Last week, Canadian tennis star Rebecca Marino, 22, announced that she was stopping tennis because of depression and cyber bullying. She is just one more example of the dimension harassment on Internet can take.
Thousands of people around the world are victims of cyber bullying, which is defined by the Anti-Bullying Alliance as “an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.”
While the Internet and all new technologies offer a lot of possibilities to the new generations, it can also be a source of risk and danger. Cyber bullying is mainly a concern for children and teenagers, but also for school teachers who are obvious targets of criticisms by students.
This is a major global issue which concerns everybody and which all parents should be aware of. Many children find themselves in insurmountable situations and suffer every day because of this. As many cases have shown, suffering of cyber bullying can grow into depression, and even lead to suicide.
On October 10th 2012, Amanda Todd killed herself just after having posted a last YouTube video explaining what she had been through (My Story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self-harm). With her webcam, she filmed herself showing a series of flash cards to tell her experience of cyber bullying. The video immediatly went viral and her story became representative of the problem of bullying on Internet.
Many other cases of suicides in teenagers increase the general awareness of the size of this international problem. Social networks, such as online chats and instant messaging, all opened the door to a new form of bullying. One that allows anonymity for the attackers and a visibility that never existed before, leaving permanent traces online.
This type of cybercrime can take different forms such as bullying, stalking or identity theft. In all the cases, the victim can never be totally immune. It is very easy for a bully to find his victims on the Internet and to keep harassing this person. Today, moving to another school is not enough anymore to escape from being bullied.
According to a study lead by BeatBullying and commissioned by Nominet Trust, a grant giving foundation supporting projects related with cyber technology, and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), 28 per cent of 11-to 16-year-olds have been victims of cyber bullying. This often happens between children going to the same school, but it can also take broader dimensions.
Teachers would spend an average of six hours per week dealing with this type of problems, the study reports. Many of these children and teenagers become reluctant to go to school, lose all confidence, and do not feel safe.
CyberMentors, an anti-bullying website has been developed by BeatBullying and funded by Nominet Trust.
“It’s an area that we recognize as being a significant issue particularly for young people. It’s probably the main area that we’ve focused on in terms of our support from our organisation,” said Vicki Hearn from Nominet Trust.
Rachael Gant, Head of Marketing and Communications at Nominet Trust, said: “it is important that we give the younger generations and their parents the tools that allow them to use the internet safely and access to support when they need it so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that online technology presents in all of its exciting and positive forms.”
“With peer mentoring at its heart, the programme focuses on educating young people about bullying issues: what it is, why it happens, what the consequences are and, most importantly, finding ways to stop it,” he said.
The website is mainly targeting at children who are being bullied, as a platform where they can easily find help from trained counsellors. Schools and youth organisations across the UK can receive CyberMentors training.
“CyberMentors is proven to reduce bullying by one third,” a BeatBullying spokesperson said. “The website is moderated both by BeatBullying staff and qualified consellors. It also teaches young people how to be good citizens online and how to use the internet safely.”
CyberMentors encourages young people to contact them and seek for help. BeatBullying website advises: “If you’re being bullied, or are feeling a bit low, or are maybe troubled by something and you’re not sure what to do or who to talk to, then CyberMentors is where you can go for help.”
According to BeatBullying statistics on their website, in January 2012, there had been 890,628 mentoring interactions via private message (excluding chat interactions).
Another type of platform, Childline supports children with different type of problems, including bullying and cyberbullying. Childline has someone joinable by phone or online chat day and night.
According to the same study, one out of ten teachers would have also experienced cyberbullying themselves. The “soft” version is the website RateMyTeachers.com on which students can select a grade and post comments on their teachers. But this can go a lot further and have a terrible impact on their jobs and mental health.
In order to fight cyberbullying, BeatBullying suggest to service providers such as networking sites and mobile phones network to have simpler reporting mechanisms in place to report cyberbullying.
In its report, BeatBullying recommends that all schools develop an anti-bullying strategy including a designated teacher responsible for this type of matters, procedures for the reporting and recording of incidents, cyberbullying to be included and references in acceptable use policies, and teacher to be given training.
But what to do if you are a child and you are being bullied? A BeatBullying spokesperson explains that you should start by saving and printing out any bullying message or other content. The best is to avoid responding to provocations and to block any users that send offensive messages.
The Welsh Government published a series of guidance articles to help schools, parents, social workers and other people involved with children dealing with this problem. It gives guidelines on how to prevent cyberbullying and respond to it.
A study lead by the Welsh Government revealed that in 2010 in Wales, “17 per cent of learners in Year 6, 15 per cent of learner in Year 7 and 11 per cent of learner in Year 11 reported experiencing cyberbullying in the last two months.”
One of the instructions is to promote e-safety. According to the guidance, “young people are more likely to report the misuse of technology in an environment where positive use is promoted.”
All students should also be aware of the importance to keeping account information private and secure. The guidance also encourages schools to organise prevention activities within the institution and to conduct regular surveys.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) of UK Police developed a programme called Thinkuknow and produced two videos to help children and parents deal with cyber security.
This problem does not only concern schools but is also growing in universities and public areas. A new tendency encouraging posting comments on people are the “Spotted” community groups. A Facebook page is associated with a particular place, for instance Bute Park, and can be used to post an anonymous comment on someone spotted in this area.
Recently, South Wales Police investigated on a few of these pages and took action to stop “Spotted: Merthyr”, a page which spread rumours on people living in this area. The police then asked to all citizens to report any obscene message or other incident of this type.
This is also becoming a problem in Welsh schools and universities. President of Cardiff University Students’ Union Harry Newman explains that a few Spotted Facebook pages related to different places on campus are online. “There were even pages for a few University halls of residence.”
“We have sent messages to the creators to ask them to take the pages down. But they are anonymous so there is nothing more we can do…
“If we found the person, he would be culpable to have breach the code of behaviour and there would be consequences,” he said.
Until now, Cardiff University have received three complaints regarding these pages.
“The worst time was during exams because more people are in the library. I imagine the next difficult period will be June…,” Harry Newman said.
“The University is currently developing an awareness campaign to highlight
the importance of using social media responsibly. The campaign will be
delivered later this year, working in conjunction with the Students’ Union,” a University spokesperson said.
Generally, all organisations said that the best way to fight cyber bullying would be to encourage the victims to report it, tell them not to answer to their bullies and to work on prevention and education on cyber security among young generations.
Here is the parents’ and carers’ guide to the Internet: