The Duke of Cambridge has told parents and victims of online abuse that he is sorry he could not help them sooner at the launch of a national campaign to tackle cyberbullying.
Speaking from Google’s central London headquarters in King’s Cross, William said, as a parent, he understood the “sense of loss and anger of those particular families who have lost children” after they were targeted in campaigns of harassment.
William delivered a speech at the conclusion of the final meeting of technology and internet companies on the Royal Foundation Taskforce for Cyberbullying, where he urged organisations to commit to the ethos of a new plan to tackle the problem centred on getting youngsters to “stop, speak, and support”.
But he also said he had hoped the firms would “go further” with their delivery of a universal approach to tackling the issue, and expressed disappointment that companies had not agreed to create a form of standardisation around reporting abuse, or a single universal tool for children to report bullying when they saw it online.
Among those the Duke met before he took to the stage were Emma Hine, whose daughter Chloe was once a victim of online abuse and who has helped to create the taskforce’s new plan, and Lucy Alexander, whose son Felix took his own life after falling victim to cyber abuse last year.
Addressing them both as part of a working panel of parents who have committed to the scheme, the Duke said he was “sorry” that the campaign had not started in time to have made a difference to Felix and Chloe’s personal experiences with bullies.
He said: “I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get to this point – I can only apologise that it didn’t happen in time for you.”
But Ms Hine said that despite William’s regret, his “amazing” work was already making a difference to the lives of many other young people.
She said: “He’s got the power to bring together so many important people and they will listen to him.
“For him to actually be so passionate about creating this code of conduct and helping so many people, I think it’s amazing.”
She added: “He said to myself and Lucy, Felix’s mum, that he was sorry that it took so long to get to this point, but he has nothing to apologise for because he’s working so hard to make sure it doesn’t happen to other children and other parents – and that’s incredible.”
The Duke said that the “four major planks” of the new plan included the fact that technology companies had agreed to adopt guidelines for improving the process of reporting bullying, with clearer consequences for those found to be offending.
He also said the launch of a national campaign to educate children about kindness and respect online would sit alongside a trial programme applied through social media sites, Facebook and Snapchat, which will see the NSPCC provide external advice and support to children who fall victim to abuse.
Finally, the Duke said the plan would see companies and charities continuing to work together to provide consistent advice to parents and continue to take feedback on the ways their systems can improve to reflect issues around online bullying.
He said: “It is my view that if this plan is implemented, the UK can become a world leader on tackling cyberbullying.
“Nowhere else has the sector come together and voluntarily agreed to take collective responsibility for tackling an issue like this rather than just promoting your own individual initiatives.”
Ms Alexander said it had “meant a lot” to hear the Duke express his regret over her son’s death, and that she thought his experiences as a parent were instrumental in helping him to understand the importance of such a campaign.
She said: “It means a lot that he’s thought about that and that he knows that a lot of the work is coming off the back of, not only my tragedy, but off other people’s tragedies.
“There’s nobody culpable for that, it’s just that we have to learn from it and move forward from it.
“I think you don’t necessarily understand this unless you have some experience with it as a parent.
“He realised it was very important and I think that a lot of people with young children fear for them, because we’re on a very steep learning curve – this is a world that we don’t recognise, that we’re still learning about, and our children are actually ahead of us in that learning.”
She added: “I feel my son will have a fabulous legacy at the end of the day.”