Kick cyber bullies into touch
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Bullies have taken to social media to mete out their cruelty. Sally Bailey reports on a growing problem and how to tackle the bullies
Bullying is nothing new. Being sent to Coventry, binning, punching, kicking, and vicious taunts have been going on in the playground since school began. But bullies always took a risk that a teacher would catch them in the act and give them detention.
These days cruelty can be meted out anonymously and rumours spread like wildfire through social media sites without a parent or a teacher even getting wind of something happening.
Cyber-bullies, or trolls, love sites like Facebook and Twitter where they can hurl bile without even revealing their identity. As children increasingly conduct their social lives online the threat of cyber bullying increases.
Olympic diver Tom Daley suffered at the hands of trolls who thought they were anonymous. Despite already owning a collection of awards including two golds from the Commonwealth Games and then winning a bronze medal for his individual performance at the 2012 Olympics, he was subjected to vile abuse on Twitter after ‘only’ coming fourth in the synchronised dive. Police arrested a 17-year-old boy and a 28-year-old footballer. Six months later the trolls were at it again, sending a barrage of homophobic hate about the sportsman’s sexuality.
Occasionally this kind of abuse ends when a young person kills themselves rather than having to endure another day of it.
A study shows that more than half our children go online without any parental supervision, many spending four to six hours a day on their computers, games consoles, tablets and phones, and almost one in five teenagers admit they lie to their parents about what they’ve been doing online.
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The research, commissioned by McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance, part of the National Children’s Bureau charity, questioned more than 1,000 children aged between 10 and 17, and 1,000 parents of 10 to 17-year-olds. The findings paint a bleak picture of how ill-equipped we are to deal with the problem.
A quarter of the youngsters questioned have seen a classmate becoming the victim of cyber-bullies and a third of parents suspect their child of being an online bully, but the same number haven’t even discussed online safety with their kids.
Khushal Shah, 17, says he initially didn’t have the courage to tell his parents after he discovered a fake Facebook account had been set up in his name and bombarded with nasty remarks.
“Photoshopped pictures of me and rude and abusive comments were posted to the account. Almost my whole year group at school had added me as a friend,” he says. “I was shocked and confused. I felt that I was an outcast.”
With the support of a friend, Khushal told a teacher and he says, after ‘several conversations with Facebook’, the fake account was deleted. The horrible experience has made him determined others shouldn’t suffer the same fate.
“It was only with the support of friends, teachers and my parents, that I became confident again, regained my self-esteem and could face walking past people in the corridors.
“Bullying is not seen and understood as seriously as it should be. The word itself to many may seem petty. Some define it simply as name-calling or teasing. Bullying needs to be understood from its root. Whether it is verbally, physically, psychologically or through cyberspace, it is all to do with an imbalance of power.”
McAfee’s study show that only 23 per cent of the children who directed a cruel or abusive comment at someone online thought it was ‘mean’ and only nine per cent thought that it constituted cyber-bullying. A quarter of them even said they’d be shocked if their comments were perceived as cruel. But one in five of our children have been on the receiving end and see things differently.
Whilst 53 per cent of the parents who gave their views would like their children to be educated about e-safety in school, they also need to up-their-game.
McAfee has joined forces with the Anti-Bullying Alliance to help tackle the problem, creating security solutions and empowering parents to use appropriate privacy settings.
Luke Roberts, national co-ordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, believes cyber-bullying is an increasingly accepted part of online-culture, a statement backed up by the fact that only one-in-10 parents think their children are safe online. He wants kids to be free from bullying everywhere and the Alliance is calling for a national debate on the subject that includes teachers and parents, charities and government.
“We need to make cyber-bullying a thing of the past and ensure a digital future for our children that is safe, fun and connected; where children take responsibility for their own safety online, but more importantly know where to turn for help when things go wrong.”
Khushal still thinks the internet and social media are ‘amazing resources’ but need to be handled with care, and parents need to show their children how to use cyberspace safely and effectively.
He says: “Only when we truly understand the concept of bullying, will we be able to fight against it and push for the freedom for all those affected by it.”
McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance have published an online paper called Digital Deception: The Online Behaviour of Teens, which gives parents and children tools to help protect themselves. Download it at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk