Hollywood star Will Poulter opens up about internet trolls during Blackpool visit after quitting Twitter

It has long been a peril for youngsters trying to get through life at school - the fears posed by bullying.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 6:00 am

But while at one time the torment was something that ended when children and young people got home, today’s generation are faced by an additional hazard - cyber bullying.

Even in the supposed safety of their own bedrooms, youngsters can be exposed to shocking and cruel taunting and vile threats through social media platforms.

It would seem like an easy problem to overcome - they could just switch their appliances off.

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British actor Will Poulter, who has starred in some of Hollywood's biggest films over the past decade, opened up about internet trolls during a visit to Blackpool yesterday (Picture: Kelvin Stuttard/JPIMedia)

But because so many young people rely so much on these platforms to keep in touch with friends and not become isolated, switching off is not always an easy option.

During a major national event at Blackpool’s Village Hotel yesterday, staged by charity the Diana Award to highlight bullying, some 60 per cent of the 300 youngsters present admitted they had suffered some kind of bullying online.

Given that the majority of the youngsters present were from Blackpool, it is clear the issue is one that has affected children in the town.

Hollywood actor Will Poulter, who has appeared in films such as Maze Runner and The Revenant, and TV star Sam Retford from the series Ackley Bridge, highlighted the issue when they spoke to the Gazette.

Will was forced to quit Twitter earlier this year after receiving abuse from trolls following a role in Netflix show Black Mirror: Bandsnatch.

He said: “Social media can be used for a positive reasons but there can be a negative side to these interactions.

“We need to focus on how to safeguard our young people because of the impact cyber bullying can have on people.

“Social media is playing an increasingly large in the lives of young people and unless we turn our attention to how cyber bullying can be tackled, then we are going to face a mental health problem affecting our next generation.”

He added: “As an actor, it is gratifyingly to be able to use workshops like the ones today to be able to help get positive messages across about how to deal with bullying generally.”

Sam said that, because of the rapid advance of new social media platforms used by young people, there were understandably “teething problems” in dealing with cyber bullying.

He said: “Bullying has been shifted into two parts - face-to-face bullying and cyber bullying.

“When the young people here today were asked about cyber bullying, sixty per cent said they had experienced it in some form.

“As a society, we are generally reactive to problems, trying to deal with them after they’ve arisen, rather than being proactive.

“Social media platforms came about so quickly we’ve had teething problems with how to deal with things like bullying.

“There is progress being made by the social media to deal with it - we now have block buttons and privacy settings to combat new types of bullying but still more could be done.”

The issue of cyber bullying was just one of the areas looked at during the conference, which involved primary schools and high schools from across Blackpool, as well as from Doncaster in South Yorkshire and some other areas.

Alex Holmes, deputy chief executive of The Diana Award said: “Face to face bullying in school is still the biggest problem we face and events like this go a long way ton tackling it.

“But bullying on social media has become a serious issue as well.”

Packed with youngsters

The Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Campaign aims to empower and inspire young people to creatively explore bullying issues through drama, singing, photography, rap, graffiti art, public speaking - all led by celebrity talent.

Stars like Will Poulter and Sam Retford play a key role in helping to get the message across, using their acting skills in the workshops to explore the best way to deal with bullying issues.

Alex Holmes added: “We wanted to bring this event outside London, where we also hold it, and Blackpool is a great place to that.

“We already have links with this town because we brought an event here last year, and we have worked really well with Blackpool Council.

“With the support of the council, we’ve reached out to schools in the area and have seen the impact of our work - training young people to be anti-bullying ambassadors.

“At the Diana Award we understand the vital role young people, professionals and parents play in shaping attitudes and changing behaviours.

“Support networks - particularly peer based - are vital when coping with bullying and we want to ensure that young people are at the heart of this.”

One of those young ambassadors is 11 year old Ubaid Khan, a pupil at Blackpool's Gateway Academy.

He said: “It is not fair that people are bullied and that is why things like this are good.

“It brings people from other schools together and they can all learn things from the other schools.”

Alex said the project gave youngsters the confidence to deal with bullies themselves, by learning how to talk to those that tried to torment them and deflect the powers that bullies tried to use.

Anti-bullying campaigns

Efforts to tackle bullying are expanding and a Blackpool-based project is playing its part.

The MADD (Making a Direct Difference) scheme was set up by human behaviour trainer and success coach Norry Ascroft, also known as entertainer Lionel Vinyl.

Earlier this year, it came to light that the number of children excluded from Blackpool schools for bullying has tripled in the space of a year from six to 17 in 2017/8, although since then efforts have been made to deal with bullying across the town.

Michelle Atherton, chairman and events coordinator for Blackpool-based anti-bullying campaign MADD, said back in August: “It is not just about teachers and school governors being aware of bullying, it is about getting parents and children on-board as well.

“We have got some new awareness events planned for the next few months.”

Norry set up the project after reading about a girl who took her own life because of bullying and has now rolled out his programme, aimed at helping teachers deal with bullies, to 200 schools across the North West.

He said previously: “At the lowest level of bullying, our children are being held back from reaching their true potential and, at worst, bullying causes mental health problems and an increase in teenage suicides.”