May 11, 2011

How Shakespeare & Social Media Are Fighting Cyber Bullying

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shakespeare imageWilliam Shakespeare, the bard behind some of the greatest works in the English language, is coming to a Facebook page near you. Weekly Reader has teamed up with the Ophelia Project and White Plains High School to re-enact one of Shakespeare’s plays on Facebook from April 26 to 28.

Much Ado About Nothing will be presented on a special page through status updates, posts, pictures and videos. The students helped create separate pages for their characters complete with pictures, in-character bios and likes. The project is meant both as an educational resource and a tool to combat cyber bullying.

People have long modernized Shakespeare by dressing actors in current clothing and trying to adapt the sometimes dense, complicated language. This project marks a quantum leap in format, as well, updating not only the characters but the way in which they interact. The play will be set in modern day, with dialogue and issues that are relevant to students. The play revolves around issues of hearsay and verbal abuse, making it a perfect segue to talking about online abuse.

Cyber Bullying

Facebook has become the de facto home base for our online identities. This is even more true for younger generations that have grown up with the popular social network as a constant in their lives. Day-to-day interactions, dramas and jokes often play out across Facebook and other social sites. Those online identities, however, are just as vulnerable to the same bullying and abuse as the people behind them. The problem is exacerbated by the relative anonymity of the Internet.

Facebook has also been the site of much cyber bullying, and they’ve made efforts to provide a slew of tools and resources available to report abuse. This project, which Facebook is helping to promote, marks another step forward.

Much Ado About Nothing deals with the damage caused by false information and pain of bullying. The play follows two couples fighting against ill will and spurious gossip. The plot should resonate with almost anyone who has spent a lot of time on the Internet. (Flocabulary, a hip hop education resource, turned out a (surprisingly entertaining) video to help explain the plot, embedded below.)

The latest reports from the Cyberbullying Research Center estimate that anywhere from 10 to 40% of teens experience cyber bullying. It’s a problem that President Obama has rallied against and a key component of the Ophelia Project’s role in the production. During the show, it will provide live updates regarding the social aggressions faced by characters in the play.

Douglas Cronk, the director of White Plains High School’s original performance of Much Ado in November of last year, has noticed the growth of cyber bullying: “I know that in our area a number of schools have experience things like smut lists and other things,” he said. “[A] list of young people and who they’ve been with. They’re usually not true but they have a strong impact on the kids.”


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