Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Internet or face to face - it's bullying

Incidences of online harassment are no different from face-to-face bullying, a Hawke's Bay principal warns.

"At least twice this year I've talked to the school at assembly about cyber bullying," Hastings Boys' High School headmaster Robert Sturch said.

"Anything that is said in that domain and reflects on our school will be dealt with as bullying. No different to anything else," Mr Sturch said.

Police are investigating two incidents of cyber bullying after videos of students fighting were posted on social media sites.

Students from at least three Hamilton schools were filmed in fights at a park on Monday afternoon. The footage, taken on a digital camera phone, showed girls and boys brawling and was posted on YouTube.

Further north, a video showing a 14-year-old Northland student being beaten up by classmates was posted on Facebook and YouTube.

The Ruawai College student was attacked in the school bathrooms while a group of students looked on and filmed.

Two students, 15 and 16, have been thrown out of the college and face charges in the Youth Court. Two younger students have been referred to Police Youth Aid.

Principal Stephen Fordyce said the criminal event happened in September and had caused great distress: "The police were informed immediately [after] we became aware of the seriousness of what had occurred."

Speaking yesterday, Mr Sturch stressed the importance of a safe school environment.

"If you've got a good relationship between the boy and the school and the boy and the teacher, then he's more likely to come forward and say, 'This [bullying] is happening'.

"And then we can get onto it," he said.

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said bullies used online videos to exert superiority.

"The bullying is about exerting power over another person.

"Posting a fight of where you win, or the other person is a victim, increases the power imbalance between you," Mr Cocker said. "It's a logical bullying system."

Young people often failed to understand the repercussions of bullying, Mr Cocker said.

In one of New Zealand's worst cases of cyber bullying, 15-year-old Wanganui schoolgirl Robin de Jong was filmed being chased down and assaulted by another student last year. Footage of her attacker punching and kicking her until she was unconscious was captured on another student's cellphone.

Rotorua teenager Hayley-Anne Fenton took her own life four years ago after receiving abusive text messages from her boyfriend's wife. The case sparked calls for change to social media regulation.

Coroner Wallace Bain found the overarching cause for Hayley-Anne's death was the "shocking bullying" texts she had received.

The Government is considering a proposed law to crack down on internet bullies. It includes the formation of a Communications Tribunal which would deal with online harassment cases. Offensive posts on Facebook and Twitter and hurtful text messages would become a new criminal offence.

The facts

  • At least one in five New Zealand high school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying.

  • Cyber bullying includes use of the internet, mobile phones or other technology to hurt, harass or embarrass another person.

  • Vodafone customers can use its Blacklist service to block certain people from messaging them.

  • If someone has threatened to hurt you physically, contact police.

  • Call 0508 NETSAFE for more information or go to www.netsafe.org.nz

- Additional reporting Kieran Campbell

- Hawkes Bay Today

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