· 'Huge problem' plaguing young at school and home
· Internet 'a gift from God' for hi-tech tormentors
Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Wednesday March 15, 2006
More than one in 10 British teenagers have been victims of bullying online, according to a survey. Figures published yesterday showed that 11% of 12 to 15 year-olds had been harassed, bullied or victimised.
Many of the 500 teenagers surveyed said they had received threatening emails or messages, while more than a quarter said somebody had published misleading information about them on the web. With many teenagers using instant messaging, blogs and other websites to keep in contact, the threat of cyberbullying is rising, say experts.
"It's a huge problem - probably even higher than these figures suggest," says Liz Carnell of Bullying Online (bullying.co.uk). "We get a lot of complaints of hi-tech bullying. Bullies will exploit everything they can, and the internet is a God-given gift for them."
Experts have seen many strains of abuse on the web, ranging from rude emails to complex operations such as the manipulation of photos, sometimes taken secretly using mobile phones. Schools in Hertfordshire are confronting a particularly vicious online campaign, in which anonymous users are invited to discuss and attack named victims on website forums.
Like ordinary bullying, the online version can often be dangerous and sometimes even result in suicide among depressed teenagers. "There's a wide spectrum when it comes to cyberbullying, and schools do need to come up to speed," said Mary Louise Morris of Childnet International. "I think there are psychological implications that can make it more disturbing than real-world bullying."
Children attacked online will often fail to tell an adult, say experts. On top of the fear and embarrassment prevalent in traditional bullying cases, many are also worried that parents may simply ban them from using their computers in an attempt to solve the problem.
The research, published yesterday by Microsoft's internet portal, involved talking to 500 teenagers. It did not take into account mobile phone bullying such as text messaging, calls and the sending of pictures. Once those are added, the problem could be far greater than parents and schools imagine, experts said.
"This research shows that as technology has become more sophisticated, so has the way children are bullied," said Elaine Peace of the children's charity NCH. "It is everyone's responsibility to protect children and young people in every sphere of their lives."
A survey last year showed that more than half of children say bullying is a widespread problem in their school, but the growth in online activity now allows abuse to continue even outside school hours, meaning that victims can continue to be subjected to taunts even in the apparent safety of their own bedrooms.
The prevalence of mobile phones among children has already led many schools to clamp down on abusive text messages, but the growing number of homes with high-speed internet connections means the problem is quickly spreading to new areas. A third of teenagers now use instant messaging on a daily basis, and Microsoft claims that more than 800,000 children are regular users of its own MSN Messenger service.
Insurers have said that compensation claims against local authorities for bullying at school have risen by 225% in the past five years. Last month 23-year-old Sophie Amor, from Blaenavon in Wales, was awarded £20,000 after being bullied as a child.
Their sample was a bit crap.