Fighting cyber bullies

Last updated 10:37 21/06/2011
Cyber bullying
SPEAK OUT: Jess Maher is trying to change people's attitudes to cyberbullying through her charity Sweet As Social Media.

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The death of her father got Jess Maher looking into the darker side of social media.

Miss Maher became frustrated at not being able to control the online profile of her late dad, former Vodafone chief executive Grahame Maher.

She soon became interested in what people's rights are online.

"I realised that we don't have any digital rights. After I reported dad's death to Facebook and memorialised his page, they deleted every post he'd ever made."

Now the 27-year-old Massey resident is trying to help young people combat cyberbullying through her charity Sweet As Social Media.

"John Key has said that schools need to fight bullying. But schools can only help between 9am and 3pm. What about outside of those hours?" she says.

Kelston Boys High School principal Brian Evans says schools do their utmost to prevent all forms of bullying including making regular checks on Facebook and Youtube.

"But when it comes down to contact between individuals it's difficult to control," he says.

Miss Maher says young people spend a large proportion of their time in the digital world talking to each other by text messages or on the internet.

The bad behaviour that might once have occurred face to face is happening online or by text.

Miss Maher says parents who are not IT savvy may have no idea what their children are doing. She wants people to start taking what happens in the digital world seriously.

"Our attitudes need to change – we need to educate people. I think we need to teach kids about good behaviour online. When a child records a fight between two children and puts it on the internet, we ask why they were fighting. We should also ask `why did a child think it was okay to record it and put it online?"'

Miss Maher is using the places young people gather outside of school hours, such as Zeal recreation centre in Henderson, to get her message out.

Sweet As Social Media set up a You Tube booth at Massey Community House last month.

The idea was to give young people who don't have access to the internet at home the chance to record their thoughts about preventing cyberbullying and put their videos online.

The charity is also creating a free online magazine that will give parents information about how they can protect their children from cyberbullying and encourage good behaviour online.

"We're going to have a launch event on July 7, which would have been dad's birthday.

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"I want to create something positive. Dad was all over Facebook so if we can get some learnings out of his death, that's great."

Martin Cocker is executive director of Netsafe, which hosts New Zealand's Cyberbullying Taskforce – made up of school, business, parent and telecommunications representatives.

He says people who have not been exposed to cyberbullying struggle to understand why it's so disturbing.

"In the past, if you were bullied on the school bus you could get off the school bus and feel safe. Now, if the bullying is happening via your cellphone or online it can be relentless.

"You might say `why not turn the phone off?' But for many people these days that's how you keep in touch with your social network. And no one wants to be disconnected from their friends."

See or for more information on how to combat cyberbullying.

- Western Leader


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