Our dear family friend, a 14-year-old schoolgirl called Izzy Dix, died. It appeared that she'd taken her own life. And this action seemed to be linked to bullying, both at school and online.
I know that Izzy had been bullied. She had discussed it in depth with her mum Gabbi. Izzy and her mum had the closest, strongest and most natural mother/daughter bond I've ever had the pleasure to witness. They had come up with strategies to try to beat the bullying together, her mum had contacted the school on many occasions, and Izzy herself had spoken to her teachers.
A lot of the bullying that Izzy was so troubled over occurred on a social media website called Ask.fm.
If you haven't heard of this before, it's a Latvian-based question and answer site with over 70 million registered users worldwide, the majority of whom are teenagers. It allows anyone to post anonymous comments and questions to a person's profile and is increasingly being used to communicate abusive, bullying and sexualised content. It's this anonymity and lack of accountability and traceability that makes it really dangerous.
I've spoken with Gabbi and she's told me about a particular game that is encouraged on Ask.fm, and photo-based networks like Snapchat, called 'Body Part For Body Part' – where anonymous people urge others to post naked photos of themselves online. Izzy never joined in. She was really passionate about women's rights and Gabbi has told me the fact that this particular game existed and was so prolific really bothered and affected her.
Ask.fm has already been linked to the suicides of nine young people in less than a year, with Izzy's name tragically bringing that number to ten.
Following the Ask.fm related suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith on 2nd August this year, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, called the site 'vile' and told the website it needed to 'clean up its act'. Ask.fm responded by saying it would enact various small measures on the site. All in all, a move in the right direction, but this didn't go nearly far enough.
Shut down Ask.fm
So we are lobbying for the complete closure of Ask.fm before any more names of teens are added to that list.
At the very least, we need to permanently disable the ability to remain anonymous on this site, as this is the aspect which is causing the most damage.
The Government also needs to bring in new regulations that will keep people, and young people in particular, safe on the Internet.
We need watertight procedures making social networking sites accountable for revealing the identities of trolls and cyber bullies to the authorities, so cyber bullying can easily be stopped in its tracks.
We need education programmes in schools
We need police forces to take bullying seriously.
We need education programmes for schools and community groups so we can teach the power of love and kindness.
And we need support programmes for both victims and bullies.
In my opinion, Izzy is a casualty of a changed world and a society that hasn't yet caught up.
There are 3 things you can do to help us:
- Urge your teens to delete their Ask.fm accounts as a mark of respect, as well as for their own safety and wellbeing. If they don't have one yet, ban it in your household.
- Sign this petition and help us to lobby the Government on the dangers of Ask.fm – once we get 100,000 signatures, it can get presented to the UK House of Commons.
- Spread this message via social media and beyond, in whatever way you can. Share on Facebook. Tweet and Retweet on Twitter. Write to your MP. Talk about it with your family and friends. Just don't be silent.
Beyond our campaign, there are things you can do as parents too. If your children are old enough, talk to them about cyber bullying. Sit them down. Explain to them what it is, why it happens, and how they can report it.
Monitor what your children are doing online. You wouldn't let them walk down a dark dangerous street alone, so take this analogy and relate it to your children's Internet usage. Tell them that you love them. Not once, but several times a day. Because you can never, ever, give a child too much love.
If you suspect that your children may be involved in bullying others, then you need to talk to them too. There are charities like Beat Bullying, ChildLine, The Samaritans and The Talk Easy Trust that can help.
And when it comes to a response to bullying, we need to educate our kids to turn the other cheek, rather than become bullies themselves. Two wrongs don't make a right. We all need to rise above this, take our hurt, anger and passion and use it to rally together for real societal change.
Maddie blogs about parenting at Gammon & Chips and was a finalist in two categories at the MAD Blog Awards this year.
A close family friend, 14-year-old schoolgirl Izzy Dix, took her own life due to bullying, both at school and online. This has spurred Maddie on to start a campaign to lobby the Government for real societal change to help keep our young people safe online.
Blogs at: Gammon and Chips