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NYT Syndicate

Back when most of the United States got online via dial-up modem, Monica S Lewinsky learned how the anonymity of the internet can prompt people to be crude and cruel in a way they never would be in real life. Now she is trying to help others who find themselves the target of vitriol.
To mark October as National Bullying Prevention Month, Lewinsky, along with the advertising agency BBDO and her public relations manager, Dini von Mueffling, started an online campaign against cyberbullying that promotes the hashtag #clickwithcompassion and a suite of emojis developed to support victims of online harassment.
"I think it's really kind of opening up this conversation around starting to recognise and de-stigmatise the bullying that's happening both online and offline in many areas," Lewinsky said."We're seeing it in academia ” and, of course, politics."
And Lewinsky is not alone in her attempts to bring attention to the topic. The advertising industry is deploying its well-honed powers of persuasion against bullies who have made the leap from school playgrounds to social networks. Burger King, for example, recently released an ad that looked at how many customers would stand up for a"bullied" Whopper Jr compared with a teenager being bullied in one of its restaurants.
"Before there was an internet, bullying was thought of as a schoolyard activity," said Greg Hahn, chief creative officer at BBDO."Now it's as prevalent in adult interactions. Something happens online where those rules don't apply anymore."
The impetus to take on bullying is not only altruistic. Social media increasingly has made brands the target of rumours, boycotts and other attacks.
"Now that word-of-mouth and social are playing such a large role, and more and more consumers have figured out how to use social, they can get on their soapbox," said Allen Adamson, a brand strategy consultant."The angrier they are, the more effective they are online."
As a result, advertisers have a greater sense of what bullied individuals face ” and are learning what kind of communication serves to counter it."I think maybe more brands, more people, more entities are experiencing it," said Heidi Arthur, the Ad Council's head of campaign development.
These insights have helped shape the conversation around bullying in the past few years, said Ross Ellis, the founder of STOMP Out Bullying, a nonprofit that is promoting the first Wednesday in November as National Block It Out Day, an anti-cyberbullying initiative.
Five years ago, the Ad Council spearheaded an anti-bullying campaign that targeted parents; today, it speaks directly to bystanders, both kids and adults. The group has homed in on the language used to characterise harassment and abuse to sharpen the focus on what bullying looks like. It now urges people who witness such behaviour to intercede.
"Just saying 'bullying' is fairly broad and speaks to you being on one side of it," Arthur said."When you can connect it to specific behaviours, you can have more of those 'aha' moments."
Lewinsky hopes that her work will help. The campaign's flagship video depicts what would happen if internet trolls confronted their targets in public rather than online.
"There's an online disinhibition effect, where people hiding behind anonymity and a screen will tend to depart from their normal persona," she said.
The video depicts confrontations like one woman mocking another's weight in a cafe, a pedestrian accosting two men with homophobic hate speech and a woman being labelled a terrorist. The perpetrators and targets were played by actors, but the stunned responses of passers-by who intervened were unscripted.
"The shoot we did was really emotional, not only for the actors, but also for the crew," Lewinsky said."We all had very strong reactions to ones that hit home in different ways."
Hahn said the hateful comments the actors used were taken verbatim from social media accounts."Sadly, it was all too easy to find them," he said.
Of course, advertisers were well-versed in navigating unacknowledged or buried emotions long before the advent of the internet, which some experts suggest has made the industry uniquely positioned to take on today's trolls. And if the industry can position its clients at the forefront of this conversation, those brands stand to benefit.
"I think advertising is really a reflection of what's going on in the times," said Val DiFebo, the chief executive of Deutsch in New York."I think the value proposition is really about creating a contact point with your consumer that's meaningful to them beyond the product that you're selling."
Adamson noted that attempting to fight bullying through advertising will have to rely on some of the time-tested strategies marketers have long used.
"Most brands have always been sold on an emotional basis," Adamson said."People buy a coffee because it says something about who they are. The only way to deal with this is to make people emotionally motivated to say something. Ultimately, if they're going to change behaviour, it's not about a rational argument."
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