Teenagers posting anonymous slanderous comments on Facebook are being warned of serious consequences for bullying behaviour on the internet.
Offending pages have been pulled down by Facebook after a group of Gisborne mums banded together over the past two days, horrified at the contents of two particularly "nasty'' pages.
But not before many Gisborne teenagers were named and insulted anonymously.
In the 24-hour period yesterday, before one of the pages was pulled down, there were more than 150 status updates that contained defamatory comments putting down particular teenagers, many of a sexual nature.
The page said it would post whatever people heard about other people, and "we will not tell who you are''.
New Zealand social media commentator and columnist David Slack said high visibility of a situation like this was desirable.
"You want it to work as a deterrent and make it apparent that this type of action does have consequences.''
Mr Slack said the best thing in a small community like Gisborne was to get the police involved and let teenagers know there were consequences for their actions.
"Police attention is all you need for kids to pull into line.''
One mother contacted The Herald to get help.
The page was sharing made-up lies and the names were easily recognisable as Gisborne teenagers, she said.
"These pages are nasty and are what can cause teen suicides. Some of the stuff on there was shocking, even threats made to kids by other kids, just horrible.''
Emails from a mother have been sent to all the high schools and a complaint was laid with the police.
Gisborne police sergeant and youth services co-ordinator Craig Smith said police took this form of social media bullying seriously.
"The effect on the victims of this bullying can be extreme, especially on young people who are more vulnerable. The public needs to be aware it is possible to trace the origins of these comments.''
Sgt Smith said it would be interesting to know whether Facebook could implement further consequences other than closing down the page, such as preventing the culprits from gaining access to their site for a period of time or something similar.
Speaking from Auckland this morning, Mr Slack said ideally kids would not do this in the first place.
"But it is abundantly clear they will do this stuff when they see the opportunity. The best you can do is make sure they're warned off as soundly, clearly, quickly and effectively as you can manage."
"Kids get a more realistic perspective when they realise the real world is paying attention."
"The thing about Facebook is that it has this disconnection from reality that makes kids think they can do anything at all."
"Teenagers don't think they will face consequences for their actions, so the sooner you make them realise they will, the sooner you can diminish the harm.''
Mr Slack said it was a good time for the community to express outrage and let the teenagers know what they were doing was contemptible.
"There is nothing brave or especially clever about it either."
"As long as you can ensure that consequences are visited on the kids who are doing it, the last thing you want is the community to appear unwilling to crack down on them."
"But my guess would be that all adults who are aware of this would be outraged.''
Various pages have been blocked and reported by parents, but the user would restart another page under a different name and continue.
Another Gisborne mother said she doubted whether many of the hurtful comments were true but said there was so much bullying going around and it could really mess up a person's life.
"It can lead to suicide, which is a real issue. It was really nasty stuff.''
She became aware of the page through a friend's post on Facebook, warning of the page and its contents.
"I emailed the schools directly and I also went on to the police website. I went to the netsafe site and put in a complaint there as well.''
The mum said she received an email back from one of the schools, thanking her for making them aware of the situation and saying they would liaise with police.
"I went on the page last night and I have actually seen that they are naming the people who are making these comments now - but that's just made the whole things even worse. It was anonymous before.''
The page to which she refers has now been shut down by Facebook.
What You can do
Facebook released its Stop Bullying: Speak Up app designed to help prevent bullying among children and young adults, and has a no-bullying policy _ so don't hesitate to complain. Meanwhile, there is a range of resources closer to home to help people deal with physical or cyber bullying, including:
Inmyday.org.nz, where parents can learn about what their kids are up to on-line.
Mylgp.org.nz, which has information on everything from girls' behaviour on facebook to how small children see the worldwide web.
NZ Police have their own site, nobully.org.nz along with the 0800 NO BULLY is a 24-hour free information line. The NZ Police Law-Related Education Programme also has the Kia Kaha resource kit about bullying, designed for students, teachers, parents, and caregivers.
Young people who want support to deal with bullying or other issues can also talk with:
Youthline - Their helpline is 0800 37 66 33 or you can freetext 234.
What's Up - Their free helpline 0800 WHATSUP (0800 942 87 87) operates from noon to midnight.
Lifeline - They provide a 24/7 phone counselling service on 0800 543 354.
- The Gisborne Herald