Exposing ‘mean tweets’

A new take on a viral hit, plus a crowdfunding campaign, aims to spread the Canadian Safe School Network's anti-cyberbullying message.

The Canadian Safe School Network, a national non-profit that aims to reduce youth violence, hopes to show as many kids as possible that posting mean things online has its consequences. And they want you to help.

In a new campaign, developed by John St., the organization parodies the ever-popular “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” segments from The Jimmy Kimmel Show. As the video goes on, and more kids read the sexist, homophobic, racist and simply hurtful things that are said online, the laugh tracks in background gets less and less enthusiastic, showing that these things aren’t funny when it’s not a famous face reading them.

Stu Auty, founder and president of the Canadian Safe School Network, says part of the hope is the video will be shared among kids on social media as the other “Mean Tweets” videos have, not realizing it’s a PSA-style message until the punchline hits at the end. The organization also hopes kids will realize posting mean things online doesn’t always end with a joke on a talk show.

“When I watch the celebrities do it, as an adult, you can see the reaction in some of [them] and that the feeling isn’t always good,” Auty says. “But when kids see that, they might not get the message. It’s been my experience that when kids are confronted about what they did and [you ask] if they understand the hurt their actions have caused, they don’t get it. They think it’s funny, especially when they have an example to go off of.”

John St. is also behind a crowd-funding campaign for the video looking to raise $10,000 over the next month to fund a media buy during the Stanley Cup playoffs, spreading the message to one the biggest television audiences in Canada.

Michael Nurse, director of experience planning at John St., says a crowdfunding element is well-suited to a non-profit like Canadian Safe School Network, which might not have the funding available for a large-scale, traditional media buy.

“I also think crowdfunding is particularly effective any time you’re looking at something that could become a movement, that people can become emotionally involved with and are looking for ways to participate,” he adds. “The entire experience is also going to take place online, so the content itself matches very well with a smart, forward-thinking type of user that participates in crowdfunding already.”

While social media and technology might help the campaign reach more people, it has also made the Canadian Safe School Network’s work much harder. The organization has tackled the issue of cyberbulling at its conferences and as part of its in-school programs, but this is the first time it has approached it in a public campaign.

“The technology is ahead of everybody, and as an organization we have to run to keep up,” Auty says, adding kids might not have the wisdom to deal with these social tools that allow them to say things without actually seeing their impact. “It turns into group bullying. This is an attempt to get kids to think about what they’re doing and prevent it from starting.”