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'Vicious' gossip site posts continue

By Tom Bateman
Today programme

Hands on a computer keyboard
LittleGossip say that offensive content is eventually removed from the site

A controversial website is continuing to let British children post online messages which campaigners say amount to "vicious" cyber-bullying.

LittleGossip allows users to write gossip about named individuals they know while maintaining their anonymity.

The site said in December it would stop under-18s using it and would remove schools from the list of institutions about which users can post gossip.

But this week, at least 78 UK schools and 155 sixth form or further education colleges were still on the site, with many users still able to post messages.

Deputy Chief Executive of the charity Beatbullying, Richard Piggin, says his organisation has been contacted by a "large number" of individuals and schools complaining about the website.

"We're hearing about threatening reports, a lot of vicious rumours, a lot of cyber-bullying that's taking place between young people," he says.

"The website seems to have the sole purpose of allowing young people to write horrible things about each other anonymously."

The website's terms and conditions say posts should not be "sexist, homophobic, racist or otherwise harassing or intentionally harmful to specific people".

But many offensive comments remain on the site, with a post referring to a named girl in Year 8 (13- or 14-years-old) at school in Berkshire as an "ugly bitch".

LittleGossip website
The LittleGossip website still lists schools and sixth form colleges

At Kingston College in Surrey, police were called after a post on the site threatened the rape of a teacher.

Principal Peter Mayhew-Smith says the threat was dealt with using internal disciplinary procedures, but is so concerned about the effect of the site he has written to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable.

"Our students have rallied against this kind of thing," he says.

"They have made it clear that they won't put up with a website of this nature that seems, to be honest, to be making a business out of peddling trash."

In December, the website introduced a tick-box system, meaning users have to click to confirm they are 18 or over, but the system is easy for younger teenagers to flout.

'Huge effect'

One headteacher told the BBC that she had been shocked by the racist nature of some comments appearing on LittleGossip.

A post this week appeared on the website's front page in which the contributor said they hated "Pakis" at a school in Surrey.

Peter Mayhew-Smith
Our students have rallied against this kind of thing
Peter Mayhew-Smith, Headteacher

The Beatbullying charity says the kind of material appearing on the site has a "huge effect" on those being targeted, and in extreme cases cyber-bullying can lead to children taking their own lives.

16-year-old Anna, who goes to school in Slough, was written about on the site.

She says gossip was posted saying she had kissed "a boy that I hardly speak to" and that she had "crusty lips".

"I didn't know who to trust," she adds.

"I didn't know who it was. It could have been my best friend for all I know because it's anonymous."

Another pupil, Julia, aged 16, says "everyone" was looking at comments on the site in her school.

"They say that people have big noses and they're ugly and they're fat and worthless," she explains.

"They said loads of horrible stuff about teachers as well, that they're paedophiles."

The Department for Education says it is aware of the website and is working with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to ensure sites hosted in the UK act responsibly.

Removal requests

LittleGossip is run by a limited company registered in Belize.

Its owners refused to be interviewed by the BBC, but responded to questions by email, saying secondary schools they can identify have been removed from the site.

They say: "Further education colleges are on the website because there are lots of 18+ people there and no children.

"We are still getting some institution removal requests for the schools which are hard to identify by name and we deal with each request.

"Posts with words like "bitch" are blocked out even before posting. Some users are abusing the system and the example you show prove [sic] that.

"Eventually the offensive content like that is removed from the site. Littlegossip is user-driven community. We provide the tools to the users to moderate the site. Each and every post on the web site can be reported and removed."

The statement also says the owners of LittleGossip are considering selling the website to new owners who can "expand it into the right direction".

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