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Counter cyberbullies with compassion

Let's focus on those who use the Net for good.

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Stories of online cruelty are easy to come by these days.

JuicyCampus, a gossip site, has brought the kind of public scrutiny and humiliation usually reserved for celebrities into America's finest colleges and universities. Chat rooms about college admissions feature high-strung 17-year-olds unleashing their own deep-seated fears on one another in a torrent of "there's no way you're getting in" spew. At its very worst, we find that online viciousness can even lead to suicide, as it did in the case of a teen in St. Louis who was bullied on MySpace.

But don't be discouraged: It would be easy, with all of these devastating examples of the Internet's dehumanizing capacity, to abandon any hope that being wired might promote being kinder. Look a little closer and you will find that there is a competing narrative to this cruelty. One that is worthy of our support.

There is a little-discussed but growing movement among empathic techies and wired social workers to make the Internet a place of genuine connection. Blogs such as 37 Days (writer Patty Digh's daily exploration of what would matter to us if we only had 37 days to live), mommy blogs such as MomsRising and The Motherhood, and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki's How to Change the World, point readers in a more gentle direction. So do the advent of Facebook Causes and other online networks designed to tug on the heartstrings of surfers.

Consider Lifeline Gallery: Stories of Hope and Recovery, a new effort by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to "raise awareness about the effects of suicide, reduce stigma, connect people to emotional support and offer help." The gallery also gives suicide-attempt survivors and suicide-prevention supporters a place to share their stories.

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