It was back to school this week, but for many youths, it was back to the playground of bullies: social media.
The suicide of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett shone a spotlight on cyber-bullying as an endemic and dark disease.
The 14-year-old took her own life when she succumbed to the poisonous postings harassing her online.
Through the networks of social media, bullies can now reach their target at any time, in any place.
It’s not as apparent as a physical threat to personal safety, but its danger is gradual, subtle, even fatal.
And it’s not just a danger for kids, but for all in our community subjected to toxicity in public forums.
Offensive and uninformed opinion is almost commonplace in online comments, used to attack and denigrate.
Words become weaponised, launched from a safe distance through an indifferent technological device, but they don’t always fly at the intended target in a way that we can track, intercept or fend off.
When we teach road safety to children, they come to understand that rules alone don’t keep them safe.
That is, even where there are speed limits and special crossings, we must look out for our own sake, as not everyone we meet will respect rule of law or have good common sense or even show others consideration.
Can we teach the same principles around cyber-bullying and social media? Yes, we can, and we must.
We each can self-educate about cyber-bullying, regardless of whether we have children in our care.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner (online at esafety.gov.au) has information and resources towards this knowledge-base, as well as portals to report offensive or illegal content and cyber-bullying complaints.
Children need to know boundaries for cyber-use, as both sender and receiver, and consequences of misuse.
They also need to know who they could ask for help, and how to take action: to screenshot, block and report.
The grown-ups among us need to know the same, and also undertake not to be part of the problem.
Where we disagree online, we can share opinion constructively and not sling insults and abuse.
Or we can just scroll on.
- Safer Internet Day is Tuesday, February 6. See esafety.gov.au