No room for bullying in Cyber Space

The actress Meera Syal has spoken out in The Telegraph today after daughter was the victim of a cyber bullying campaign. Although she was involved in a court case and was later found not guilty of an assault, it emerged in court that she had been at the receiving end of threats on Facebook. The issue of bullying via Facebook  was one which loomed large during my daughter’s final year at Primary School, although fortunately not involving her circle of friends. Playground fallouts translated into online slanging matches, involving pupils and then astoundingly, parents, culminating in the school threatening to get the police involved

Even more concerning, is the rise of anonymous faceless forum posters known as “trolls” who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to make viscious personal attacks on people. Two fellow mums who blog have been the target of horrendous vitriolic and libelous personal attacks on their blog comments this week alone. At the back of these attacks is often plain simple jealousy – both these bloggers write brilliantly. When I was pregnant with my last baby and part of an online birth group we were infiltrated by a “troll” who pretended he or she was pregnant and then announced quite falsely(causing untold distress) that they had had a stillborn baby! We will never know if that person was even a male or a female – young or old and it is this ability to hide that makes bullies and trolls fearless online.

As a new home educator seeking advice from more experienced home edders in a forum I mentioned that I had been a teacher. I stated my personal view that I wasn’t against involvement with the LEA or compulsory registration and it was like setting light to a touchpaper. There followed personal attacks and suspicion of my motives in being part of the group.  I was actually banned from a home ed yahoo group by its very fundamentalist owner because I expressed legitimate views about home ed which were different from her own! (Happy to be banned I might add – it was like leaving a group of religious fanatics!)

It is every internet users responsibility to stand up to cyber bullies. We need to educate our children to the pitfalls of social networking. Just as bullying is  wholly unacceptable in the” real” world it should not be acceptable online. Website owners and forum admintrators should do all they can to remove hateful/bullying posts from their sites when they appear and ban the poster.

Freedom of expression is not an excuse for online vitriol and as one blogger pointed out yesterday, the annonymity of the intenet is not as entire as the trolls and bullies might think….