Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 17:29 UK

Battling the online bullies

Cyber-bullying used to involve sending threatening texts or e-mails, but the class of 2008 are finding social networks to be a fertile, and occasionally dangerous breeding ground, as Ian Hardy found out.

A teenager being bullied by two other people
Cyber-bullies can hide their identity on the internet
It does not take much for a teenager's cyber universe to spin out of control.

A fight at school, an online misunderstanding, and within minutes he or she can become the victim of a cyber-bully campaign, thanks to the fact that millions of children are connected by computers and gadgets.

"Cyber-bullying is when one child or teen targets another for embarrassment, humiliation, fear, blackmail. Something designed to hurt the other using an interactive technology," said security, privacy and cyberspace lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety, Parry Aftab.

"That's made a big difference because kids have learned that they can use the internet as a weapon."

It's more harsh over the internet because they don't have to see your reaction when they say those mean words to your face
Abby, cyber-bully victim

Cyber-bullies can hide behind anonymous internet accounts, and they do not need big muscles, just the ability to type.

Yet the consequences can be far reaching.

"It's more harsh over the internet because they don't have to see your reaction when they say those mean words to your face. So over the internet you're more likely to say the meanest possible things you can say, and then you don't even regret it, " said cyber-bully victim Abby.

"I would get messages on IM [Instant Messenger] and they would be 'you're really mean' or 'you're ugly', until I just couldn't take it any more," says Ralph who was also a victim of cyber-bullying.

Vicious attack

Social networking sites are the new cyber playgrounds, where fact and fiction carry equal importance.

Video is often a cyber-bully's ultimate form of humiliation.

There needs to be a system in place where a parent would log a child in using a parent's credit card
Sheriff Grady Judd
A group of Florida teenagers filmed the beating of Victoria Lindsay on mobile phones to post on to the internet.

The attack was so vicious it shocked America. Sheriff Grady Judd is handling the case in Polk County, Florida. He said that websites need to be more proactive: "There are no checks and balances by our internet providers such as MySpace or Facebook. They say 'you can't come in until you're 14', [but] how do you know they're 14?

"There needs to be a system in place where a parent would log a child in using a parent's credit card."

Self-contained browsing

While some social networking sites have shown limited interest in policing their users, educators hope that they can teach teens and children about the perils of the internet using a comic book featuring Spider Girl and the Hulk, who both learn how to handle online aggression and provocation.

KidZui website
KidZui only allows children to view approved content
Meanwhile, some companies have been creating online worlds that are safe and self-contained.

KidZui is a lockable browser that gives access to 600,000 pages of content all verified by 200 parents and teachers.

There is no danger of being harassed there because there is no e-mail, no instant messenger and no chat rooms.

"When kids have friends they can share KidZui approved content. There is no risk of any open communication in our environment," says founder and CEO of KidZui Clifford Boro.


Ultimately the best solution might be organisations such as TeenAngels, a collection of older kids who teach younger ones all about cyber-bullying and the importance of privacy, a concept that the newest generation of computer users has not quite grasped.

"Kids need to realise that as much as you talk to someone online you will never, ever, ever know for sure who that person is," said TeenAngel volunteer Casi.

"There will always be that anonymity that there is no possible way to know who the person is on the other side of the screen," she said.

What can stop cyberbullying?
21 Sep 07 |  Education
Cyberbullying: A victim's story
21 Sep 07 |  Education
Have you been cyber-bullied?
23 Nov 07 |  Your Comments

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