How Kids Are Using Google Docs To Bully Each Other

How Kids Are Using Google Docs To Bully Each Other
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As a parent, you might walk past your child’s room and see her happily typing away on a Google Docs page. “Lovely!” you think. “She’s probably working on her science report or finishing up her essay on the Whitlam dismissal.”

Or, she could be in a secret chat room.

In today’s edition of Let’s Try to Stay One Step Ahead of Our Kids on the Internet (spoiler: We can’t!), we’re offering this heads-up: Some are using Google Docs, the seemingly wholesome web-based word processor, to skirt their parents’ tech rules.

It’s impressive, really. All they need to do is open up a document, invite their friends to become collaborators, and boom — they have a private space to chat, draw, share links, upload photos and post memes.

Google Docs is hardly a program parents think to block (in fact, on tech message boards, I’ve seen several parents asking how to ban everything except for the software) and many kids already have accounts for school. After the chat session, they can simply delete the document and empty their Trash folder without leaving any record.

On Reddit, one user shared how their sister’s friend was grounded and had her phone taken away, so her group of high school juniors simply moved their conversation to Google Docs.

Author Ijeoma Oluo tweeted that her son used the workaround to get past his mother’s restrictions, something she found to be “adorably nerdy”.

In response to Oluo’s tweet, many parents shared that their kids have done the same. One explained that friends “have designated colours to make it easier to tell who is talking”. Another wrote that her daughter spends 90 per cent of her time Google Docs “sharing unicorn gifs”.

While that all sounds pretty innocuous (my high school self would’ve loved something like this), the team behind parental control app Bark warns that children are also using the word processor for bullying — in fact, they say they’ve “seen more than 60,000 cases of kids ganging up on other children in Google Docs”. (The service uses AI technology to look for activity that may indicate cyberbullying, as well as online predators, drug use and suicidal thoughts.)

“They work in tandem to write mean or hurtful things in a shared Google Doc,” the company’s blog states. “In other cases, kids create private, digital ‘burn books’ and invite others to contribute while leaving out the teased child.”

For parents, it’s complicated. Kids always will find a way to connect — maybe you simply see this as the modern-day version of passing around a secret notebook in the school halls, the probably-not-latest example of teenage ingenuity.

Years ago, the story was told about how editor Mitch Wagner discovered “some young girls holding a gossipy chat in the comments section of an old blog post of his” — because their school had blocked social media, they would pick random blog posts and use them as discussion boards.

You can try to keep close digital tabs on your kids, but doing so might just make them hate you.

The best thing you can do is teach your kids how to stay safe themselves — to think twice before posting something they might later regret (just because a Google document is destroyed doesn’t mean someone doesn’t have a screenshot), to tell an adult if they suspect cyberbullying or harassment, and to not accept invitations from anyone they don’t know.

Also, you might want to limit their tech use to a communal family area. You’ll have a better idea of whether your kids are doing homework, sharing unicorn gifs or doing something worse.


    • It wasn’t like that back in the 90’s, discussion were far more civil and the culture of being awful to each other wasn’t a thing yet.

    • Human “evolution”…

      Where “evolution” for the first time means going backward (aka devolution)…

  • in fact, they say they’ve “seen more than 60,000 cases of kids ganging up on other children in Google Docs”. (The service uses AI technology to look for activity that may indicate cyberbullying, as well as online predators, drug use and suicidal thoughts.)

    If this is true, ie: everything you type in a shared google doc is being scanned then I will *NEVER* use Google docs. What an incredible invasion of privacy. I think that’s a bigger takeaway than any pseudo-social messaging in googles docs.

    As for the kids and bullying, maybe it’s time for people to stop trying to keep their kids in a bubble and actually talk to them about bullying and help them learn how to deal with it. You know, like people have done for hundreds of years, but seem to have forgotten in the last generation or so.

  • Back in the early 90’s we used an obsolete library print queue to “send” each other instant messages by creating empty named print jobs. Kids will always find a way, but it is troubling with such young kids when parents think they do not need to supervise.

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