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UK declares war on cyberbullies

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The government has published new guidelines to help parents and schools tackle the rise of cyber-bullying. Schools minister Jim Knight also said he would be working with industry to explore what more can be done by ISPs and telcos to help deal with the problem.

New research, published by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), has revealed that one in five pupils have been bullied over mobile phones or the internet. This form of bullying is particularly deleterious, the government said, because it can follow the victim home and into his or her private life.

The ABA research identified seven forms of cyberbullying: abusive text messages, emails and phone calls, bullying using photo messaging, bullying in internet chatrooms, social networking sites, and instant messaging.

It says girls are much more likely to be victims of cyberbullying than boys, especially by phone or text message. Presumably, boys are sticking with the traditional "punch-up-behind-the-bikeshed" technique that has served so many generations so well.

However, as many as a third of all victims are still not reporting their experiences, according to the ABA research.

Knight said: "No child should suffer the misery of bullying, online or offline, and we will support schools in tackling it in cyberspace with the same vigilance as in the playground. Every school should account for cyberbullying in their compulsory anti-bullying policies, and should take firm action where it occurs.

"Unlike other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can follow children and young people into their private spaces and outside school hours. This is why it is essential that parents and young people themselves should understand how to use technologies safely to protect themselves at home and outside school hours, as well as supporting their schools in dealing with incidents."

The government has set out its guidelines to help schools deal with this problem.

It recommends that schools include cyberbullying in their anti-bullying policies, making it clear what will not be tolerated and the consequences for those breaking the rules. Email use should be monitored, and restricted if necessary; parents should make sure they understand about safe chatroom use, parental control software, and so on.

The guidelines also recommend that kids ignore any abusive emails or text messages they get, but hang on to them in case they are needed as evidence.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates told the BBC that teachers as well as pupils can be victims of online harassment, adding: "In the last two years we have had cases of photographs of a teacher being superimposed on obscene images on the internet, a website established to run a hate campaign against a teacher, persistent offensive phone calls to a member of staff and emails being used for sexual and homophobic harassment of members."

Keates argues that schools should apply these guidelines to staff as well as to pupils. ®

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