What is cyberbullying?
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What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying became a major subject last year after a number of teen suicides linked to social network Ask.fm. But what is it, and how can we prevent young people from abusing each other online?

Cyberbullying hit the headlines last year with a spate of teen suicides linked to social network Ask.fm. But what is it, and how can we prevent young people from abusing each other online?

While it might be an unacceptable facet of society, bullying has been around for as long as those most ugly of motivators: hatred, peer pressure and intolerance. The only trouble now is that, over the past decade, insults once slung across a playground have extended into virtual territory.

Although there is no legal definition in the UK, cyberbullying is described in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature’.

Following the arrival of this dark phenomenon, governments, teachers and parents are struggling to monitor the myriad ways in which young people interact online. From WhatsApp to Instagram and Skype to Snapchat, communication amongst ‘Generation Z’ is fragmented and constantly migrating from one platform to another. And, unfortunately for the victims, the bullying no longer ends as soon as the bell rings.

A recent report by Estyn, the education watchdog for Wales, found that a rise in cyberbullying was a growing concern for most secondary schools, presenting forms of bullying ‘unfamiliar to some staff’. It claimed there was a wide disparity in terms of how bullying is dealt with at schools and made recommendations including better supervision and buddy systems or peer support for those targeted.

The latter is an approach being championed by BeatBullying, a bullying prevention charity based in the UK. Young people are trained to be ‘BB Mentors’ who support and give advice to peers in school and online on how to deal with cyberbullies and not lose self esteem.

Earlier this month, the charity released a report claiming that over half of children bullied in Europe have said they have become depressed as a result, with over a third saying they had self harmed or contemplated suicide.

Although such figures are likely to be called into question by academics, there is no denying that online bullying is becoming an increasingly disturbing topic.

The mother of a seventeen-year-old Dublin boy is currently pleading with Facebook to retrieve messages she believes will prove he took his life due to cyberbullying. Darren Hughes-Gibson, who was mixed race and wore a hearing aid, also received text messages from peers which the coroner described as having a ‘threatening undertone’.

The Irish government is taking the problem very seriously, and there are plans to introduce cyberbullying classes in every school. Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the country’s Rapporteur on Child Protection, has also advocated the introduction of cyberbullying law at EU level, saying:

“The law must keep pace with technology in protecting vulnerable young children and must exist as an accessible recourse for those who are victims of abuses such as cyber-bullying.”

Meanwhile the US is leading the charge, with anti cyberbullying bills passed in virtually every state.

As for the UK, although there are no specific laws related to cyberbullying, legislation such as the Malicious Communications Act (1988) and the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) does provide some protection for young people. Charities such as BeatBullying are also calling on the European Commission to introduce EU wide cyberbullying laws.

Over the last few years, cyberbullying has received unprecedented media coverage in the UK. At least six deaths in the UK and Ireland have been linked to Ask.fm, a social network where users post and answer questions anonymously. The website has over 120 million users, with 42% under the age of 17. A lack of visibility has made it a target for widespread criticism and it has since updated its safety features following an independent audit. Many have said it’s still not enough.

In an interview with TIME Magazine last week, Ask.fm co-founder Ilja Terebin said his company was itself being ‘bullied’ by the media, commenting: “This website, if you close it down, you will not have stopped bullying. It’s everywhere. It’s offline. It’s in schools.

“The bullying is by SMS, too, other social networks. And of course it happens on Ask.fm as well. But you can’t just close everything. Even if you close everything, you take down the Internet, you take down mobile phones—if the child is going to school, there still will be the problem of bullying.”

So what is the solution to this fundamentally modern issue? According to non-profit The Cybersmile Foundation, it is important to address the behaviour at the root of the problem: “By showing young people the damaging emotional effects of cyberbullying, we can challenge existing emotional detachment issues and begin to change our children's perception of online social interaction.”

“This community lacks the social rules of engagement that have been cultivated over generations, governing the behaviour and relationships in the communities where we live, play and work,” Cybersmile’s website warns. The online world, it seems, has a lot of catching up to do.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism