…what stands out about online attacks and can raise the amount of pain and frustration the victim feels is that they can come at any time, even in the “safety” of your own home or when you are surrounded by loved ones. They also get broad visibility. Instead of the people in the class or in the hall or at the cafeteria table hearing or seeing the bullying, now it can be instantly seen by hundreds or thousands.
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Michael Jolley. Mike is an award-winning principal from North Carolina who joined Securly to champion student safety initiatives and drive adoption of SecurlyHome, the K-12 industry’s first parent engagement solution. As a school leader with extensive first-hand experience managing incidents of student cyberbullying, threats of violence, and self-harm, Mike brings the experience and passion necessary to guide school districts on their journey to enhanced student safety using the latest advanced technologies. Additionally, Mike serves as General Manager of Securly’s rapidly expanding eastern headquarters in Charlotte, NC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was a High School Principal/Assistant Principal for over nine years in North Carolina. As principal, I had first-hand experience dealing with student suicide, cyberbullying, and threats of violence towards our school. As a Principal, and parent of two daughters, it is heartbreaking to sit with a student who has been the victim of cyberbullying as she cries and asks me how she is supposed to go to class or walk into the cafeteria knowing that hundreds of students have seen her be ridiculed with unflattering pics posted online.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
During the 2018/2019 school year, Securly intervened in over 400 incidents in which online data showed a student was at extreme risk of harming themselves or others. Behind each one of these situations is undoubtedly an interesting, unique, and heartbreaking story of how a variety of factors can put a student at risk. For me, the most interesting story is not one of these situations, rather one that possibly prevented a student from getting to this point. Our SecurlyHome app allowed a parent to see her daughter conducting online searches about weight loss, diet pills, and eating disorders. When the parent questioned her daughter about the searches, she discovered that her daughter was being bullied by classmates about being overweight. Because Securly provided this information to the parent, she was able to speak with and support her daughter, get her the help and resources she needed, as well as let the school know about the bullying so it could be addressed.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Securly, is an affordable, easy-to-use safety solution for managing children’s devices and online activity in school and at home. Starting out as a solution for schools to keep kids safe (Securly currently protects 10 million students across the US), they now have resources for parents to keep their young kids safe online at home. Securly is constantly improving our current student safety solutions, as well as launching new features and solutions. I am most excited about recent additions to Auditor and the pending release of our SecurlyGo App. For Auditor, school administrators are now able to detect nude images in school owned email accounts and in Google Drive, which adds another layer of safety and protection for students. SecurlyGo will allow parents to protect their kids’ mobile devices no matter where they are.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
As a principal in the social media era, there are countless times when parents or students took to social media to vent their frustrations about me. A quick Twitter search of my name and the “f” word will pop up some interesting opinions shared to the digital world. As an adult, I can laugh most of it off, but had I been younger, this would have been extremely difficult to handle. Supervising thousands of high school students for close to a decade provided countless firsthand knowledge of how devastating this is to teens.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
I have the perspective that the person is angry, frustrated, and needs to express themselves, and this is what they know. They see their friends, peers, and even their parents or other adults in their life do the same, so why shouldn’t they. I used it as a teachable moment every time I could.
When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
As I have worked with numerous recipients of critical, harsh, and hurtful posts or comments, I can tell you the victim feels heartbroken, frustrated, or angry. It is important to note that anonymity and “keyboard courage” is leading to an increase in this behavior. According to a report released in April 2019 from the National Center for Education Statistics:
- 1 in 5 students from 12–18 are going to face bullying at school
- Increase in cyberbullying from 11.5% to 15%
- 90% of students who were bullied online had rumors spread about them as well
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I feel like both are extremely hurtful, but what stands out about online attacks and can raise the amount of pain and frustration the victim feels is that they can come at any time, even in the “safety” of your own home or when you are surrounded by loved ones. They also get broad visibility. Instead of the people in the class or in the hall or at the cafeteria table hearing or seeing the bullying, now it can be instantly seen by hundreds or thousands.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
There are a variety of opinions on this topic, but some of the most commonly agreed upon effects are depression, self-harm, suicide, and violence against others. Not only are there long-term effects on the person shamed, there can be long-term consequences for the perpetrator. Parents should speak to their kids about their digital footprint. Kids sometimes don’t understand the impact of what they post on the internet. There can be implications for job opportunities, college acceptance, scholarships, and even legal implications.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
- Wanting to feel power over another person
- No sense of boundaries
- Having keyboard courage
- Feeling influenced by others — “pack mentality”
- Lack of personal confidence
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them?
- Respect others online. This includes no bullying, harassing, trolling, gossiping about, or shaming people.
- Anything posted online can come back to haunt you. This includes photos, social media comments, and videos. People’s careers have ended and lives have been ruined because of old posts that resurfaced
What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Set limitations on how much time kids can spend online to combat FOMO and online addiction.
- Be honest and open with kids about the potential dangers of the internet
- Set a good example
- Start a tech contract
- Be a resource, encourage kids to come to you if someone threatens them or makes them feel uncomfortable online
- Be your best self when communicating online
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
- Enforce more strict monitoring from each platform
- Create a contract that users need to adhere to that prohibits aggressive behavior/words to limit cyberbullying attacks
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Port left, Starboard right.” This was from Bruce Hardin, my high school football coach, and one of the most influential men in my life. It is a simple reminder to look straight ahead, know where you are going, and stay focused.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!