Social media sites foster cyber bullying

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 10:14 07/10/2013
Ask.fm
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ASK.FM: Advances in technology are making it increasingly easy for bullies to target their victims and parents are struggling to keep up with the platforms through which their children are being abused.

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BE SAFE: Bullying has largely moved out of the playground and onto the internet.

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Forget punches being thrown in the school yard and nasty notes slid across desks.

Bullying in New Zealand is taking a new and sinister form - the internet.

Cyber bullying takes place daily throughout New Zealand on websites, chatrooms, texting and across social media.

A recent Law Commission report found one in 10 New Zealanders have experienced harmful communications on the internet, while other research showed 20 per cent of secondary school students had experienced cyber bullying in some form.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the face of cyber bullying was constantly changing as technology advanced.

"There's an increasing number of ways people are using technology to harass others. We are increasingly seeing cyber bullying that is multi-faceted across different platforms, from texting to websites to applications," he said.

Technology changed quickly, but Cocker said it was essential for parents to keep up.

"Parents need to understand what their children are doing online. What are they doing, who are they talking to, what they find interesting.

"Just like you'd ask your child what they got up to school today, ask what they're doing while they're browsing the internet. Keep the conversations open."

Canterbury Primary Principals Association president Rob Callaghan said online bullying was particularly concerning as it often went under the radar.

"Unlike other kinds of bullying, it's not always evident because there's not so much physical stuff. Cyber bullying can happen anywhere at anytime from a distance. You might not even know where it is coming from. That's what makes so it so insidious," he said.

"In this technological age, adults don't always have access to the cyber world where bullying takes place. It can happen in places parents and teachers don't necessarily see."

Parents should also be aware that children might not always speak up when cyber bullying occurred, Callaghan said.

A study of more than 2000 teenagers in Britain found over a third of respondents who experienced online bullying reported it to the social network and fewer than one in five told their parents they had been affected.

Only 1 per cent said they told a teacher.

The toll cyber abuse is taking on our children is serious.

Last year, Barnados in Canterbury saw a 70 per cent increase in calls to the 0800 What's Up helpline where children were in "imminent harm".

Manager Rhonda Morrison believed cyber bullying was behind many of the calls.

"Cyber bullying is really tough because children can't get away from it.

"They go home from school but it's on their cellphone and the internet. Sometimes they don't even know who is sending it. It's really hard for them."

Several children who called the helpline said online bullies had told them to self-harm or commit suicide, Morrison said.

"This is very serious and damaging abuse. Healthy, happy teenagers might be able to brush that off but for someone who is already a bit down or lonely it can have serious consequences."

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The Government is looking at strengthening the legislation surrounding cyber bullying, but at the moment it is not defined in law.

Police chief media adviser Grant Ogilvie said the potential for police to become involved was dependent on the circumstances of each case.

"What might be taken as bullying and upsetting by some people may not necessarily be an offence in law," he said.

Prevention was "all important". "Think very carefully about the information you put online about yourself," Ogilvie said.

"You should also ensure the appropriate security settings are in place on social networking sites to ensure only trusted people have access to your profile and can post comments," he said.

THE WORST OFFENDERS

Facebook

It's one of the most popular social networking sites in the world - with over 1 billion users worldwide - and it's also one of the worst platforms for cyber bullying. A UK study of 2000 teenagers found that of those who reported cyber abuse, 87 per cent of teenagers said it was on Facebook. Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages, and chat via the website. Abuse comes in many forms - from abusive messages, to account hacking, to tagging in inappropriate photographs.

One Christchurch teenager, Emily, called the What's Up helpline after being bullied on Facebook. The 12-year-old told the counsellor someone from her school had posted an unflattering picture of her on Facebook, and tagged her so everyone could see it.

Underneath, students from her school made nasty comments, including insulting her appearance, saying they hated her and detailing how they jokingly planned to attack and kill Emily.

Through What's Up, Emily contacted the police who spoke to the girls and the school.

Facebook users should update their privacy settings so that only friends can access their information.

Ask.Fm

With over 65 million followers worldwide, the majority of whom are under 18, it's no wonder Ask.Fm has been slammed as one of the most dangerous sites for cyberbullying. The system allows users to pose questions that anyone else can answer, or answer questions coming from other users.

The catch is that people can anonymously post questions on the website - leading to constant streams of abuse and explicit language.

Overseas, nine suicides have been linked to the site, after the victims were hounded by bullies and encouraged to self-harm.

One Christchurch 16-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous, said abuse was "widespread" on the website, and he had been the target.

"I've received messages saying that I'm delusional . . .They told me that I was stupid and kept harassing me about how my girlfriend is a sl.t and that she needs to kill herself already."

Twitter

Twitter has over 500 million users, who post over 340 million tweets - text messages limited to 140 characters - per day.

Users who have an open profile can be tweeted by anyone who has access to their user name, leading to torrents of abuse from random Twitter users.

In recent high-profile twitter attacks, Miss America Nina Davuluri was called a "terrorist" because of her Indian American heritage, while feminist campaigner Criado Perez received rape threats. Christchurch's Luke Chandler said he had been the victim of abuse on Twitter. "There is a group of kids on Twitter that bully their way around," he said.

"Most of the tweets were lies about myself, abusing me, making up lies."

Chandler dealt with his bullies by ignoring them but Twitter has recently introduced a "report tweet" button so people can better report abuse.

Snapchat

Users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a list of recipients. The photograph or video will appear on the recipient's phone for a set time limit - between two and ten seconds.

The fact that the photograph disappears within a matter of seconds lulls many users into a false sense of security and they send inappropriate photos. However, those receiving the photo are able to take a screenshot of the image and can then send the picture to whoever they choose - cyber bullying has occurred.

Some users have been sent abusive messages which ‘disappear' after 10 seconds, while others have their personal pictures spread across social media.

Leaked snapchat groups from several Christchurch students have sprung up on Facebook, publicising compromising photographs of students.

Many of those pictured begged for the photos to be taken down.

Netsafe has received many complaints over Snapchat, about people being sent "inappropriate or damaging" photos.

- The Press

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