Lord Storey: Empowering victims against cyberbullying
Lib Dem Young People’s Spokesperson reflects on a parliamentary question this week on 'Digital resilience programmes and young people'.
One of the benefits of the internet is that everyone with access to a mobile phone, a tablet or a computer can access resources, online, from anywhere at any time. We have never been more connected. Our children are now taught digital skills at a young age as a precursor to the influential role the online world will play in their future lives.
It has become a fundamental part of schooling. It is used to communicate school messages, to assign and collect homework, and in many more aspects of the school day. Even more common is the use of the internet to keep in touch with family and friends on social media. Children in primary and secondary schools are now constantly online, chatting with friends, playing games, and doing school work.
So far, so good.
However, the downside of 24/7 connectivity is that children and young people can contact – and be contacted – every minute of every day. If there is a problem or an issue with someone at school, it is no longer possible to go home, shut the front door, and hide away from the problem, at least until the next day.
Bad behaviour between people is nothing new and young people are no exception. However, whereas arguments were usually settled face-to-face, they now take place using social media, and children – and adults – are much more unpleasant to one another online than they would dare to be in person.
Dealing with bullying has always been a challenge in schools and other settings where young people spend time together, but it was normally possible to identify it and deal with it. The playground bully was previously punished and rehabilitated in a number of ways to improve behaviour.
Online bullying, or cyber-bullying, is much less obvious and yet the impact remains the same or is even more terrible. It can lead to anxiety, depression or, in the worst cases suicide.
This is why every child and young person needs to be given the skills to develop the resilience to cope with cyberbullying, which also means reporting it.
It is impossible to put the internet genie back in the bottle, so we must work towards developing a culture in which cyber-bullying is not acceptable. Part of this work much include education programmes that equip our young people with the tools to deal with cyber-bullying.
There are now a huge range of resources available – free of charge – for primary and secondary schools to use in lessons on cyber-bullying. The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Campaign is one example of a charity that is working to provide a whole range of materials for schools.
The Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying has, as founder members, senior representatives from Google, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, BT, EE, Sky, BBC, TalkTalk, Telefonica, Virgin Media, and Vodafone. While the taskforce is good in theory, there is, as yet little evidence that the big global corporations are making much more than token gestures. Only a couple of weeks ago the Government announced a Green Paper on internet safety and a few days later, on BBC Breakfast, the Secretary of State for Culture appeared with the head of Facebook to launch a £1m campaign to fund cyberbullying ambassadors in secondary schools.
A million pounds is less than an hour’s profit for Facebook and the depth of commitment to keeping children safe on line was shown when the Facebook was unable to commit to the “voluntary code” – because they had not heard of it, or indeed the green paper.
If only these global corporations would spend a fraction of the tax they avoid paying on making age-verification work properly and that offensive material is taken down promptly, I might begin to believe that they were prepared to temper their desire to make money in order to reduce the misery that “ground rules”, for example having to be a certain age to used Facebook and being able to get offensive material taken down, are rigorously followed.
The internet is a fundamental part of modern life, it is very much here to stay, so we much educate children to use its strengths and to be resilient enough to deal with some of the downsides.
Lord Storey is the Liberal Democrat Young People Spokesperson & the Lords Spokesperson for Education. He is a Lib Dem peer.