Chris Marshall: MSPs’ anti-cyberbullying plans

MSPs' plans to tackle cyberbullying are welcome, if a little late, argues Chris Marshall. Picture: Ian Rutherford
MSPs' plans to tackle cyberbullying are welcome, if a little late, argues Chris Marshall. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AMONG the jargon so beloved by those in education, the phrase “digital native” has grown in popularity in recent years.

It describes those born in the age of the internet, with no memory of the days before e-mail and, in some cases, the days before Facebook and Twitter.

To these bright young things, outmoded social networks such as Bebo and Myspace might as well be VHS recorders or fax machines. Indeed, nowadays no child at school is aware of a time before the internet, which makes it all the more surprising that it has taken the powers that be so long to wake up to the scourge of cyberbullying.

Yesterday, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s education committee heard from a range of charities on the growing problem of online bullying. The national bullying organisation respectme warned that traditional forms of playground abuse are now “migrating”.

It also suggested that adult anxiety about the internet had been the “biggest hurdle” to overcoming cyberbullying, particularly among parents who do not themselves use social networking sites.

It was noted that one of the most distressing aspects about bullying in the virtual world is that, by encouraging others to share in the experience using social networks, the bully can compound their victim’s misery.

The Scottish Government has now asked respectme to carry out research into cyberbullying, saying the phenomenon should no longer be seen as something separate from the name-calling and violence which happens within the confines of the school gates. But you have to ask what took them so long. There have been warnings for years, including the high-profile and separate cases of Daniel Perry, 17, and Hannah Smith, 14, both of whom took their own lives after online bullying last year.

Daniel, from Dunfermline, is thought to have killed himself after falling victim to a scam where internet users are lured into webcam chats and then blackmailed with the footage.

The teenager was said to have believed he was talking to an American girl on Skype but was told by blackmailers that the conversations had been recorded and would be shared with friends and family unless he paid up. Hannah was said to have endured relentless bullying on question-and-answer website

While it is difficult for parents to keep tabs on their children online, and harder still for schools, that cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing.

In its submission to Holyrood’s education committee, the charity NSPCC called for cyberbullying to be a core component of the school curriculum, with particular focus put on the impacts of behaviour online.

Even for us non-natives, that would seem like a good place to start.