Bromley Youth Council aim to tackle faceless internet bullies
Internet "trolls" are plaguing the borough's young people, posting inflammatory and painful comments on social-networking sites and making lives a misery.
Now Bromley Youth Council has set about tackling the problem and has listed it as the top item on its manifesto this year.
Chairman and Charles Darwin School pupil Andrew Spears, 15, said: “Cyber-bullying is on phones and computers, you can do it wherever you want. If you’re being egged on by your mates, it’s easier to do.”
The 30 elected members, made up of 11-25 year-olds from across the borough, are focusing on a poster campaign to let people know that help is available.
Asked how someone knows if they are being cyber-bullied, Andrew explains: “It’s calling people names and putting them down or making threats.”
Andrew attended a training day earlier this year where he was taught what advice to give to victims. The message seems to be ‘‘don’t stay quiet’’.
Bromley’s youth support programme manager, Ruth Wood, says: “Young people might not think adults will take them seriously but we will. They don’t perceive it as bullying but the pain it causes is immense.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the perverse practice of ‘‘happy-slapping’’, it was a craze which became popular mid-decade. It involved assaulting an unsuspecting victim and recording it, usually with the footage ending up on the internet.
Ruth continues: “One girl told us how she was happy-slapped and somebody tagged her in the post and put it on Facebook. That’s one of the most extreme examples. But we’ve all seen and read the news and seen much more serious incidents.”
Cyber-bullying has had tragic consequences in other parts of the country, where young people have even taken their own lives as a result.
Youth team leader Danie Gordon says: “The problem is that there is no responsibility – you don’t have to say it to someone’s face.”
Many young people are not aware of privacy settings or that they proactively have to set them so that only certain people can see them.
While they may believe having thousands of “friends” on Facebook or followers on Twitter makes them seem popular, there can be repercussions.
Ruth explains: “Suddenly you’re reaching a network of 30,000 people who can see what you like, what comments you’re making and what photographs you’re in. You don’t even know these people, they are friends of friends of friends.”
The youth council has worked with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) to ensure that their methods of reporting online abuse work and were impressed with the results.
Now the poster campaign will be taken into schools across Bromley and teachers will be asked to sign a pledge, promising to take the matter seriously.
Andrew says: “Tell an adult about what is happening. You don’t have to feel alone.