September 25, 2004

This is a depressing article, about cyberbullying. It's timesonline, which means non-Brits may soon lose it, so I'll quote at length:

INCREASING numbers of children are falling victim to cyber bullies, who have adopted the internet as their preferred weapon of humiliation and abuse.

Police experts and children's charities are concerned at the increase of cyber-bullying, which is estimated to have risen by at least 30 per cent over the past two years.

E-mail, text messages and website chat rooms are the new forums for threatening children by stealth, out of sight of parents and teachers, around the clock.

Bullying claims the lives of around 20 teenagers a year and thousands more suffer physical and psychological torment. Charities are voicing concern that this new phenomenon is "growing like wildfire".

In 2001, mobile telephones were among the most popular Christmas presents for children. Since then, cyber-bullying has risen by at least 30 per cent, Kidscape, a leading children's charity, says.

Yet as teachers crack down on abuse in the classroom, police admit that cyber bullies can be harder to identify and quash than their traditional counterparts.

In May turned from an innocent internet forum for local children in Hemel Hempstead to chat into a vicious gallery of hatred and abuse. Within months, one humiliated teenager had tried to kill herself and another had lost all his friends after abusive messages were given out in his name.

Parents and anxious teenagers contacted Liz Carnell, who runs Bullying Online at, a charity set up to counter cyber abuse.

"It was appalling. There were death threats, racist messages and threats of violence. So I spent an entire weekend answering all the messages and telling the abusers the damage they were doing," she said.

Cyber bullying began, Ms Carnell believes, after children were given mobile phones for Christmas in 2001. Initially, they made silent phone calls, but since then the abuse has transferred increasingly to public humiliation on the internet.

And so on.

If this is true, then it is of course depressing. If it is being exaggerated, and if actually bullying on the Internet is intrinsically easier to avoid than bullying face-to-face in a school (my suspicion), then that too is depressing. Expect (as David Carr would say) lots of internet regulation "for the sake of the children".

My strong belief is that bullying happens when there is no escape from it. It happens, that is to say, when it can. In a well ordered and intelligent world, bullies cannot bully, because their victims just go away. If the bullies as a result take over a space which is not theirs, the owner of it then chucks them out, if he has not done so already, and if he has any concern for his own interests.

And my internet-ignorant guess is that cyber-bullying is at least greatly intensified by the existence of social systems where escape is not possible, i.e. schools where attendance is, if not legally compulsory, at the very least extremely difficult to get out of.

After all, if you cyber-bully someone, but never actually meet them to deliver, and to share with your sniggering cohorts, those all-important lines that go: "What are you talking about? – Miss, I don't know what he's talking about – What have I done? – He's shouting at me for no reason", why bother? Cyber-bullying, in other words, only really works if combined with the old-fashioned, pre-Internet kind.

But I'd love to hear from people who know more about the nuances of the Internet than I.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:43 PM
Category: Bullying