Whilst the Internet is a valuable tool it can also be a terrible curse. Last year, the House of Commons focussed on two important issues that involve no party political differences and brought out the best in the House. The first of these was cyber bullying.
David Simpson, the MP for Upper Bann, moved the motion, “That this House recognises the serious problem of cyber-bullying and the appalling consequences for an increasing number of children and young people who are its victims; and calls on the Government to take action to help eradicate this form of intimidation and harassment, including the consideration of legislation to make cyber-bullying an offence”
Cyber bullying is the use of the Internet, email and social media to send intimidating or threatening messages from mobile phones, tablets, computers etc. Nominet has estimated that 65% of teenagers have experienced online bullying or trolling, and more than half of these at least once a week, but NSPCC sets the figure at 40%. ChildLine reports that cyber bullying is the second most important issue they handle.10% of teachers have also received the same treatment. These hate-filled messages are sent anonymously, using pseudonyms, which means that there are no consequences for the senders but at least 48% of recipients say they are deeply upset by the experience and their inability to do anything about it. A girl of 13 said: “It is worse being bullied over the internet because everyone can see and it makes you feel little and small and worthless” Tom Daley’s announcement this week that he is in a relationship with another man was greeted with some very vicious messages and in a few cases, such as that of Hannah Simpson, the recipient is even driven to suicide.
So what did the MPs think should be done about this? Anonymity was recognised as a key issue and website hosts and Internet service providers need to work harder in verifying who people are when they set up accounts. Parents have an important role in checking on their children’s online activity. Speakers acknowledged parental reluctance to be too intrusive and that they probably understand less about computers and the Internet than their offspring. Schools could do more to educate children to use the Internet wisely but this should be done within the PSHE curriculum as well as computer studies. Some schools offer courses for parents as well as their pupils. The debate included contributions from Ed Vaizey, the DCMS minister and from Education Minister Edward Timpson, highlighting the need for closer inter-departmental coordination.
The bottom line question is this - what makes people want to bully others? Helen Goodman came closest to this when she asked what changes take place in the brain when people use technology? She could equally have asked what makes anyone wicked when they think they will not be found out? Is cyber bullying just another example of human sinfulness?