30 years ago it was the simple letter, 20 years ago saw the introduction of the mobile phone and most recently we have had Facebook and Twitter. The way we communicate has changed dramatically over the past 3 decades and similarly over time it appears we have become less connected with the impact our words have on each other. The advent of technology infiltrating almost all forms of communication has meant that it is now simple for someone, 4,000 miles away to tell you how bad your hair looks today. Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter as well as less known sites such as ask.com and Kik have become avenues where most cyber bullying occurs.
Notoriously difficult to catch despite hiding in plain sight, the cyber bully has replaced your traditional ‘playground’ bully and evolved into something more sinister, preying on the vulnerable regardless of race, gender and age . ‘It’s just a bit of a laugh’ they say. ‘I didn’t mean anything by it’ they laugh. ‘Stop taking things so seriously’ they sigh. These are the common refrains from those who enjoy playing the role. They attempt to play down their vicious words and accuse those hurt by their words as being ‘soft’. Of not seeing the funny side to their comments. Of being over dramatic. Again just excuses. But it begs the question: would you say the same thing to a stranger on the street?
Technology has made it easier for people to enjoy anonymity for their actions while at the same time increasing how malicious they become when addressing other people. You only have to look at a YouTube comments page to witness this in action. What’s even more worrying is the age at which this is all starting. Children as young as 12 have been attacking each other over cyber space. All it takes is a mobile and an internet connection. This is a worrying trend that has been steady gathering steam. A recent report published by Childline, shows complaints for cyber bullying have risen by an unbelievable 87% since 2011/2012 which highlights the increasing impact and the severity that this is having on our young people. Youth victims of cyber bullying often experience low self-esteem and are more likely to self-harm as a result with a 41% spike since 2011/2012 reported by Childline. As alarming as that figure is, there is a very real likelihood that it could be even higher with some young people afraid to come forward and report such incidents for fear of even more abuse. The issue of evidence gathering can also be complicated due to the ability to alter comments if they are pasted into a word document.
There finally seems to be a shift from the government to attempt to tackle this issues more seriously. Secretary of State for Education, Michael Grove, has called on schools to play a greater role in stopping, “the viciousness and personal cruelty” shown by these bullies. The speed at which this is done is imperative as with each passing day, more and more young people face this cruel torment. Charities such as Cybersmile , were specifically setup to combat these issues and offer services such as a helpline, counselling and community outreach programmes. At No Limits, working in conjunction with Right 2B Safe, we aim to educate young people on how to stay safe when online by offering advice on what to do if they feel threatened online as well as ways in which to report any abuse received.
As much as we would like to hark back to a simpler time, we must all accept that technology, along with all its potential pitfalls, is here to stay. What is imperative is that we educate our young people on the impact their words can have while increasing the support and care needed for those young people who need it.
The tragic story of Hannah Smith, who hung herself after excessive bullying, should be a lesson for us all. One life lost is more than enough reason to make a change.