We speak to Dacher Keltner, the psychologist consultant on the Pixar movie Inside Out, about how the right emojis can make a world of difference.

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We’re working together with charities across the world to support the victims of cyberbullying through our #BeStrong campaign. And with the help of Dacher Keltner, Director of Psychology at Berkeley University and the psychological consultant on the Pixar Movie Inside Out, we’ve designed a host of special emojis to help make it easier for you to show solidarity with anyone you think is suffering as a result.

Why does this matter? We’ve been talking to Dacher to get the inside story…

Support emojis FTW!

“I’m a psychologist and a scientist,” says Dacher as we ask about his background, “and for 25 years I’ve been studying prosocial behaviour – the emotional properties that enable us to get along with our friends, romantic partners and family members.”

So how has that research led him to work with us on our #BeStrong emojis?

“About three or four years ago I started doing work at Facebook, helping to design communication flows on the site that would help people resolve conflicts,” he explains. “And as part of that work I helped design some emoticons that were based in science, to help people better communicate their emotions online.

“A lot of the data and algorithms suggest that it really matters to be able to say you’re grateful, or that you’re feeling compassion for someone this way. And that’s what led to the #BeStrong collaboration with Vodafone.”

As Dacher reveals, there’s a problem out there: a lot of us want to help stop bullying, but finding the right words can be tricky. And that’s where the power of emojis comes in:

“First of all, we surveyed almost 5,000 teens throughout Europe at the start of the project. My input there was to help Vodafone to ask questions about the seriousness of the cyberbullying problem, and how it is that people want to intervene. We know that it’s tough – not only in face to face interactions but also online – to express support, and to have the precise language to do that. So with that thinking, I helped come up with these new support emojis.”

“These emojis can help in a couple of really fundamental ways,” he says. “We know that people want to offer their support when they see someone being bullied – to say ‘you’re not alone’ – so the first thing is to provide a powerful, precise visual language for communicating that sentiment. They also communicate a broader stance against cyberbullying.

“Those are our two end goals here,” he says. “To give teenagers really powerful tools to help people who have been cyberbullied and to act as a broader awareness-raising campaign.”

They’re certainly a noble set of goals, but as Dacher reveals, they’re aims that could save lives…

A double-edged sword

We all love the technology in our smartphones and tablets, but there’s no denying that our newfound connectedness can come at a price – especially when it comes to bullying:

“When you’re bullied, it can be as powerful psychologically and physiologically as physical forms of harm. It can be a traumatic experience. And on top of that, we know that teens now worry about how viral their bullying will go,” says Dacher.

“Bullying can be a traumatic experience… We know that teens now worry about how viral their bullying will go.”

“There are worries about the fact that when something’s out in the digital world, you don’t know who’s going to see it. Are teachers or family members going to see something you don’t want them to, for instance? That kind of worry makes people vulnerable to things like anxiety, depression and self-harm, and those risks are amplified being alone – by isolation. So that’s really a big motivation for this campaign.

“Technology can be a double-edged sword,” he adds. “In many ways, there are certain dimensions to the bullying experience that are worsened by technology – bullying can spread really fast and really far online, for instance. But we can capitalise on the properties of technology that allow us to counteract that. There’s definitely a lot of good that can come from tech, like the immediacy in which you can step in, or the manner in which young kids can really show support and build a community around somebody.

“Technology has these properties that can make things problematic, or act as a force for good, and the #BeStrong emojis will help teenagers to use its strengths.

“All of my research says that we all generally really want to help people who are in distress,” says Dacher in closing, “but that we often feel confused about how to go about it. So we wanted to make that easier.”

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And now you can do exactly that. Our new support emoji are out in the wild, and we’re working on making them easy to use and share. What’s more, every time this tweet is retweeted or this Facebook post is ‘Liked’, the Vodafone Foundation will donate 10p to a fund of up to £100,000, which will be shared by a group of charities supporting the victims of cyberbullying, such as the Diana Award. You can find out more about our work with the Diana Award right here.

Stay tuned for more from our chat with Dacher soon, in which he reveals the importance of emotional psychology in Pixar’s Inside Out.

A new age for Digital Parenting… The fourth edition of our annual Digital Parenting Magazine is out now, and it’s totally free. If you’re looking for expert advice, tips and tricks on how to help your kids get the best out of tech and stay safe online, head to http://vodafonedigitalparenting.co.uk/