Cyberbullying remains a problem for kids between 11 and 18, a UK-based anti-bullying group has found, and it wants social networks to step up and help with improved UIs and support services for kids in need. "I just want you to know what a fat, evil, sadistic cow you are. I want to see you suffer as slow and painful a death as possible." That's one of many messages sent to a teenager named Claire who had gotten into a disagreement over a basketball game. Another teen named Sam hanged himself after being "bombarded by cruel jibes" on Bebo over his taste in music and clothing.
These are just a couple of the stories told by UK-based anti-bullying group Beatbullying. The organization has released a new report on the state of cyberbullying in order to kick off Anti-Bullying Week, and notes that almost two-thirds of all youngsters have witnessed some sort of cyberbullying online. With these statistics in mind, the group says that social networks need to do more to help kids deal with cyberbullying.
Beatbullying surveyed 2,094 young people in England between the ages of 11 and 18 and found that 61.2 percent had witnessed cyberbullying online. Girls were more likely to be targeted than boys—23.8 percent of girls reported being harassed compared to 12.2 percent of boys. Nearly 70 percent of those who had been victims said they knew the person who was cyberbullying them, and nearly a third said that the incidents originated offline before going digital.
One of the most popular pranks is fake profiles being set up in the victim's name, offering an open season platform for the bully to to post as many embarrassing and ridiculous updates as possible. Indeed, this is an age-old cyberbullying tactic that is often used to target teachers and principals, but recently got a handful of teens in hot water after a peer's fake profile began to affect his college admissions.
On top of fake profiles, more than 20 percent of respondents reported seeing "hate sites" being set up to target someone, and almost a quarter said they had been sent a video clip of someone being bullied. Perhaps it comes as no surprise as well that children with disabilities were 16 percent more likely to be bullied online over a prolonged period of time, as well as those who receive free school meals (13 percent).
Some of the favorite mediums for cyberbullying were MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger), Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and YouTube. It's these sites where Beatbullying is focusing its "advice"—the organization says that Internet services like Windows Live Messenger and Bebo need better reporting mechanisms for when kids are being harassed, and a better UI so it's easier for people to find these features. Beatbullying also says these services should provifr safety nets for kids looking for support, and that they should offer "innovative" anti-bullying education programs.
The topic of cyberbullying has gotten increased attention in recent years thanks in part to the high-profile "MySpace Suicide" of Megan Meier but, as Beatbullying has pointed out, Meier was hardly the first or last teen to commit suicide as a result of harassment online. A number of bills have popped up in the US in an attempt to define cyberbullying and establish punishments for it, but the real solution is something that Beatbullying and other groups have begun to focus on: offering education and support for both bullies and victims.
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