Today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited BBC headquarters for Anti-Bullying Week where they viewed the work that the broadcaster is doing as a key member of the Duke’s Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying.
Prince William started by thanking Alice Webb and the BBC team for creating the app Own It.
“You are creating a practical, powerful tool to help children use their smartphones and social media with confidence and with safety. I am so proud that this has sprung out of the Cyberbullying Taskforce work. So thank you, Alice, and the BBC for stepping up. It’s now important that our technology partners get right behind the app to make sure all children can benefit. We’re counting on all of you,” the Duke said.
He continued to talk about the early days of social media “when social media first became a standard part of daily life, there was so much justifiable reason for optimism” due to using the platforms for connecting with old friends or sharing celebrations.
The tone quickly changed though, when Prince William noted that “the early optimism and hope of social media is giving way to very real concern, and even fear about its impact on our lives” calling out the “bile and hate” and “loneliness and inadequacy” that social media can bring.
He added: “When I worked as an Air Ambulance pilot or travelled around the country campaigning on mental health, I met families who had suffered the ultimate loss. For too many, social media and messaging was supercharging the age-old problem of bullying, leaving some children to take their own lives when they felt it was unescapable.”
Prince William spoke about how he did not have the answers, but he could call together the leaders in the industry to help find a solution. Unfortunately, the Duke found out “that the sector did not want to own this issue.”
And that “over and over again that a collective approach – across the industry, with charity partners, ISPs, researchers, and parents – just wouldn’t work. The individual platforms were just too different and user expectations too complicated to try to come up with common tools that could be easily understood by children, parents and teachers.”
Even though the Duke tried to make headway on these issues, he admitted he wasn’t as successful as he hoped.
“I announced a plan of action that I freely admitted did not go as far as I hoped,” the Duke said, but hopes the newly announced “emotional support platform and the Stop, Speak, Support campaign will get fresh energy.”
Prince William has his worries and that the “technology companies still have a great deal to learn about the responsibilities that come with their significant power.”
That because of “fake news, extremism, polarisation, hate speech, trolling, mental health, privacy, and bullying – our tech leaders seem to be on the back foot.”
He sources the pride of the tech companies of their creations the reason they “cannot hear the growing concern from their users.”
Finishing his speech by saying: “You have powered amazing movements of social change. Surely together you can harness innovation to allow us to fight back against the intolerance and cruelty that has been brought to the surface by your platforms.
“We not only want you to succeed. We need you to.”
One wants Prince William to succeed in his journey, to bring an end to the unnecessary harm that social media has turned out. While the tech companies will need to play a significant role in this, so will the users.
Back to the playground rules of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all’ and ‘Think before you speak’. So many of the royal fans say they are here for the Royal Family and support for the Duke’s speech was spread across Twitter moments after he gave it. Sadly, I don’t see it lasting. Many will head back to being on a ‘Team’ by the week’s end, sending hate messages to anyone who dares express their opinion. The very thing the Royals are trying to bring an end to.
The burn book style blogs, the petty arguments, the self-absorbed attitude will continue. It doesn’t have to, but the power of hiding behind a computer is too great for some.
If we want the online world to become one where people are safe, each person has to step up. Cyberbullying stretches far beyond ‘Royal Twitter’, but it is a great place to start to make a difference. If it isn’t too late.