Ian Rivers, professor of human development at Brunel University, writes:
"Mobile phones have fundamentally changed our lives for the good. But anything created for good can also be used for evil. It is the way of the world. The online bullying going on now is horrendous and the greater the take-up of mobile technology, the greater the opportunities for it to be perpetrated.
But there is a reticence from schools to use legal sanctions against the perpetrators of cyberbullying. I think some of that is down to the teachers not always understanding it. A teacher in his or her mid-thirties or forties is not a ‘digital native ’so they’ve not been brought up with technology being such a fundamental part of their life and don’t always understand what’s going on.
Some would say that we are witnessing a new form of bullying that requires a new approach. However I feel that we are witnessing the same name calling, labels and threats that we’ve always seen – but through a different medium. For me, cyberbullying is the 21st century equivalent of a nasty note being passed around the classroom.”
We are seeing children behave as they always have done, be that name calling, the labels children give each other, or the abusive and threatening calls made when we all only had landline telephones in our homes.
Cyberbullying actually reflects everything that you’d typically have seen in the playground, only, now the medium is different. Today it gets filmed and streamed onto the web.
Parents buy mobile phones for their children with the best of intentions; to ensure their safety and security. But do parents ever sit down with their children and tell them what they can’t do with the devices? What was once called ‘netiquette’ instruction simply doesn’t happen anymore.
The consequence of mobile technology is that a teenager can now sit alone in their bedroom and send sexist or racist slurs with no social cues from those around them that what they are doing is wrong.
Of course online friends ought to step in, but studies suggest that bystanders may be co-victims too. They’re horrified at what’s going on but don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Some even choose to support the bully to protect themselves from having any attention turned on to them.
Social media isn’t really ‘social’ at all. If anything, it is creating greater degrees of isolation. Cyberbullying is a 24/7 phenomena and schools need to intervene more in out-of-school behaviour.
More importantly, the main social media websites need to take a more responsible approach. They say they do, but in truth they drag their heels.Many bullying prevention apps exist but we don’t know how effective they are and I fear that there really is no one solution to the issue.
As our reliance upon technology increases and the more we all use technology to communicate with one-another daily, so the potential for cyberbullying continues.”