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Your Interview - Scott Freeman, internet bullying charity Cybersmile
10:00am Saturday 10th August 2013 in News
Mike Melville-Reed, email: Does he think the social media sites could be doing more to stop this from happening?
Scott Freeman: In a nutshell, yes I do think that the social network sites can and need to do more but at the same time we all have to remember how many posts and tweets there are worldwide every day. Realistically policing numbers this big is impossible, we need to look at the root causes of this behaviour.
As Twitter have done recently, the rest of the social networks need to accept their part they play in cyberbullying and start working with all stakeholders to try to find the best possible solutions for everybody involved - most importantly vulnerable people.
Small steps from the social networks will go a long way in starting to restore the public faith which has been lost over the last few years. In the case of Ask.fm, the small steps could be changing their default settings from anonymous to non-anonymous and including a direct link to the advice and guidance section on the Cybersmile website.
These changes wouldn't take a great deal of planning and they wouldn't solve the problem of cyberbullying but they would show that they are listening to the public and are putting the well being of their customers first, before image and ultimately financial profit.
We can't say that if Hannah Smith had known about the Cybersmile helpline she wouldn't have made the tragic decision that she did, but anybody suffering online should have the basic option to seek help and support without needing to search for it, I feel it is the providers of the environment that should be providing this information.
qm, online: "One 14-year-old was repeatedly abused on website ask.fm - and committed suicide at her home on Friday." One of the points that has emerged from this tragedy is that no one realised how deeply this young lady was being affected. Even on the day she passed away, close family has been quoted as suggesting that she was her normal bubbly self, displaying no clues as to what was about to happen. I am wondering what Scott's thoughts are on a situation where the victim has become so adept at hiding their feelings to such an extent? What could have been done to help her?
SF: Different people seem to have different tolerance levels and different breaking points to online abuse and bullying.
For instance Cybersmile work with the family of a tragic suicide victim who was only cyberbullied for one day before he reached the point whereby he felt he couldn't cope any longer and took his own life but in contrast, some victims have been bullied online for years and don't commit suicide.
The important thing is to always ensure that your children are comfortable talking to you and that you are on their side, your children need to know that you are aware of cyberbullying and that you understand it because all too often we have seen cases left to escalate due to the children's fear of losing all Internet privileges such as closing a Facebook account or restricting Internet access should they approach their parents with a cyberbullying problem.
This is when the problem can reach self-harm and suicide levels because there is nobody to help the victim rationalise the use.
It's very important that children know that there is now help available for cyberbullying through Cybersmile as too many victims are frantically searching for help and can't find it.
Phani Tikkala, online: How do you distinguish between those who are genuinely bullied online, and those who claim they are bullied because they receive a tweet, say, that simply disagrees with some outrageous remark or behaviour that they have made or displayed online (e.g. celebrity stalking)?
SF: One of the problems we face at Cybersmile is the amount of calls and emails we receive from distressed victims of personal disagreements.
Distinguishing between genuine cyberbullying and cases of somebody hearing things that they don't particularly like can only really be done by the 'victims' of the online behaviour themselves because so much of the grey area is about the interpretation of the content. Generally speaking, if comments are difficult to recognise as cyberbullying then more often than not they are predominantly innocent or sarcastic at worst.
We concentrate more on the kind of relentless bullying that leads people to suffering serious psychological distress, abuse which is uncomfortable to read and clearly cannot be veiled as humour or innocent banter in any way.
One of Cybersmile's biggest challenges when doing workshops in schools is to help the children understand that something that may not be particularly hurtful or upsetting to them can be the final straw to others. It's all relative but as a rule of thumb - if you are not sure if your being cyberbullied, you probably aren't but we would love to hear from you just to make sure.
Cave Johnson, online: Aren't you in danger of mollycoddling kids? Dealing with people who disagree with you is part of growing up. They aren't forced to go on to the web and in fact it is very easy to just block people on facebook and Twitter etc. Ask.FM is solely about anonymous people asking questions so if you cannot deal with that then you should not be on in the first place. The easiest way to keep kids safe on the internet is simply to not allow them to go on it. Kids are also the minority of users so why should sites be forced to implement buttons in case a minority of their users get trouble? Just keep them off. And the parents should be surpervising all of their online time anyway. You are in danger of having a generation of kids who grow up to be weak milksops who can't deal with the real world.
