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Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Technology gives bullies power to multiply pain

Cellphone footage shows a brutal attack on a Wanganui Girls' College student in March last year. Photo / Supplied
Cellphone footage shows a brutal attack on a Wanganui Girls' College student in March last year. Photo / Supplied

The rise of social media has changed the bullying landscape, giving a bigger and at times more frightening platform for bullies.

Where a victim once might cop a punch in the playground and only two people would see it, the same event can now be captured on a cellphone and posted online for hundreds around the world to view.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, in the past, Bebo have inadvertently become tools for those wanting to victimise others.

And there have been many cases in which a person has been attacked through social networking sites.

Video and cellphone technology have also been used to torment via text messaging and videos of attacks posted on the internet.

A case that made headlines last year was the vicious attack on 15-year-old Wanganui schoolgirl Robin de Jong.

The video shows Robin screaming as another schoolgirl punches and kicks her in the head and all over her body.

The recording is understood to have circulated among students at schools in Wanganui.

The internet safety group NetSafe has been heavily involved in computer security, consumer protection and working to stamp out cyberbullying since it was established in 1998.

Executive director Martin Cocker said aspects of cyberbullying made it worse than "normal bullying", in that every time a video of an attack was played, for example, the victim was re-victimised all over again.

"Technology can turn it into a repetitive harassment when people post videos or repost messages."

Join Martin Cocker for a live chat today from 12pm on nzherald.co.nz.

NetSafe continues to receive hundreds of calls from parents and children affected by cyberbullying each year.

"What we're seeing is that cyberbullying increases as technology-usage increases. Bebo has come and gone and now it's Facebook."

One thing becoming more evident with today's bullies was their increased knowledge of technology and how to use it in a way that hurt others.

"There's just a whole churn of bullying cases, [but] we get more unusual ones if the bully has higher technical knowledge.

"Some of the interesting cases stem from people who are using that additional technical information ... they strike harder," Mr Cocker said.

An example was the creation of fake profile pages on social networking sites. Bullies were making them appear genuine, copying photos of their victim and tracking down private information to post on the internet.

Long-time Rosehill College guidance counsellor Bill Hubbard, now a deputy principal, says it is increasingly rare that social media is not part of any dispute between students that reaches his door.

"Social media tends to be more predominantly used by girls than by boys, and so often if you have a couple of girls having a standoff in the school, and you sit them down and ask, 'When did this begin?', so often these days you will have one girl say, 'She said this about me, or my boyfriend, on Facebook.'

"With boys, it's something there, and it might be indirectly. In other words, they are defending the valour of a girl who was slandered on Facebook by another girl."

Mr Cocker said that bullying and harassment had become very much a part of young people's lives today.

But it was the way they and their parents reacted that determined how they would be affected.

"The key thing with cyberbullying is that there are tools available. When you get bullied online or bullied by text, ask for help and be active about it."

- NZ Herald

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