Bullying is perhaps one of the oldest and most unpleasant human traits. With the rise of the internet we have moved from the playground and office bully, who is easy to identify, to the more anonymous cyber bully.
Sadly cyber bullying is something that is on the rise and schools and the workplace are still attempting to establish means to identify this and handle it appropriately.
Over the last year I have been working closely with several schools across the UK to raise awareness of the issue of cyber bullying and to establish policies and best practice to handle this appropriately and considerately.
One thing that is abundantly clear is that bullying is on the rise and the anonymity offered to bullies by the internet exasperates the problem.
When you don't know the name of your tormentor the life of the bullied individual can appear to have no solution. No longer is the parent's advice of striking back at the bully by hitting them first a valid option.
You don't even have the option of ignoring the bully or taking steps to avoid contact with them as they are able, thanks to the internet, to follow you wherever you go, posting on your Facebook, Bebo or MySpace page etc.
For a bullied individual the resultant loss of self-confidence and the desire to avoid social interaction can have a devastating effect.
With the rise of the cyber bully, retreating into the bedroom and immersing oneself in the online world is not an option if wherever you go you are followed and the bullying continues.
The feeling of desperation rises and sadly many young people resort to extreme measures of self-harming and even suicide.
This is something that none of us can ignore and something that if we operate any type of web site with a measure of social and user interaction have a duty and responsibility to address.
The first and most obvious step is to place prominent "report this" buttons on the site.
But that is not enough!
It is not enough to allow people to report an incident we must take all reports seriously and take steps to address the issue promptly. This is something that Facebook does incredibly well and in my experience have reacted to reports of cyber bullying within minutes or hours, often with a follow-up later to ensure that the issue has been addressed appropriately.
The second and perhaps less obvious step is to provide access to agencies who have the specialised skills to counsel and advice the individual suffering at the hands of the bully. (Counselling is not something that anyone can or should offer but it is definitely best left to the experts.)
Whilst researching this topic recently, I came across three excellent UK resources.
- BullyingUK - a Charity offering help and advice for both victims of bullying and their parents and school.
- Cyber BullyingUK - a site dedicated to offering advice to help young people resolve cyber bullying.
- CyberMentors - CyberMentors is all about young people helping and supporting each other online. If you're being bullied, or are feeling a bit low, or are maybe troubled by something and you're not sure what to do or who to talk to, then CyberMentors is where you can go for help.
All three of the above sites just happen to be powered by joomla. Something that brings a smile to my face despite the unpleasantness of the subject.
It's great when we see large corporates using joomla but it's even better when we can see the Joomla system being used in a positive way to improve the quality of an individuals life and the world around us.