Cyberbullying

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ask fm

“Social networking site Ask.fm has announced changes to make its site safer in the wake of recent online bullying cases.

It said it would view all reports within 24 hours, make the report button more visible, and include bullying and harassment as a category for a report.

It said some of the changes would be live on the site by September.” – BBC Website

With the suicides of fourteen year old Hannah Smith and seventeen year old Daniel Perry in the last few weeks finally the wider public and powers that be are wakening up to the biggest source of bullying – online. This is something which has been an issue for as long as chat rooms and social networks have existed but little has been done about it by anyone.

More so than the playground or classroom our kids have been facing a deluge of abuse and threats online – from message boards to the now infamous ask.fm – and now with the latest tragic deaths the pressure is mounting for something to be done. Last year it was Twitter who found the spotlight on them with issues surrounding people like Tom Daley and the Twitter joke trial, this year Ask is the focus as so many teenagers are opening themselves up on a public forum and allowing anyone to anonymously post comments and ask questions. To me this is a strange website to go on as it opens you up to all the known online predators: from the secret keyboard warriors who type nasty and vile words under the cloak on anonymity to the paedophiles looking for a cheap thrill or more.

Through some former pupils I’ve seen the kind of language and messages used on the site and I blocked the app from my Facebook account as it was not something I wanted to see. It was just a licence for the deranged and sick to peddle their ideas without any real fear of reprisal. I saw messages about rape, suicide and other sexual comments being made to young people which is what teenagers do, but here they are done without a name or identity – sharp and hurtful things are said with the victim having to either stop using the app/website at all or learn to laugh it off and be as rude back which doesn’t help things.

All kids will experience bullying from one side or another in their formative years and for me it’s part of growing up and learning to defend yourself and also to ignore the taunts of others and become a stronger person. With my height I always stood out to those with a tendency to   bully and my weight compounded the issue. I was lucky that I developed a thick skin and a sense of humour fairly quickly and learned to ignore the taunts or make light of them which stopped them being more than just words. We are constantly told about the rise of mental health issues in our youngsters and I do wonder whether this online world of abuse and bullying is somehow connected to it. While a few instances of name-calling can be character building the onslaught of offence and threats online is more than can be handled by many,

Think back to your teenage years and how vulnerable you were because of the changes in your physical and emotional self. We all suffered from a drop in confidence at one point and we were all teased by friends and foes during that time – but face to face. At least you knew who was saying these things to you. As expected with these two cases the media and politicians are hopping on a rather old bandwagon and demanding answers and action – things that the rest of us have wanted for a long time. All that is needed to solve the issue are a “block” and “Report abuse” buttons by a post, and ensure that anyone who uses these sites has to sign up to use them to make them easier to trace if there is a criminal angle. I’m aware how easy it is to set up an email address and still post fairly anonymously but not everyone is that clever and some will be caught.

I don’t want to ban these things because that doesn’t solve the issue it just moves it elsewhere but schools and parents need to be educating our youngsters from an early age about these things. It is just an extension of the old “Stranger Danger” campaign in that if you don’t know someone online, don’t speak to them, befriend them or give them any personal details. Ensure all your privacy settings are on at a mid to high level to stop people accessing your data and photos. In fact I believe these sites should have the all the privacy settings “on” as default as many will never get round to changing them. Then the next thing is to ensure that those providing the services are monitoring complaints and claims of abuse to stop and block those misusing the sites.

As with everything online there is great difficulty in policing the internet, and to be honest I don’t really want it policed as the users largely do that themselves. What I want is for websites to be more responsible for the use and abuse that appears there and have the guts to clamp down on those who don’t have any respect for others.

JD

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