It’s a statistic sure to concern any parent: one in five Australian children aged eight to 15 has experienced cyberbullying.
Just as shocking is the fact that three-quarters of all Australian schools reported cyberbullying last year — with an average of 22 complaints every year in a secondary school.
That’s the equivalent of an entire classroom of bullied students per school.
The stark figures, revealed by online research commissioned by the Abbott government from a consortium led by UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, highlight the need for new measures to enhance online safety for children.
Which is just what the Abbott government is aiming to address with its new cyberbullying policy, as Paul Fletcher, parliamentary scretary to the Federal Minister for Communications, told Mamamia.
“The internet is a forum for human behaviour – and just as in the schoolyard most behaviour is positive but some involves bullying, we see similar patterns online,” Mr Fletcher said.
“Cyberbullying can be serious… and its consequences can be more far-reaching than bullying in the schoolyard. If you are bullied online, the humiliation is worse because you know lots of people can be watching online,” he said.
The research showed most cyberbullying takes place on social media — and, as Mr Fletcher points out, the fact social media platforms can be slow to remove hurtful or abusive posts can exacerbate its devastating consequences.
The difficulty of removing bullying content from Twitter, for example, was hotly debated following the suicide of Australian TV personality Charlotte Dawson, who had been heavily trolled on social media.
Following Dawson’s death, a Change.org petition calling for tougher anti-bullying laws received over 200,000 signatures.
“Of course social media can very much be a force for good – and it can help to create a sense of community and belonging. But when things go wrong as they sometimes will, today it can be hard to get help,” Mr Fletcher said.
“The Abbott government’s new policy promises to implement an effective complaints system, backed by legislation, to quickly remove cyberbullying material from social media sites,” he said.
Mr Fletcher also told Mamamia the government plans to establish a new role to boost online safety for children: a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner.
“One of the Commissioner’s jobs will be to work with industry to ensure that better safety options for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services, are available for parents,” he said.
He added that funds to set up that position — as well as a generous $7.5 million for schools to access online safety programmes and the certification of online safety programmes — was set aside in the May budget.
“The internet – and social media in particular – can make bullying behaviours more dangerous to victims,” Mr Fletcher said.
“This new research the government has just put out shows how important it is to take further steps to keep our children safe online,” he said.
“The Abbott government’s policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children is designed to deliver a better and more rapid response to these dangers.”
Are you worried about the dangers of cyberbullying? Would you welcome tougher laws to tackle this issue?