As cyberbullying headlines continue to entrance us, MTV has released a new iPhone app , called Over the Line, to provide a forum for teenagers to share stories about bullying. While the app’s release is particularly timely, given the headlines about It’s not entirely novel-there’s already an Over the Line Facebook app and a Web site . Each is meant to let the bullied share their tales of intimidation, harassment, and marginalization.
A noble goal, to be sure, but hardly one likely to be accomplished in this way. MTV is getting a lot of praise for the app, but those kudos ignore the fact that the Facebook app and Web site are hardly used. The Facebook application has just 69 monthly users and a paltry 10 reviews, with an average rating of 1.9 stars out of five. Meanwhile, on the Web site, just over 1,000 stories of bullying have been shared-not very many, given MTV’s vast, Web 2.0-friendly audience. An episode of Teen Mom would get more responses within an hour of airing.
But it’s the crowd-sourcing of evaluation that I’m most uncomfortable with. Readers can vote on whether the treatment was over, under, or just on the line of acceptable behavior. Sure, peers helping one another determine standards of acceptable behavior are one way to establish codes of conduct. But the tales shared on the Web site seem to be more about venting than actually asking other readers to weigh in on the acceptability. Plus, the sharers don’t seem to fully grasp the concept: A lot of them complain about “nerds,” “losers,” and “ugly” people.
If a kid is being bullied and his tormentors get a hold of his iPhone, discovering that he has installed Over the Line, will it really make them think twice about their actions? Or will it just give them more ammunition to mock him? The Web is full of spaces for kids to vent. What’s the utility of an iPhone app whose concept has already been rejected on two forums-the site and the Facebook app? MTV’s trendy heart could be in the right place, but this is a wasted effort at best. At worst, releasing the app with such fanfare is a calculated move to earn some good press to balance less appetizing programming.
Perhaps the biggest knock against the app? Perez Hilton is excited about it , when it seems like a lot of celebrities and pseudocelebrities could use Over the Line to complain about hist reatment of them.