Playground bullies are known to back off when someone takes a stand against their behaviour.

One Kiwi Facebook user recently demonstrated that similar results can be achieved in the world of social media.

Dunedin caregiver, Ben Keene was fed up with seeing unfunny "memes" or shared images intended to poke fun by using photos of real people whose looks do not fit with conventional norms of attractiveness.

Facebook users were invited to "tag" or name their friends in the images to make it look as if they had romantic involvement with a person in one of the photos.

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Ben posted a "rant" on his Facebook page using hard hitting language, a touch of profanity and a fair amount of witticism to object to the practice.

"Let's get this out of the way first," he wrote "if you tag, share or like posts like these ones you are a ****.

"Each one of these pictures is actually shaming the person in the picture, not the person you tag in it.

"Now I know that not everybody is born funny.

"You're either funny or you're not.

"But if you're not, then just leave it, find something else you're good at.

"Learn to knit, or bake or use Microsoft Excel or some sh*t like that."

He went on to point out that New Zealand has one the highest youth suicide rates in the world and online bullying contributes to these statistics.

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"You may not be able to learn how to be funny, but learning compassion is pretty easy," he concluded.

His post struck a chord with thousands of Facebook users and at the time of writing it has been shared 42,706 times and liked by 47,000 people.

"I am pretty overwhelmed by the response," says Ben on the phone from Dunedin.

"I posted it because I knew that some of the people who were tagging their friends in those posts were parents and I asked how they would feel if a photo of their child or loved one were to be used like that."

Responses to Ben's post have come from all over the world and it has even come to the attention of one of the people whose photo had been used in the memes.

American Lizzie Velasquez suffers from a rare syndrome which prevents her from gaining weight and has led to her losing the sight in one eye.

Ms Velasquez, whose life has been the subject of a documentary, has received numerous hateful messages online and she has hit back by becoming a motivational speaker and author.

Alaska Dobbs, health promoter with Nga Tai O Te Awa in Whanganui, says Ben Keene's powerful post is an example of how it is possible to deal with bullies online.

"Trying to eliminate online bullying is probably futile and a more effective approach is to encourage young people to be resilient and strong within themselves," she says.

"The trouble is that a lot of movies have that humour that is about making fun of people and the behaviour is portrayed as normal."

With school holidays underway, young people are likely to be spending more time online and Alaska says it is a good idea to encourage outdoor activities and face-to-face interaction but to be vigilant when children are using social media.

She suggests that rather than intruding on their social interactions, parents can:
●Let children know they can come to you if they feel they are being bullied.
●Monitor any changes in their behaviour while they are online.
●Notice if they stop socialising with certain people.
●Discuss their feelings about friends and ask why they might be disassociating with someone.

Young people are often embarrassed to tell their parents if they are being bullied says Alaska, so it is important to keep the communication open and let them know they can be open about it.

There is also help online - Netsafe was formed when the growing influence of technology was noticed by Non - Government Agencies, New Zealand Police and Ministry of Education staff.

An internet safety group was formed with telecommunications and Information Technology industry partners to create an independent body focussed on online safety.

On November 21 this year, Netsafe launched a new, free service to help combat online bullying, abuse and harassment.

The service has helped nearly 50 people each week in its first month and Netsafe chief executive, Martin Cocker says he is not surprised by the number of cases and suspects that only a fraction of incidents are being reported to them.

What may be surprising is that over 75 per cent of the complaints involved people over 18 years of age, busting the myth that online bullying and abuse is a problem only associated with young people.

"We encourage anybody experiencing online bullying or abuse to contact Netsafe to discuss their options," says Mr Cocker.

"They have no obligation to progress a complaint and all discussions are entirely confidential."

To find out more about the service, visit www.netsafe.org.nz or call 0508 NETSAFE.