, that addresses the issue of the media’s negative effects on teenager’s self-perceptions. His blog is the third in a series of three "Young Voices" blogs, where some of our young friends lend their perspective on what it means to be a digital citizen.

Young Voices: Lessons from a Moment in Cyberbullying

By Parth Singh, Guest Blogger

I understand that most college students are so over-worked, over-ambitious, and sleep-deprived that they barely have time to think about social justice. Nevertheless, I do believe it is a critical and overlooked topic. The impact that our actions have upon other people’s social identities is very rarely thought about in the physical world and it is mostly ignored in the virtual world. Our comments or actions on social media sites are often unfiltered because we regard them as just words or opinions. But the impact these opinions have upon people is very real and very easy to ignore in the virtual world.

I want to share with you the story of Balpreet Kaur, a student at Ohio State University who had her picture taken and posted on the Internet by a complete stranger to mock her physical appearance and faith. Check out this link. (Make sure you click on the text, “I’m not sure what to conclude from this” to see the picture.)

A picture was taken of Balpreet in which she was waiting in line at the her university library. Her hair was tucked into her black turban and her facial hair was clearly visible. This picture was posted under the "funny" tab on Reddit (without her knowledge) by a stranger.

Ignoring the violations of common decency, integrity, and privacy inflicted by this incident of cyberbullying, I would like to focus on Balpreet's inspiring response to this cyberbullying incident, and how we can learn from her story.

After viewing her picture online, Balpreet Kaur could have easily retaliated by attacking the individual who posted her picture online. Instead, she proactively opened a space of dialogue on the Internet by sharing her values and experience as a Sikh. She embraced her identity and chose to serve as an educator about Sikhism. She turned an act of disrespect into a valuable moment that inspires us all to be more tolerant.

In today’s world, almost everybody is a digital citizen, whether by running a blog online or just being part of a social media site like Facebook or Twitter. The Internet is a place that provides us with the most accurate picture of how diverse and tolerant (or intolerant) the world really is, because it allows people to hide behind usernames and anonymous accounts and truly speak their minds. However, it seems to me that our generation must no longer ignore the social culture that has developed online. We cannot allow ourselves to be desensitized to vulgar acts of hatred or attempt to hide behind anonymous usernames any longer.

In order to become savvy and socially just consumers of the digital world we need to create a supportive and productive culture online. Unfortunately, the reality is that no matter how hard we try we can’t change everyone. Many of us will continue to be victims (or see someone else become a victim) of cyberbullying. But what we can do is change our response to the situation. Through our positive actions and proactive attitudes we can not only prevent the marginalization of individuals, but also provide a space for open dialogue, where people can learn about each other’s social identities. Just like Balpreet Kaur, we can too proactively turn a moment of ignorance into a learning experience.

Parth Singh is a sophomore at the University of Michigan and a former member of the Unmask the Media Project, a student-run program developed by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Youth Philanthropy Initiative. In 2011 he was the Prudential Spirit of Community Award Oklahoma Honoree and Nestle’s Very best in Youth national winner for his community service efforts. He founded the 15 days of Kindness campaign at Jenks High school in Oklahoma, and served as a founding member and Public Relations chair of Tulsa Habitat for Humanity’s Youth United program. At the University of Michigan, Parth is a student in the Ross School of Business and is planning to concentrate in social entrepreneurship and non-profit management. He works at the Couzens hall as a community assistant and is a researcher for the Anthropology department. He is also currently training to be a dialogue facilitator for a university inter-group relations course and the (SAAN) South Asian Awareness Network Conference.

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What a story to share! She would be one of the movers and shakers in future. I congratulate Parth Singh for sharing her story with the world.

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