With young victims of bullying being driven to suicide, and with online hate expanding, young people can now use their cell phones to call in hate crimes, bullying incidents and online bigotry through a new app, “Combat Hate.”
The app, created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, will allow and direct users to send photos, text, or other pertinent information about hate-related situations directly to the Wiesenthat Center, who will then utilize and share the information with the relevant government or social agencies.
“Combat Hate,” primarily intended for high school students, is available on iTunes and Google, Rabbi Steven Burg, Wiesenthal’s eastern director, said, “Teens today face hate and bullying in person and online every day. This app lets them know someone cares.” Last year, Wiesenthal introduced a password-sensitive app for law enforcement that links to Wiesenthal’s research and resources on the topic.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said the Wiesenthal Center has also been conferring with social media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where cyber-bullying is often given a platform.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper introduced “Combat Hate” at the New York branch of Wiesenthal’s Museum of Tolerance, in conjunction with a program on bullying and intolerance for more than a dozen high school students from the Eagle Academy for Young Men. Eagle, in the Bronx, under the auspices of the New York Department of Education, has the mission of “developing leadership” from a student body that is primarily black and Latino. The school, which has expanded into Brooklyn and Queens, is the result of an investment led by One Hundred Black Men, Inc.
“We need your help,” Rabbi Cooper told to the students. “When you see things online and in real-time or ‘real life’ that crosses the line, we hope you’ll share that information with a responsible adult, and its also something that we’d like to know about.”
Kenneth Cuenca, a senior at Eagle, told The Jewish Week, “There’s been a lot of suicides as a result of cyber-bullying — and any type of bullying, verbal or physical,” so he appreciated those in positions of authority, both in schools or with the Wiesenthal Center, who “are trying to promote a safer environment for all students, and people in the communities.” The problem “rarely occurs” at Eagle, he said, because “our school is based on the idea that we’re trying to uplift each other; We’re all brothers.”
Rabbi Cooper asked the boys for their personal experiences with bullying, and Cuenca admitted, “I’ve been bullied my whole life. I can cope with it. It doesn’t really bother me. It gets old, the same jokes.” A Hispanic, “I usually get bullied for my skin color, being kind of pale and white. I kind of ignore it. I try to laugh, cast it aside, that they’re trying to bring me down but they just fail horribly.”
A black teen named Hassan, who is now 6-foot-5, admitted to having being teased when he was younger and smaller. “When people who you don’t really know call out your flaws, it’s kind of devastating, to some people.”
Kristian Collazo, a senior, recalled that “when I was in the eighth grade,” living upstate, “I got bullied because I was the only Hispanic male in the whole school. I was also really overweight and they targeted me for that. I didn’t have anyone to go to. I felt really uncomfortable there, I didn’t want to go to school at all, so my mother decided to move back down to the Bronx.”
“That’s a very profound story,” said Rabbi Cooper, because we see how bullying “changed the course of your family’s history.”
Jason Clarke, another Eagle senior, said of cyber-bullying, “You see it a lot, on Facebook. When I was in middle school, a girl, she did something wrong.” By the time her situation finished playing out on Facebook, “she had to move, two states” away. “Now [kids] do it on Instagram.”
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The students were advised about speaking up in the face of bullying, how best to show support for victims, and being an ally to those being targeted.
Rabbi Cooper said that after the introduction of the new app he was going to San Francisco where he would be meeting with eBay and Twitter about these issues, as he has been meeting with Facebook. He said Wiesenthal “is monitoring around 20,000 [hate] websites and pages,” and we have been very involved with Facebook” and other social media sites, “trying to get them to do more” about online abuse.
Mark Weitzman, Wiesenthal’s director of government affairs, showed the students how to decipher examples of hate agitation and intolerance that are often piggybacked or subliminally embedded onto online “games.”
Weitzman told the students, “One of the reasons we’re appealing to you is that you, as students, hear things and see things that we as adults and teachers can’t see or don’t see.”
By using Combat Hate, he added, “You and your peers can make a difference and affect change in a positive way.”