Cyberbullying: How Serious is it?

We’ve all read stories of cyberbullying. We’ve all watched news reports of it. We are all at risk of cyberbullying as well. Social media is increasingly becoming a tool for bullies in their quest for misery and to inflict emotional pain on their victims. According to a report by the Department of Education, published in November 2011, almost 35% of young people and children in the UK have been cyberbullied. The most common forms of abuse were text messages and emails. The staggering statistic is not the percentage of young people who have been cyberbullied, it’s that almost 30% of those young people didn’t tell anybody about the abuse. What is important to realise is that text messages and emails are private to young people. Parents don’t have access to these in most cases, and so surely it’s hard to monitor?

Social media is a new way whereby bullies are increasingly targeting their victims. Hiding behind their keyboard, bullies can inflict as much hurt and pain as they want, with seemingly little consequences. In fact, I watched a story yesterday where a family was grieving the loss of their loved one, a young boy who took his own life because of cyberbullying. It is tragic that cowards behind a keyboard can cause this. The family, grieving and hurt by their loss, set up an online memorial page on the social network Facebook. It was a place where friends and family could mourn the loss of their friend and relative, and remember him in the way they wanted, by leaving messages of love and by sharing their memories. This was not to be though. The same cyberbullies who had targeted the young boy took to his memorial page to further inflict pain on his already suffering family and friends. The father of the boy said it was even strangers who got involved who just wanted to spread hate. Why? It’s simple: people can log onto a website and get away with it. They can set up a page in a fake name, and use it to cause pain and suffering for people. Surely this has to stop. I know there are privacy options on social networking sites, and tools in place so that people can stop others getting into contact with them, but clearly this isn’t doing a great deal.

Another example I would use of cyberbullying is the use of user-generated websites, such as YouTube. Anybody in the world can produce a video and upload it to the site. The video is then viewable for everybody across the world to watch. Great? Yes, great if you want to get yourself noticed, and great if you have a real talent. What strikes me though is the fact that users are able to comment on these videos. We know that some people may give positive feedback, others may give negative feedback. The negative feedback is the one we should be aware of. Negative feedback is all well and good if you’re performing on The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice or any other talent show; but that feedback is supposed to be constructive from professional people. The users on YouTube, who decide to ‘critique’ a video of someone singing, on the whole, aren’t professionals from the industry. They are, for the most part, people who want to be abusive to other users. Yes, there is the option to remove the comment tool from videos; but where’s the fun in that? People won’t get the comments they long for, and the attention they crave. Maybe it is fair game, if you put yourself out there in such a manner, then you lose your right to only positive comments, much like people who enter talent shows on television.

But what we need to realise is that people should not be able to get away with bullying, just because it isn’t happening face to face. Bullying on all levels needs to be stopped, and sanctions put in place to combat it. I mentioned just one example of a young person who took their own life as the result of being a victim of cyberbullies, but I can guarantee that there are plenty of the same stories across the UK. It has to stop. Our next generation should not have to put up with it; if it happened at school, there would be sanctions and punishments to adhere to; why not the same online?

Regardless of what happens now, it needs to happen fast. The government needs to act quickly, in order to prevent more tragedies across the UK. In my opinion, what has happened is simple: bullies have more tools at their disposal, thus meaning they can spread hate across a number of formats. Young people are constantly bombarded with the idea of fame and fortune. They want to replicate what they see on television; sadly to say, television ain’t all that real, a lot of it is blown up for entertainment. I understand that people who upload videos of themselves are fair game for comments, be it positive or negative. But you just do a search on YouTube; how many people on there are clearly disabled or have severe learning difficulties? Loads. Why were they able to upload videos? Who is caring for them? It’s a question I can’t answer, but perhaps education needs to start at home so that cyberbullying can be minimised. Sanctions should be put in place at home first, and then the Internet needs to be dealt with. But, realistically, can we really ever prevent cyberbullying or are the bullies becoming too creative?