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Online bullying is a huge problem, but bullying may have met its match as a new Facebook group tries to overwhelm negativity with kindness.

The Kindness Bucket Brigade, a group started Aug. 23 that already has more than 2,600 members, is the brainchild of motivational speaker Wendy Babcock of New Lisbon. Babcock came up with the idea after a friend saw a girl bullied on Facebook, and instead of targeting the bully her friend left a kind comment for the target of the bullying.

“I thought, hey, if more people do that we might get somewhere … if we can drown out the hateful comments with kindness,” Babcock said. “I’m racking my brain for how to do that, and I thought of a bucket brigade, where you pass the bucket to put out the fire.”

If members see a bullying comment online, they leave comments for the target of the bullying, which are full of kindness and compassion. They then tag in another member of the group who leaves a similar comment with the hashtag #kindnessbucketbrigade, with that member tagging in another member, and the process repeats until the positive comments far outweigh the bullying comment.

“I didn’t think much that of it to be honest, so I thought I’ll create the group and maybe if I get 100 people it’d be amazing,” Babcock said. “We passed that within hours of starting the group, and I was floored … it’s kind of taken on a whole another thing in a good way.”

Babcock said the group has rapidly expanded, not just within the United States, but also around the world. Mauston, New Lisbon, Necedah, Baraboo, Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells, Madison and Portage are all represented well within the group, but there are also members from Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Nigeria, Italy, Brazil, the Philippines, and Kenya.

With the exponential growth of the group’s first few weeks, members are expanding the focus.

“Instead of just the bullying comments, there are people who are asking for prayer requests, having a rough day, struggling with depression, chronic illness,” Babcock said. “I’m seeing posts blow up where, maybe it’s a prayer request, and I’m seeing 150 comments, people showering them with thoughts, with prayers.”

According to Babcock, the group is averaging between 50 and 100 posts each day, with members finding videos, pictures, memes of positive things, words of encouragement, people taking the time to pay it forwards, and showing random acts of kindness.

“People are commenting saying how it’s changed their life already,” Babcock said. “There are people with chronic illness who are saying things like ‘before I was in this group I was down in the dumps all the time, but now I look forward to jumping online and seeing all the positive.’”

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One of those members is Mechelle Cichy, who also serves as a moderator for the group. Cichy said she is generally not patient, which has led to situations where she has felt angry inside even if she does not outwardly display the anger.

“In the few days I have been a member of this group my entire attitude is different,” Cichy said. “Being a part of a community of kindness rubs off on you. Instead of getting immediately upset, I stop to consider why that person may be slowing me down. Perhaps he or she has something serious going on in life that is causing a distraction. Maybe they aren’t feeling good and are doing everything they can just to get through the next few hours. I’m feeling more patience and compassion.”

Cichy suffers from a chronic illness, and said her depression and anxiety have been “considerably reduced” since joining the group, which in turn has had a positive effect on her health.

“It’s refreshing to login to Facebook and find my feed filled with positive thoughts and happiness,” Cichy said. “I can literally feel the happiness within the group. For me, the group feels like a family.”

Babcock admitted she was initially worried about people joining the group to bully the members, but the number of attempts at bullying within the group have been “shockingly” low. Only two people have tried to leave rude comments in the group.

“We’re a group about kindness and anti-bullying, so we don’t want to be the bullies of the bully,” Babcock said. “We investigate a little, check things out, maybe we can message them, maybe we misinterpreted it and they didn’t mean it like that, so we try to approach (the bullies) in a kind way.”

The approach is paying off for the group, with ex-bullies joining and rethinking their ways.

“People are posting about experiences in a restaurant where before they would have yelled at the waitress, left nothing for a tip,” Babcock said. “Now they notice the girl is having a rough time, and they left her 50% of the bill as a tip.”

Babcock says the group accepts everyone, and hopes the message continues to reach new people. To join the Kindness Bucket Brigade, send a request on the Facebook page by searching Kindness Bucket Brigade, or for more information visit kindnessbucketbrigade.com.

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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