For parents and families across the world, Cyberbullying has been a growing problem for years. Flaring up with high-profile incidents such as this year’s ‘Momo Challenge’, public interest in the issue is at an all-time high. It’s even become a plot point for an award-winning Netflix series, ‘13 Reasons Why’.
But discussion and public awareness doesn’t seem to be solving the issue. In the UK, around half of all teenagers say they have experienced cyberbullying at some stage of their lives, with girls slightly more likely than boys to have encountered the issue.
For Hungarian agency White Rabbit, along with nine Portuguese Universities, the time had come to take concrete action. The idea was simple - by combing through mobile phone data contracts, it was clear to see that anyone committing an act of cyberbullying was in breach of their contract. This finding inspired the campaign ‘TermsAgainstBullying’, which calls on data providers to honour the terms of their contract and suspend service from bullies.
To discuss the campaign, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to Istvan Bracsok and Levente Kovacs, chief creative officers of White Rabbit.
LBB> Where did the idea for this campaign come from, and how did it come to happen?
Istvan> Unfortunately, cyberbullying has become a global phenomenon. Due to the huge technological advancements we're experiencing, it pervades younger people's lives like a spider's web, woven by various social community platforms. And cyberbullying is like a virus: it spreads fast and easily not just online but in offline communities like universities, where youngsters get together, and obviously communicate with each other, have interactions, and live like members of a small society.
Levente> However, during the last couple of years cyberbullying has become a serious problem in many universities of Portugal. The management of those universities realised that they have to get together, take a firm step and fight against this cruel phenomenon to protect their own students. That's how nine Portugal universities formed a so-called ‘alliance’ against bullying. They didn't have any specific in their minds. All they wanted us to come up with was an idea that might raise awareness of this global threat of youngsters, and provides an opportunity to act against cyberbullying somehow. And we came up with this tool called ‘TermsAgainstBullying.com’, developed for reporting abuses committed on WhatsApp, one of the most popular and widely used communication apps amongst youngsters.
LBB> What were your thoughts when the opportunity for this project came through? And why was it something you wanted to get involved with?
Istvan> Our initial thoughts were like, ‘how can we tackle this problem?’ We thought that it's pretty far from our very own reality. But as we started exploring the subject it turned out, that it's much, much more closer to us and to our lives than we thought in the beginning. Especially if you have kids on your own. And from that perspective, all of a sudden it became a real-life problem.
Levente> Actually, I have two kids, and we have colleagues in the team who also have young kids attending school. Luckily, none of them have experienced cyberbullying so far; but they are being exposed to this kind of danger of our modern society within a few years. So finally we knew we wanted to get involved with it. And since as parents we cannot prevent this cruel phenomenon lurking in the shadows, the most we can do is to shine a light on it. And we realised that's our only weapon against it - this campaign is our online crusade against cyberbullying.
LBB> What has the reception been from the mobile providers that you've targeted?
Istvan> We haven't talked to any of them, so far. But does it matter what they say? Okay, our campaign is based on a fact that's written in their terms of conditions. But that's their very own clause providing protection for their users against ‘digital’ violence.
Levente> I guess, they should be happy about it. That the campaign draws attention to their responsible behaviour, that they actually have a clause in their agreements, and they ‘punish’ cyberbullying by cancelling the contract. Through that, there’s a way that they act against this problem as well.
LBB> And what about the reception of the campaign more generally?
Istvan> It's a very fresh campaign; it just took off a couple of days ago. But we're expecting some reception, what's more: we're eager to have some reception! Let's talk about this issue, let's bring it to the light! But the fact that you've already discovered it, it's already a reception, isn't it?
LBB> The animation style in the video seems like a nightmarish version of a children's story book. Is this intentional?
Levente> Absolutely. That was the point. We wanted to create a sort of disturbing visuality for this campaign, suggesting the sinister nature of cyberbullying; that it's hanging over our childrens' reality, that it infiltrates their world, being a constant digital threat, that could harm them mentally, emotionally – turning their lives into a nightmare, a kind of "personal horror story". Cyberbullying could cause horrible traumas, casting long shadows if experienced in early childhood. We wanted to express that as well, definitely.
LBB> Did you draw on any real-life examples of cyberbullying when creating the campaign?
Istvan> No, not at all. But as I've just mentioned, being responsible parents we feel the problem, and the cruel reality of cyberbullying. Again: this campaign is more like a "preventive strike", offering a "get-ready" attitude, before the cyberbullying shit is going to hit the fan.
LBB> How closely did you work with the Portuguese Universities?
Levente> It was a close, day-to-day cooperation. We fed them information on how the project is evolving, and they gave us clear and specific feedback on how to proceed, how to make it more relevant and powerful for their students – and for other generations and other nationalities of youngsters.
Istvan> Yes, they were very supportive all the way during the development process. Although they gave us freedom in creating the look, the feel, the whole atmosphere of the site, they were very precise and meticulous when it came to describing all the various forms of cyberbullying. We appreciated that much. It meant that they took this project seriously, just like we did.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Levente> We pulled together an amazing international team to work on this project. Talented people from China through Dubai, Berlin to Portugal and Brazil were involved in the creation, the production of this campaign. And our greatest enemy was time. It wasn't that easy to coordinate and organise our team, working in different time-zones. But the importance of this global issue, our dedication to this project was stronger than time.