Millions of young people across the UK have successfully integrated digital technology such as the internet and mobile phones into their everyday lives. The benefits of this are manifold; the freedom that social networking sites (SNS), instant messenger, chat room and mobile technology affords to young people allows them to express themselves and socialize in new and fun ways. Learn more on cyber bullying in the uk Now!
At its worst, however, the internet and mobile phone can channel grotesque imagery and behaviors. Unmonitored access to cyberspace makes possible new forms of abuse and indecency in which children can be exposed as unsuspecting targets. Digital technology is socially neutral: a tool for interaction rather than an inevitable weapon of abuse. As such, mobile phones and the internet can be utilized in different ways, depending on the intention and caution of the user.
Children and young people have long been highlighting how cyber-bullying is one of the main challenges they have to face within the digital world. Given that there are approximately 4,424,000 children aged 11-16 in the UK, this figure can be extrapolated to suggest that over 340,000 children have experienced insidious bullying inflicted via digital technology, says Virtual Violence: Protecting Children from Cyber bullying, a report by BeatBullying.
The latest figures from Beatbullying also reveal that nearly one-in-three 11-16 year olds has been deliberately targeted, threatened, or humiliated by an individual or group through the use of mobile phones or the internet. For a quarter of these the experience was ongoing, meaning that 1-in-13 children were persistently cyber bullied.
A growing body of evidence is emerging that identifies peer-to-peer bullying as an increasing component of our young people’s daily experience in cyberspace. However, youth aren’t all equal in the cyber-bullying attacks they receive, for their personal attributes play a rather large role in this. For one, pupils with Special Educational Needs, those have a learning difficulty or disability, are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time, as well as those receiving free school meals, which as an indicator of increased deprivation or poverty, who are 13% more likely to receive attacks through the cyberspace. Ethnicity and gender have a role to play as well in terms of who is more prone to cyber bullying than others, as white non-British ethnic background all reported a higher incident of this intense form of cyber bullying. In addition, girls experienced twice as much persistent cyber bullying as boys.
Cyber Bullying in the UK: Where does cyber-bullying happen?
…On the Internet and via communication technologies, yes. But where?
In terms of the specific websites on which cyber-bullying has being taking place, the MSN instant messenger service, the Bebo social networking site, and its counterpart, Facebook, were the worst offenders. This was the case for both children who had been bullied and for children who had witnessed others being bullied. The video sharing site, YouTube, was also identified as a common place where footage of bullying was proliferated, as it makes it possible for anyone with an internet connection to upload a video that millions of people could watch within a few minutes.
Bebo, through which 10% of respondents surveyed by BeatBullying had been bullied, is a social networking site that offers excellent functionality and is also exceptionally popular with teenagers. Those children that had been persistently bullied through Bebo tended to be younger, with an average age of 13, and most commonly complained of people leaving hurtful comments, editing their photos or publishing private information about them. The ease with which content can be added to Bebo undoubtedly facilitates this. For example, one 12-year old girl said she was cyber bullied because: “They said they could see me when I get changed in the same room and he/she was taking pictures of me and putting them on Bebo and they even sent rude texts.”
Cyber bullying attacks on Facebook usually comprise of arguments that turn into popularity contests. Someone will spark off the conflict with a claim or rude post on the other person’s wall or photo and it will lead to a string of abusive and sarcastic messages. The rules of the battle are to remain nonchalant throughout and the winner is decided by whose comments received the most “likes”. It then becomes almost a spectacle with everyone watching the fight unfold and messaging each other on who they think is faring the best. The bravest friends stick up for their comrade with their own comments and those less willing to get involved will simply join the mass of likes. This goes on until the receiver or the poster of the original message has enough sense to delete it and the fight continues in private.
Unfortunately, not all cases are so harmless and some can lead to serious emotional damage. A friend of a friend was a recent target when girls in her year created a Blackberry messenger group about her. It was comprised of over 20 people messaging each other about how they should kill the “slag”, supposedly because she was going out with an older boy. They then added her to the conversation and she wasn’t seen at school for two weeks.