An army of protestors will descend upon UN headquarters in New York on February 2 in an effort to end bullying worldwide. Here's the catch: The protesters are online cartoons. Richard Piggin, deputy CEO of the U.K. not-for-profit Beatbullying, tells us how they plan to force change with the cutest protest ever.
FC: Why a virtual march?
Piggin: It's a march for the 21st century. If you're 6 years old, you can join. If you're 80 years old, you can join. If you're in India, you can make your presence felt. It doesn't matter where you are. This captures the imagination of a lot of people.
Without a physical show of support, how will your presence be known?
All of our supporters—we're expecting 2 million—will create digital avatars and antibullying banners. They'll march together, across the Internet, to the UN. We're partnering with nearly 100 websites, including Facebook, and anyone visiting those sites will see the avatars walk across the page from left to right, whether that person is participating in the march or not.
The support of Facebook seems imperative. How
has social media changed or
We work with schools across the U.K., training students as peer mentors to deal with and prevent bullying. Our program reduces instances of bullying in schools by 70%. But now, virtually every child we work with has a social-networking profile. They're more comfortable communicating online, but it's also easier to write something horrible to someone online, where it doesn't seem as real. We launched a CyberMentors program that has attracted nearly 2 million visitors from across the globe. Just as it's easier to bully someone online, it's easier to tell someone you're being bullied. It's fantastic that there has been a rise in awareness of the issue of bullying and cyberbullying, but there's a lot more that social- networking sites can do, and there's a lot more that governments can do.
What are you asking of the UN?
Last year, we held a virtual march in the U.K., and we presented a petition with our requests to the deputy prime minister. As a result, our CyberMentors program is now funded by the government. This year, on a global stage, we're asking to include the term "bullying" in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It would then explicitly state that every child has the right to be safe from bullying. If ratified, all countries are obliged to take action. It will be a unified message that bullying is fundamentally unacceptable.
A version of this article appears in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company.