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The Importance of the Recommendations for Media Reporting on Bullying

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Did you know experts created media guidelines and recommendations to use when covering or reporting on the topic of bullying? Do you know why these exist? Do we really even need them? These are questions that some people may answer yes to, but the reality is that there are many that don’t know why these guidelines exist - more importantly, the reasons why we need them.

In less than 20 seconds, a simple search for “bullying” on Google and Yahoo will bring in nearly 1.5 billion and 12.5 million hits, respectively. You will find links to stories, statistics, definitions, movies, quotes, types of bullying, and images. You will also find many stories about bullying often linked to suicide. It is evident that bullying has become a trending topic in the media and the general public. The problem with this is that far too often what you find online and even in general conversation is not supported by research. Even more so, the information that is out there isn’t always helpful and can potentially be harmful to people who need the information, including young people, parents, teachers, school administrators, and often those in the business world.

Several years ago, a team of experts were convened to develop media guidelines on the reporting of suicide, which became the gold standard in the industry for accurate and current information on how to safely report on suicide. A similar process was used to create the media guidelines for reporting on bullying found on StopBullying.gov. When it comes to bullying, people can define it many different ways, so it’s helpful to know what is accurate and based in research, versus what can be inaccurately portrayed.

The recommendations on how to report on bullying are simple and straightforward.  They encourage you to know why you are covering a story and help you identify how your story may affect your audience. They help you present a balanced story with knowledgeable and accurate sources. Yes, they do ask you, as media leaders, to dig a little deeper and be aware of what others are saying, but only to help you present the truth while helping communities be safer for our youth.  

Sometimes though, we need to be more aware of what can potentially be harmful, why it is so, and how we can avoid those pitfalls. One example is the common pitfall to state or imply that bullying caused a suicide. This is harmful because stories that say or insinuate that bullying caused a suicide can create a belief that suicide is a normal, even inevitable result of bullying. This may lead to “contagion”—additional deaths or cluster suicides that occur after heavy media coverage of the issue.  When there is a public health issue, portraying accurate information is vital.  It helps everyone understand what researchers have found in well-designed studies across geography and cultures. Accurate information helps correct misinformation, clears up the myths, and is able to get reality out to the public in a timely fashion. 

Resources developed by people trained in this area help you to put the best information out there and become part of changing the conversation, which includes the way people act and respond. The guidelines and recommendations were created to help you become part of the solution! So if you are a member of the media, or regularly promote bullying prevention through communication channels, consider implementing these guidelines in your work as a tool to responsibly report on this important issue and help reduce the negative impact bullying has on our youth, communities and nation today.