SF: Firstly Ask.fm is based on anonymous people asking questions but unless they are going to put realistically enforceable age restrictions in place to prevent the registration of vulnerable children, they have, or at least should, have a duty of care and at the very least, need to have links to support for anybody that needs it.
It's important for these networking sites to have adequate policy in place for young and vulnerable users, certainly all the time they don't have a clear, restrictive membership process which confirms the age of the applicant.
The Internet has become integral to our children's lives in every way, ranging from educational materials for studying right through to using the power of the Internet for positive action, for example teens from around the world used Twitter to get #stopcyberbullyingday trending worldwide on our inaugural Stop Cyberbullying Day on June 21st.
In response to mollycoddling, we are living in different times now and we must accept that, emotional intelligence is now an important part of our children's development and we can harness and nurture this with the Internet providing we use it for positive force.
Karen Poole, Peacehaven, email: My question that I would like to ask Scott is that with society being like it is, why are people being so horrible to each other including adults as well as children and what are your plans for the next year.
SF: People always have been horrible to each other but the Internet and social networks in particular are providing the vehicle and unprecedented reach necessary to have real impact on people's lives - both positive and negative.
But there is more to it than that, the problem is with society, the bottom line is that people aren't being nice to each other and something needs to change because there is no 'quick technological fix' for this problem and we are going to see more lives lost and a huge rise in delayed psychological problems in the coming years. You don't have to be very investigative to see where our children picked all the hate up, if you scan through the online news it is full of hate, read the comments to the news stories, full of hate - it was only a matter of time before being hateful was acceptable and became learned behaviour.
Personally I think that we need two generations of educational work before we see any real change in cyberbullying and online abuse. Education is the key though, education for children, education for parents and education for the bullies.
We have lots of exciting plans for the coming year, we have been shortlisted for the UK's Best New Charity Award and the TalkTalk Digital Heroes Award over the next few months and have our 2nd International Stop cyberbullying Day on 20th June 2014 to prepare for.
thevoiceoftruth, online: It's very sad that this young girl along with others have committed suicide but I honestly don't understand why kids/teenagers use the site, Ask FM. It's asking for trouble to let anyone anonymously comment about you and just encourages nasty trolls. You have to be very thick skinned to ignore it, so why join?
SF: There are a number of reasons the children use this site, firstly their parents don't, which makes it ok to use. I saw a recent tweet that said "Ask.fm.....because our parents got Facebook, which summed it up. It also happens to be the most popular teen site so the children 'need' to be on the channel to be 'in' with everybody and not excluded.
It's also very worrying that we have seen a pattern of 'online self harm' amongst teens on Ask.fm in particular. This is where victims of bullying and online abuse are posting questions about themselves asking things like "Do you think I'm pretty?", knowing that they are going to receive a barrage of abusive replies. The victim then gets dependent on a cycle of negativity and self destruction by posting and re-posting questions.
This phenomenon is largely unknown and un-researched but is by no means unusual, we are seeing cases of this daily at Cybersmile and is a definite natural progression on the path to suicide attempts.
getThisCoalitionOut, online: Why are so many people being so nasty online? That's what is wrong with our country today. It's so sad that people are being so rude and deliberately doing this to cause so much misery. Do these same people get a kick out of causing someone to kill themselves? Something must be done about these people. Never mind keeping kids safe and not allowing them access to the internet, stop these vile, evil people.
SF: As touched on previously, it's a combination of many different factors. There is so much hate and negativity now, especially online that it was only a matter of time before this became 'learned' and 'acceptable' to our children who have been exposed to it in their forming years. This is not a UK problem, the problem is global and getting bigger daily. We have delivered successful programmes in schools where we have read aloud an account of a suicide victims father when finding his son, this is when people realise the human side to cyberbullying and start thinking about the fact that we are dealing with very real emotions and feelings and not cyber feelings.
An important point is that with conventional bullying no matter how aggressive the bully was, they still reached a definite 'stop' point where empathy kicked in and the victim had had enough (usually in a ball in the corner). With cyberbullying this point is never reached because of the emotional detachment experienced whilst interacting online, making it impossible to tell when the victim had "had enough" so even without the intention of driving somebody to suicide, it can happen without the bully knowing.
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