What will it take to protect our children from cyber bullying?

With more of the world’s population having access to, and using, technology with social media on the move, it has brought the concerning and growing issue of cyber bullying ever more into focus.

 

The tragic loss of life that has been as a result of online bullying, such as that of Hannah Smith from Leicestershire, has led to calls for the Government to take action against websites and more importantly those people causing misery for the lives of others in order to make it a safer place for all. One of those people is understandably Hannah’s father, David Smith, who told ITV that “the Government actually do need step up and start regulating this internet to make the internet a safer place.”

 

David Cook, a solicitor and expert in cyber-crime, has also asked whether the Government needs to revisit current legislation in light of the issues and also in order to protect society’s most vulnerable people, such as children.

 

“It is certainly clear that the internet community naturally includes many vulnerable groups – including children and those with disabilities and who may interpret such messages in ways that others may not – which deserve to be protected,” he said.

Worrying Bullying Statistics

Ninety percent of people who have been convicted, or who have been given police cautions, after sending or making threats or malicious comments have gone on to be given just warnings or a fine, according to the Daily Mirror.

 

That is despite statistics released from research conducted by the i-Safe Foundation showing that half of adolescents or teenagers admitted to being bullied online and 1 in 3 experiencing threats online.

 

And 16% of children have experienced mean or cruel behaviour whilst online according to a survey completed by McAfee with the Anti-Bullying Alliance, whilst this figure is significantly higher with Dosomething.org reporting that as much as 58% of kids admit to someone saying something hurtful or mean to them online.

 

But it is important to remember that cyber bullying may not just exist amongst younger people but also in the workplace and for adults too.

 

Trying to instil positive changes online  

 

Anti-Bullying Week, organised by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, had the theme of ‘The future is ours – Safe, fun and connected’ for this year’s campaign. It was a call for young people and children to lead the way in shaping a better future online.

 

So how can parents make a difference in making positive changes online? It is as much about education for us as adults as it is for children. Whilst there are some generational differences, it is about using social media websites, apps and other platforms, getting used to them and then educating children on what they should and shouldn’t do online.

 

In a similar way to chatrooms and MSN Messenger, when there were highly popular in the mid-1990’s, simple things such as never giving out personal information are just as applicable now in the ‘2010s’.

 

It is also important to take children step-by-step through social media, point out important things that they need to know about the websites and also to help them set up their accounts. For younger children, keeping the computer in a busy area of the house – and not in their room – can also allow parents to keep an eye on their children.

 

The prosecution of cyber bullying

 

In June, the Department for Public Prosecutions completed its consultation into the guidelines for prosecutors when looking into cases involving communications sent via social media, which takes into account acts such as the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003.

 

“There are no specific social media offences”, explains David Cook.  “The guidelines discuss four distinct offences that may arise:

1.      Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property.

 

2.     Communications which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

 

3.     Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order.

 

4.     Communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

It is difficult to see how cyber bullying would fit into that and, for that reason, I wonder whether the Government needs to re-consider the current legislation.”

 

 

 

 

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