THE BLOG

The Emerging Problem of Cyber Bullying

14/06/2013 12:07 BST | Updated 12/08/2013 10:12 BST

My own school experiences, like most people, were beset in an often unforgiving environment. Describing such a time as "the best years of your life" can be alarmingly inaccurate in you're subjected to the daily torment of bullying. Yet I left school, to my relief, only a few years before social media became a fabric of everyday life. And that is something I count my blessings for. Here's why.

Jennifer Thomas is one girl that had to move School's because of cyber bullying, in only year 9. Her fellow pupils would talk about her on Twitter, abuse her on Facebook and then line up by the lockers every morning to make fun of her Tweet's and Facebook status's. "It started off as an argument with a girl over something silly," she says. "Then I would get messages saying: 'If you don't stop being such a slut then I'm going to come and beat you up.'

"They were quite open about doing it (the cyber bullying)," she continues. "They would post it on my Facebook wall, and then share it with other friends on Facebook. I didn't use Facebook for a week once and then I logged back in and had a heap of abusive messages."

The Internet has been a wonderful thing in terms of communication. Except that, humans have a long history of bullying each other when communicating in a variety of forms before the Internet. Yet that was a world where your only communication was via face-to-face dialogue, a letter or a phone call.

Now in a world where contact between a UK resident and an Australian one is faster than a house owner seeking contact with their next-door neighbor, this history of bullying has been given a new platform: cyber bullying.

It's on the rise too, as figures from the NSPCC show that 2,250 counselling sessions were conducted in 2010-11 and 2,410 were conducted in 2011-12. Of the latter, 1,260 were female, 366 were male and the remainder were described as 'gender unknown'.

What's more, figures from VInspired show that a third of young people aged between 14 and 18 have been the victims of online abuse in the past six months before February 2013. 27% say that they were subject to regular abuse, with 40% of this in relation to appearance and 16% because of religion or race. If there were any doubts as to its psychological effects, one need not look further than the figure of 29% saying it has made them lose confidence in themselves.

Carney Bonner, a Youth MP for Swindon, was one of these people and it made him reach boiling point to such an extent that he slit his wrists. "This account added me on Facebook, and the person behind it started sending me messages about how I should go and die; how I should go do one," Bonner says. "I later found out that the person was in my social circle. He was really kind to my face, and then for some reason he would go home and send me all this abuse on Facebook."

What affected Bonner, and others in his position, is how anonymity can be a dominant element in the pain of cyber bullying. Before communication was immersed into an online platform bullying was traditionally done by someone you had daily contact with. As painful as the bullying would have been, escaping this person or dealing with them appropriately was profoundly achievable. However, when you are being cyber bullied by an anonymous profile, what options do you have?

Moving schools, the workplace or other environments become ineffective because as long as one is connected to the Internet, cyber bullying stays with you. You can withdraw yourself from the Internet, but in these modern times where a lack of Internet is akin to a lack of oxygen in the professional workplace, this option becomes highly undesirable.

Elsewhere John Halligan, whose son Ryan committed suicide due to online bullying, points towards how cyber bullying is so painful because of the extensive audience. "The bullying has an audience," he says. "Back when I was a kid the audience was pretty limited. The exposure was pretty limited, but now exposure can be hurtful and really embarrassing. The platform for kids to be embarrassed is far greater now."

So why has cyber bullying become, and to a large extent potentially becoming, such a large problem? Obviously increased Internet use is a - if not the - dominant factor contributing to this answer. But beneath the surface are there ulterior motives not ascertained yet?

"It started off as just someone wanting to have a laugh and get a real kick out of being bitchy,"Jennifer Thomas cites. "The people that bullied me said a lot less to my face, so I think that they wouldn't have had the courage to have said these things to my face - over the computer it was fine because they didn't need the courage."

Simply put, cyber bullies bully because they have now been given a platform upon which to direct abuse whilst totally void of face-to-face confrontation. It's no wonder really, that the kid who thought himself inadequate for a physical fight now doesn't need to qualify such attributes to abuse someone online.

Evidently, social networking has presented people a licence to communicate without personal interaction, and it is abundantly clear that bullies are taking advantage of this with devastating consequences.