Education the solution to cyberbullying scourge
OPINION:Children must be taught that their online activities and behaviours carry concomitant responsibilities
THE TRAGIC recent deaths of teenagers Erin Gallagher and Ciara Pugsley has once again thrust the spotlight on the problem of bullying – or, more specifically, on its digital counterpart, cyberbullying.
According to a recent report by EU Kids Online, 6 per cent of 9- to 16-year-old internet users report having been bullied online, and 3 per cent confess to having bullied others.
Cyberbullying is one of a number of terms used to describe the misuse of information and communications technology (ICT) to harass, intimidate, pester and embarrass others.
Today, cyberbullies have a vast technological arsenal at their disposal including mobile phones, email, instant messaging, chatrooms, blogs, bulletin boards and social networking sites.
Cyberbullying differs from its schoolyard counterpart in a number of ways:
some online forums (such as ask.fm) permit users to operate under a cloak of anonymity, thus making cyberbullying a much more insidious form of bullying;
perpetrators are not subject to the constraints of time and place and, as a result, cyberbullying is a particularly ceaseless and intrusive form of bullying;
online forums allow users to act impulsively and instantaneously without pause for reflection and, as perpetrators need not be physically proximate to their victims, they may experience a level of detachment, lacking any real sense of accountability;
online forums offer cyberbullies the opportunity to reach a sizeable, potentially global, audience and to formulate electronic cliques of like-minded individuals with relative ease and expedience.
Amid calls for some form of legislative intervention in the wake of the deaths of Erin and Ciara, it is important to step back and take stock of the reality of the situation. The internet and associated technologies are so embedded in the lives of our children that education must take priority over legislation. The argument is not that the law has no role to play but rather that its role must be subordinate to that played by education.
Given that children are going online at ever younger ages and internet use is becoming increasingly more privatised, it is crucial that children are empowered, through education, to self-govern – to use online technologies in a safe and responsible manner. The emphasis must be placed on empowerment and responsible participation rather than on restriction or prohibition.
The importance of education, more specifically the importance of media literacy in this context, cannot be overemphasised. Media literacy involves strengthening children’s critical and expressive abilities through theoretical knowledge and practical experience. It is closely related to concepts of empowerment and participation, both of which are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as increasingly advocated at EU level in the media context.