Have you ever let rip on a Facebook thread about the latest hot topic? Or are you a lurker; you read but don’t write when it comes to the web?
However you chose to conduct your online life, for most of us the difference between healthy debate and getting personal is distinct. But for young people the issue is not quite so clear cut and cyber-bullying among teenagers is on the rise, prompting charities such as Beat Bullying and Barnados to offer advice on how to combat it.
Online bullying, or ‘trolling’ is defined by social media expert and head of international gaming research at Nottingham Trent University, Professor Mark Griffiths, as ‘an act of intentionally provoking or antagonising users by posting inflammatory messages in an online environment with the aim of provoking an emotional response from who the message has been sent to."
Recent research from youth volunteering charity vInspired found that more than a quarter (27%) of young people have been trolled in the last six months, with attacks focussing mainly on appearance but also targeting religion and race. At the very least cyber bullying affects the confidence of those on the receiving end, but in worst cases can lead to long-lasting effects like depression and even suicide.
Part of the problem is a ‘disconnect’ between what is done and said online and the reality of bullying, with one in five young people thinking messages sent in cyberspace are less damaging than face to face insult and almost half (40%) believing it’s ok to say thing online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
“The ability to remain anonymous online can lead to people saying what they may not in person over social networking channels,” says Professor Griffiths.
Happily for parents and anyone else who knows a young person who may be at risk, there is plenty of good advice available on how to beat the bullies. Barnados has a list of tips for internet safety on its website, ranging from practical suggestions like keeping your computer in a busy location like the living room and timetabling the amount of time children spend online, to technical support on filtering software and how to check your computer’s internet history. Other suggestions include searching for your child on Facebook and other social media to make sure they have the full privacy settings on and discouraging them from posting pictures of themselves online and accepting friendships from people they don’t know.
The Beat Bullying website goes even further with a range of information, including assembly notes on cyber bullying for both primary and secondary school children. The charity also runs a ‘cyber mentor’ scheme designed to help young people who are being bullied support each other online.
The anti-bullying movement has been backed recently by a host of high profile celebrities from Girls Aloud to Lady Gaga and Elton John to Arsene Venger. Lady Gaga launched The Born This Way Foundation last year – a movement that celebrates individuals and promotes tolerance.