Live Wire - November 8, 2013

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Written by Nilima Marshall

When I was at university, I discovered that an email account using my identity had been created and circulated among staff and students, along with my phone number and personal information.

The account was promptly deleted, but the barrage of inappropriate text messages and voicemails to my mobile continued and I was forced to change my number.

Fast-forward to the present day though, and similar – and infinitely worse –online bullying has become the norm.

A recent survey commissioned by Anti-Bullying Alliance found more than half of children and young people in England accept cyberbullying as part of everyday life.

Certainly, with ever-evolving technology and new social media sites mushrooming every day, parents and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the rising tide of internet abuse.

Sadly, this can lead to heart-breaking consequences. In the last year alone, there were repeated headlines of teens taking their own lives after suffering online bullying.

Then, of course, there are the innumerable victims who continue to suffer in silence.

There have been calls for new laws to tackle cyberbullying and the UK Government has come under pressure to introduce specific legislation to address the issue.

While there is no legal definition of cyberbullying within UK law, there are existing laws which can be applied to cases of online harassment, namely, the Protection From Harassment Act, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the Malicious Communications Act, the Communications Act and the Breach of the Peace (Scotland).

Ian Rivers, a psychologist and professor of human development at Brunel University, believes there needs to be a social etiquette in place for online users.

“The net is a totally unregulated space. When multiple parties are engaged in aggressive interactions, it can become very confusing who’s the victim and who’s the bully.

“We need to teach ‘netiquette’ in schools, because learning how to communicate with each other properly is a really important way to prevent bullying.”

Let’s hope he’s right.