Cyber bullying alert

The big news last week was that bullying is set to become a crime for the first time in Australia with concern growing about the abuse that has shattered lives and driven workers and teenagers to suicide. The Victorian Government is bringing in laws which will see workplace bullies jailed for up to 10 years. The laws were prompted by the appalling case of Brodie Panlock who jumped to her death in 2006 after being victimised by colleagues at Cafe Vamp in Hawthorn.

The legislation would also cover cyber bullying. It's happening in other places too. The South Australian Government is introducing legislation making it an offence to take or publish humiliating and degrading images of a person without their consent on Facebook, YouTube or wherever.

With the internet covering every part of our lives, cyber bullying has become more prevalent now than ever before. Access to mobile phones, the Facebook phenomenon and YouTube have made it a real problem. Cyber bullying is now so bad that it’s being looked at by a parliamentary committee. Facebook says its removing 20,000 under age users globally each day, but the problem continues. Cyber bullying is perpetrated not just by young people. Take for example the revelations of a gay hate campaign on Facebook in the Australian Defence Force.

Cyber bullying can take many forms. It can include being teased or made fun of online, being sent threatening emails,  having rumours spread about you online, having unpleasant comments, pictures or videos about you sent or posted on websites like Facebook or MySpace,  being sent unwanted messages, being deliberately ignored or left out of things on the internet or even having someone use your screen name or password and pretending to be you to hurt someone else.

One of the worst examples recently popped up when Blake Rice, who lost his mother and brother in Queensland's floods, was bashed by six youths because of all the attention he was getting. After leaving him with a broken collar bone, they set up a Facebook page titled We bashed Blake Rice.

As reported here, the Cyberbullying Research Centre, a clearinghouse of data and educational materials in the United States, has found that cyber bullying victims consider suicide twice as often as victims of physical bullying.

There’s a good reason for that. Edith Cowan University Child and Adolescent Health professor Donna Cross says that it’s more harmful because it’s nastier, more malicious, it follows you wherever you go and the perpetrators often tend to remain anonymous. Like all bullies, they are cowards.

"Cyber-bullying presents what we call a higher-effect to danger ratio which means that it contributes to the greatest amount of harm or effect because it's delivered in isolation, it's 24-7, it's often much nastier than face-to-face bullying because they can do meaner stuff online than they could ever do looking at someone's face, there are no controls in place," Cross said. “Young people often don't know who's been sending it so the harm that comes from this is obviously quite significant because it's a toxic cocktail. We know that face-to-face bullying is already extremely harmful to young people in the short and the long term, particularly if they receive it frequently and we believe that cyber-bullying cranks that up."

About 10 per cent of school kids in Australia say they have been cyber bullied. Now that’s not as bad as overseas. In America, for example, 50 per cent of young people are being cyber-bullied and about 30 per cent report that they cyber-bully others. Still, Cross puts the figure in Australia as high as 25 per cent. Whether it's 10 or 25 per cent, it's still too many.

Do you agree with these new laws? What else can be done? Have you been a victim of cyber bullying? What happened?