Guido Marchetti discusses the issue of cyberbullying from personal experience.

I was bullied. Let’s stop blaming the internet for cyber bullying.

By Guido Marchetti, Office 365 Specialist for O2 Telefonica, MJ Flood Technology

Following the recent tragic deaths of two young girls coupled with my own memories of being bullied in both primary and secondary school, the issue of bullying and in particular cyber bullying has really been at the forefront of my mind.  Having heard more than a few heated and sometimes irrational debates across various media outlets in recent weeks, I believe we should stop blaming the internet and start looking closer to home for the cause and for potential solutions.

Perhaps the fact that I now have two very young children has led me to the conclusion that as a society, we should all be concerned about the environment in which we are raising the next generation.   I believe there are several areas that need to be addressed: areas that will go some way to reduce the incidence of bullying and curb the further tragic loss of young life.

Education
I’m not saying that the schools should monitor students’ PC activity.  We all know that access to social networking sites is not possible as internet browsing is typically locked down in the academic environment.  But where schools can help is by promoting awareness and education in acceptable online behavior and etiquette.

There is a perception that our activities online can remain anonymous or invisible and cannot be traced.  Even as adults, I think we’ll all admit to perhaps being a little braver with the written word than with verbal communications.  Children need to be taught that all online behavior, actions and activities can be traced back to them.  Furthermore if the offence is serious enough, computer forensics could be used as evidence in legal proceedings.

The explosion of social media, as evidenced by over one million Facebook users in Ireland, is a relatively new phenomenon.  And as a society it has become clear that there is a high degree of unfamiliarity with the concept of socially acceptable online behavior.  In the real world, our activities in the online world leave a mark, whether we are aware of it or not.

In the same way as we teach our children to behave in a certain way when in company or never to take sweets from a stranger, we must educate them on the risks of negative online behavior and the possible impact that this behaviour can have on their own futures and on others.

Parental Responsibility – Industry Accountability
Some parents believe that claiming ignorance about technology is a defence as to why their children are allowed to continue to engage in unacceptable online behaviour.   Yet parents supply children as young as six or seven with laptops and smart devices without monitoring the activities of their children on that device.   Clearly, control and content should be regularly monitored by a parent with the ability to enforce ground rules for usage of mobile devices.  There must be sanctions if these ground rules are broken.

The very ubiquitous nature of mobile communications has changed the landscape for the bullies and the bullied.  For example, when I was bullied in school, I fled to the sanctuary of home to escape it.  Home was my safe haven where the bullying stopped until the next time I was confronted with it in school.

Cyber bullying is constant – in your face all the time.   The only respite is sleep and the next visit online could bring a backlog of even more abuse.  Any form of bullying is soul destroying and as a teenager where do you turn?  As parents we hope they will turn to us but many parents are ill-equipped to deal with this new phenomenon.

But where do our lawmakers stand on this issue?  Are there adequate legal provisions in place to deal with bullying which leads to loss of life?  Is this something that should be prosecuted in the courts at all?  This is for our esteemed leaders to address.

But I feel that the social network sites should have a very clearly defined policy regarding online bullying and this needs to be rigorously enforced.  With closer scrutiny of online behaviour, service providers need to take a much tougher line with those who breach usage policy – with account termination if necessary.  Software systems can easily monitor for keywords and terms associated with bullying. After all, such social sites can target us with product marketing for commercial gain.  So why can’t these systems be deployed for the greater good?

These social media companies are amongst some of the successful operations in the world.  While they are not to blame for comments posted by individuals hell-bent on causing distress to others, they have to accept some form of responsibility for the activities that their sites are facilitating.

Cyber bullying is an issue that we need to tackle now to ensure the safety of our children online without compromising their freedom of speech.  We need to regulate and monitor the virtual world, which they are so eager to explore, using the same moral boundaries that we would use in the physical world.  As the fallout from our activities in both have similar if not the same consequences.

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