The front line against cyberbullying

by Lara Murray (Basildon), Karl Barnes (Thurrock) and Charlotte Woolven-Brown (SWF).

The tragic death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who committed suicide after suffering taunts from ‘trolls’ on a popular social networking website, has once again thrust the subject of cyberbullying into the news.

Cyberbullying is a relatively new problem, having grown with the development of technology. While cyberbullying can take place through email or text messages, the increasing popularity of social media has enabled bullies to target their victims anonymously, but in what is effectively a public forum.

Following Hannah’s death, there were calls for the social networking site in question, ask.fm, to be shut down, while others have called for social media companies in general to crack down on cyberbullying. However, a more productive approach may be to tackle the behaviour of young people when they are online. This is where schools can play a key role.

While all schools have (or at least, should have) anti-bullying policies in place, these do not usually extend beyond the actions of youngsters on school premises. However, schools can and should take a greater interest in what their pupils are doing online.

A good starting point would be for schools to update their behavioural policies to include measures relating to social media, including the right to monitor what their pupils are doing online during school hours and even to state that they will take action if it comes to light that there has been inappropriate use of social media by pupils outside of school. This would enable schools to detect and identify behaviour which might constitute or lead to cyberbullying – even if this behaviour takes place in pupils’ own time.

The issue of cyberbullying also raises the question of how businesses can tighten up their own anti-bullying and social media policies. After all, workplace bullying can be hugely destructive, not just to the individual concerned but to the company as a whole.

Thought should also be given to how the company is represented by the online behaviour of its employees. Many people believe that comments they make on Facebook and Twitter will not be seen by their employer, despite posting it on the internet where it could potentially be seen by anyone, anywhere in the world.

Whether you are running a school or a business, being equipped to tackle unacceptable online behaviour by your pupils or employees has never been more important.

For further information on how Palmers can help you review your existing policies or implement new, robust ones, please contact us on 01268 240000