A new campaign believes emojis could hold the key to tackling the problem of bullying. ‘I Am A Witness’, which launched this week, aims to turn apathy into action; the specially created #IAmAWitness emoji, available through the latest iOS update, is designed for teenagers to confront bullying and harassment wherever they see it online.
Unlike other anti-bullying initiatives, which have focused on speaking to the perpetrators or victims of bullying, the original intention of I Am A Witness was to empower all the other kids to do something. “Our research showed that 60% of bullying will stop in 10 seconds if someone intervenes,” says Kate Baynham at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, who created the campaign pro bono in partnership with the Ad Council. But knowing what to say when you intervene is another matter entirely — which is where the emoji comes in.
The shape the emoji takes is no coincidence, either. “There is substantial evidence that brief exposure to images of eyes — including even highly stylised images such at those used in [this campaign] increases pro-social behaviour and decreases anti-social behaviour,” says Daniel Fessler, a researcher at UCLA. It is reasonable to expect, then, that the I Am A Witness emoji might be capable of cultivating feelings of accountability in cyber-bullies, an important step in battling the online disinhibition effect which has been linked to a lack of empathy when interacting with people through a screen.
In addition to cooperation from Apple, who fast-tracked the emoji to get it out in time for the new iOS update, I Am A Witness has received support from an array of social platforms. The campaign will be visible in Facebook’s News Feed and Snapchat has created special I Am A Witness filters. The campaign also features a PSA ad starring several popular YouTubers, who share their own experiences of online abuse.
“Who knows it people will actually use the emoji,” says Recode’s Kurt Wagner. “Or if it will curb bullying in the slightest. But people seem to love emojis, and there’s no denying the cyber bullying is still a major issue. So it certainly can’t hurt to try.”
In an effort against cyber-shaming, Ogilvy backed the Upstandr campaign with Monica Lewinsky with a vision to build a culture of digital compassion.