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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Cyber bullying - don't blame the web
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter

Clip from anti-bullying video
Some websites have hosted death threats
Social networking websites are seen by some teachers as the latest weapon of the school bully - prompting unions to call for them to be banned.

But one bullying charity argues that the very technology that is blamed for bullying misery has a key role to play in the battle against it.

The claim comes after members of the Professional Association of Teachers said such websites, which show doctored pictures of teachers and host online death threats against them, should be kicked out of cyberspace.

PAT delegate Kirsti Peterson said: "In the short term, confronting this problem must be the closure of sites encouraging cyber bullying."

She was reiterating calls from the general secretary of the NASUWT union, Chris Keates, who has said they "served no useful purpose and should be closed".

But Beatbullying chief executive Emma-Jane Cross says calls for sites such as YouTube to be shut down were as intelligent as calls for schools to be closed because of bullying.

When people are bullied they often don't feel confident about speaking to people face to face
Bullied teenager

Bullying is flourishing not because of technology, she argues, but because being a bully is rather fashionable at the moment.

"Society is not adequately preventing bullying behaviour. Instead we celebrate it on television programmes like The Apprentice and the awful Weakest Link and The F Word."

As BBC Panorama revealed this week, films showing brutal fights between children are regularly uploaded to sharing websites.

This has led police chiefs to urge websites to monitor what is posted on their sites and remove any violent or criminal content.

But Ms Cross argues the websites are simply holding a mirror up to a much wider social problem.

Don't blame the technology, blame society, her argument goes.

Mobile phones
Mobile phones are being used to bully teachers and pupils

Beatbullying also argues that those most at risk of school bullying - the least confident, the socially awkward, the ones that are different in some way, are the very people who take refuge on the internet.

"Through this technology, so many young people, ripe for bullying at school, have found a community they can call their own and have benefited so powerfully to become emotionally resilient young people with renewed self confidence and greater life chances," says Ms Cross.

Seventeen-year-old Nathan from Ebbw Vale, south Wales, was bullied homophobically and for having red hair from the age of 12. It really knocked his confidence.

But he says since going on MySpace, around three years ago, he has gradually rebuilt it with the support he has gained from the online community.

"I put a blog up about my experiences, about what was happening, and a lot of people said the same thing had happened to them.

"Because of this I have come through it and now I feel pretty confident about myself."

Breaking the rules

He added: "When people are bullied they often don't feel confident about speaking to people face to face about what is going on - whereas doing it online is quite easy."

Beatbullying's Ms Cross argues: "We can harness these networks and communities of young people online to get the message out through credible peer to peer channels that bullying is unacceptable."

Responding to the PAT's ban calls, a YouTube spokesman said the website was a community site used by millions of people in very positive ways.

He said it did remove pornographic or violent videos but only once they had been flagged up.

The spokesman continued: "It's also used by organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to reach people on a range of important issues.

"Sadly with any form of communication there is a tiny minority of people who try to break the rules."

Ironically, perhaps, it is because so many schools are working so hard to tackle bullying that the bullies have turned to the internet.

"Some young users mistakenly believe their online activity is anonymous and are under the illusion that there will be no punishment from authorities in cyberspace," says Ms Cross.

Children's minister Kevin Brennan argues that addressing the bad behaviour at the root of the problem is crucial to solving the web bullying problem.

He said: "In September, my department will be publishing guidance on cyber bullying as part of our over-arching anti-bullying strategy."

Children's Fight Club
29 Jul 07 |  Panorama
Websites urged to act on bullies
10 Apr 07 |  Education
Teachers want bullying answers
22 May 07 |  Education

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