Cyber-bullying has spiked to such an extent in the UK that it has been more prevalent than face-to-face bullying for the first time, a major study has found.
The study, Net Children Go Mobile, was produced by the EU Kids Online research program at the London School of Economics (LSE), examining the changes in the internet habits of children from seven European countries over the past year.
Nearly 12 percent of young people questioned said they had faced cyber-bullying, mostly via Facebook and Twitter, compared to 9 percent who reported face-to-face abuse and harassment.
It showed that in 2013, 21 percent of children in Britain aged nine to 16 had been bullied. Overall, 15 percent of these had been bothered, uncomfortable or upset by something online in the past year, with the greatest prevalence among girls, older teens and those from high income families. In 2010, the figure was a little lower, at 13 percent.
The report also noted a worrying growth in the sharing of self-harm websites, many promoting eating disorders among children and adolescents.
In just a few years, UK children have shifted from accessing the internet via a desktop computer to accessing it primarily via a smartphone or laptop. This, the report argues, demands an equally profound shift in how their internet safety is to be managed.
“No child should have to suffer the fear and victimization of bullying,” Department for Education spokesman Robert Cooper told RT.
“Every school must have measures in place by law to prevent it, and thanks to our new curriculum children will soon be taught how to stay safe online, including [from] cyber-bullying, from the age of five.
“We have strengthened the powers teachers have to tackle bullying. They can search pupils for banned items, delete inappropriate images from phones and give out same-day detentions,” Cooper added.
“We are also providing more than £4m ($6.9 million) to a range of anti-bullying organizations to help schools develop strategies to tackle the problem and deal with the impact when it occurs.”
Among the organizations awarded funding is BeatBullying, which has been handed £1.5 million ($2.6 million) to train 11-17 year olds to act as mentors.
“Education for safety and good behavior online should begin as early as possible, before cyber-bullying becomes an issue,” managing director of BeatBullying Anthony Smythe told RT.
“Encourage your children to think carefully about what they choose to share online, and how this might make them more of a target for online bullies or ‘trolls’,” he said. “Explain that it is always best not to react to cyber-bullying, and make sure your children know how to report, block and delete anyone should they need to.”
Social media sites Facebook and Twitter have come under growing pressure to address the prevalence of abuse and ‘trolling’ on their platforms.
“Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment,” claims the social network’s bullying policy. “We allow users to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals.”
“We remove any promotion or encouragement of self-mutilation, eating disorders or hard drug abuse. We also work with suicide prevention agencies around the world to provide assistance for people in distress.”