Sunday, 5 February 2012

Online Bullies: No Brains, No Brawn

Bullying occurs in many forms, and the internet is just another avenue which accommodates for the onslaught of suffering.

What used to end in the school yard or workplace now extends after hours into the confines of victims houses and with mobile technology available “on the go”, the boundaries of bullying are seemingly endless.

The bullying which used to occur in public can now almost be “hidden” from others, with some victims too afraid to speak up about what they are experiencing.

This “out of sight, out of mind” mentality for the Australian public is having a drastic affect with many victims turning to self harm or even suicide.

A social change in habit would cut down the need for stronger legislation. While many online ‘warriors’ who adopt the keyboard as their cowardly weapon of choice think they are immune to any form of consequence for their actions, a spokesperson for SA Police explains how online law enforcement works in South Australia.

“There is no actual offence of 'Cyber Bullying'. SA Police have to look at current legislation to see if the behaviour fits into these. We can utilise stalking legislation or any number of other offences depending on the nature of the bullying. They would need to bring chat logs, e-mails or any other documentary evidence. They should perhaps, in the first instance, put their mouse on the time at the bottom of their pc and reveal the day and date and then print screen and save it to print out or e-mail to an investigator.”

Like a lot of legislation, once you cross state borders, it seems like you are entering a totally different country.

Doctor Melissa de Zwart, Associate Professor at the Adelaide Law School of the University of Adelaide, explains that the Commonwealth Government has been taking an interest in cyber bullying for a few years now, however feels that social change is just as crucial to changing this trend.

“These issues are generally dealt with under the criminal law of each state or territory. Of course, this will depend upon the seriousness of the activity. There is also some scope for it to be dealt with under Commonwealth criminal laws which deal with use of the internet for criminal purposes. This is the Cybercrime legislation, and the Commonwealth has the power to deal with this as it occurs via the telecommunications network.”

“I think that education and social training are more important. I don't think teens are deterred by criminal laws at all; they don't stop to think if what they are doing is 'wrong'. Why do kids do this at all? School yard bullying is rampant and more could be done about that too.”

One person that knows school yard bullying all too well is Viola*, now 29, who suffered bullying at school and in her early twenties incurred the hateful wrath of the online world.

“I am forever grateful Facebook did not exist when I was at high school. I was bullied in real life all the way through high school and yes I did attempt suicide at age 16 as a result. I surely would have succeeded if the internet had been bigger back then. This was in the late '90s. I think the internet makes it far easier to harass and bully, sad really, when the internet is such a great tool.”

“I have had issues with depression and social anxiety disorder for much of my adult life. As a teenager I was not aware of what I was suffering from and it was made worse by the bullying. The internet just made it a lot easier. I know to rise above it. It is just me being me. I still struggle with my depression and while the social anxiety is a lot less of an issue than it was, it is still there. Bullying just amplifies it.”

Today, suicide and bullying online are unfortunately two things that go hand in hand. It is a very sad and disturbing fact that we have people, usually young teens, our nations future, killing themselves as a result of the selfish actions of others.

Jess*, 14, who has grown up in the technology age, explains self harm is a factor resulting from online bullying and she believes 40-50% of people in her year level at school get bullied online. This is a disturbingly high figure.

“I was bullied online, over Facebook and text messages, from the age of 12. Being bullied online had a big effect on me. I started self harming myself at the age 12. I now know it was a big mistake. It also made me have low self esteem and think very poorly of myself. It led to me having very big trust issues not just with friends, but also in relationships.”

“I told my parents after about 6 months of it happening and she (mum) just said ‘ignore them, you are better than them’, but it was hard. It kept going and I just kept it to my self. They still make smart remarks and call me names and stuff at school sometimes. At one point one of the girls said ‘Go die. No one wants you here’. That hurt a lot.”

“The advice I would give to other teens about being bullied online is that they should really talk to someone about it. They should try and shut off contact; blocking on Facebook, deleting numbers, etc. Most of all don’t listen to what they say because they are only bullying you because you are better than them.”

Dr Melissa Zwart says that parents should start discussing online safety with their children as soon as their child shows any interest in using a computer, supervision being of key importance.

“There are 'safe' online sites designed just for kids, even littlies, like ABC 4 Kids, but parents should still supervise such use. It is easy to 'click' off the page, and not rely upon filters etc to do the work for them. Engage with what your children are doing online and talk to them about using the internet. Some games want you to spend money, enter details etc, and parents should monitor for this sort of thing. The internet is a communication, entertainment and education resource, it is not a baby sitter”.

Apparently our brain sends signals to our fingers which allow us to type. However after reading some of the vitriol on the internet, I’m quite surprised some people actually have a brain there to begin with.

Moral of the story- Engage your brain before engaging your fingers.

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* - Names changed