Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Importance of Anti Bullying Week: Beat the Alt-Right Trump Cyberbullying Effect

November 2016 has been a rollercoaster, emotionally for me. Hillary Clinton's POTUS bid ended in disappointment, a man who openly puts his foot in his mouth when talking about individuals and their rights managed to win comfortably. One aspect of Trump's campaign strategy that really didn't sit well with me was Trump's constant need to snipe at minority communities, media commentators and political opponents. I don't need to do a rundown of all Trump's comments because they are pretty much out there on his Twitter account and those of his cult worshippers for all to see. The New York Times published an article which showed "the 282 People, Places and Things Donald Trump had Insulted" (26th October 2016) on Twitter alone.  I note a few just to jog our memories:
  • President Obama: "Looks and sounds so ridiculous", "living in a world of make-believe".
  • Hillary Clinton: "Crooked", "Zero natural talent", "Just can't read speeches."
  • Elizabeth Warren: "Goofy", "All talk, no action--maybe her Native American name?", "Pocahontas", "Phoney Native American".
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz: "Highly neurotic".
  • Glenn Beck: "A real nut job", "mental basket case", "Irrelevant."
  • Bernie Sanders: "Can't even defend his own microphone(???)", "Sell-Out."
  • Jeb Bush: "A basket case", "Sad sack", "Just got contact lenses and got rid of the glasses. He wants to look cool but it's far too late".
  • Ben Carson: "has never created a job in his life  (well, maybe a nurse)."
  • Ted Cruz: "LYIN' TED", "Puppet", "I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen".
  • Charles Lane: "A real dope".
  • Don Lemon: "As dumb as a rock".
  • Arianna Huffington: "Liberal clown", "Dummy".
  • Mark Halperin: "Sleepy Eyes".
  • Megyn Kelly: "Dopey", "So average in every way".
So after reading this list, do you think Trump fulfills the definition of a "bully"- someone "who uses superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force them to do something". I'd say so when the attacks have been sustained and pretty much unwarranted, especially against those who weren't even running against him for the Presidency and those media commentators whose job it is to keep Trump fully open and transparent with the American public such as Megyn Kelly. In my opinion Trump uses disgusting (and not particularly original) rhetoric to try and show that he is a "strong" man in order to instill fear into his dissenters so they will allow him to do whatever he wants. Is that someone who should be in a position which requires tact, grace, humility and compassion? What message does it send to our students that a bully can gain enough votes to get him into the most powerful political position in the world? Anti-Bullying Week (14th-18th November 2016) just happens to have fallen on the week after Trump's win in the US and thousands of tweeters have been sharing their experience of bullying at school, in the workplace and at home. In the light of Trump's win I want to explore one particular area of bullying further- that of cyberbullying.

The battle against bullying has gotten larger due to the creation of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, instant messaging services such as Skype, Snapchat or Kik, dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr and gaming sites.  According to the recent National Bullying Survey (August 2016), 56% of young people said they have seen peers being bullied online and 42%  felt unsafe online. The problem is that such bullying can occur 24/7 and messages can go viral, encouraging others to troll the person being targeted by the bully.
Examples of cyberbullying include:
  •  Harassment: Sending hateful/ humiliating comments about a person's looks on an Instagram post.
  • Denigration: Someone sends information about a person to others that is fake, damaging or untrue. The example of Austyn Crites, a Republican protestor at Donald Trump's rally in Reno, Nevada who got arrested because someone shouted that he had a gun was accused of being a paid Hillary protestor when in fact he only came to ask Trump a question about the economy. His FB was trolled by WikiLeaks and Trump supporters based on false information held in a WikiLeaks database.
  • Flaming: Someone uses deliberately explicit offensive language to trigger platform users into having an argument with them. These trolling bullies do this because they enjoy provoking reactions and making others feel distressed/targeted for no proper reason.
  • Impersonation: When someone creates a profile pretending to be someone else or hacks into someone's profile to cause them harm by posting explicit material to harm the person concerned or their followers or other social media platform users.
  • Trickery: Getting someone to reveal personal information/secrets in order to blackmail or humiliate them online and/or offline.
  • Cyberstalking: When someone repeatedly sends messages that include threats of harm, harassment, intimidation or that makes a person fear for their safety or the safety of others.
  • Grooming: This is where someone adds you as a "friend" to try and pressurise you into performing sexual acts for them. The threat is usually made to a child/teenager that embarrassing things will happen to them after the perpetrator "tells" their parents or that they will send any pictures you may have sent them to others without hesitation if the child/teenager doesn't comply with the perpetrator's request. Grooming is also an offence in the UK.
  • Sexting: Where a boyfriend or girlfriend sends sexual messages to a friend/boyfriend that may include naked images of themselves or others. Remember that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to take, send or redistribute pictures of anyone under the age of 18.
Generally speaking, in the UK, it is important to remember that anyone who makes threats towards you of any kind could be committing a criminal offence. It is actually against the law for people to make threats using the phone system and this includes the Internet. It can also be a criminal act as defined under the 1997 Harassment Act.
Perpetrators of Cyberbullying should therefore take note: if you choose to abuse someone online, you will be traced with little difficulty. Internet Service Providers take account of each person's internet activity and even if you create an anonymous email website using Gmail or Hotmail, your account can be traced.

There are things that a child/teenager or adult can do if they become a victim of cyberbullying in any of these forms:
  • Print out/ screenshot the threatening comments/pictures that have been sent to you to act as evidence that a crime has been committed.
  • Block any social media accounts that seem to have messages coming from the perpetrator or his supporters.
  • Confide in your parents if you are under 16 so they can come with you to make a formal complaint to the police.
  • If you are being bullied by email- remember to contact the host provider directly- e.g. abuse@Hotmail.com.
  • If you keep getting bullied on a gaming website, it might be time to take a break from the site whilst those involved are investigated and blocked from the website.
  • If you get friends trying to harass you into sharing sexual pictures/cam with them, and you are under 18, report them using the red button on The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre website. They will then pass details onto your local police force who will carry out an investigation into the groomer's activities.
As stats from the National Bullying Survey above have shown, there really are no innocent bystanders online. If you see someone being bullied on a gaming site, on Instagram or on FB, you can report the bullying on their behalf to the app provider or online site concerned using their report button. Twitter for example has now made it easier to report bullying and to deal with it to prevent it from carrying on. Equally more tweeters should encourage their friends and followers to use muting and block buttons at a first offence when a tweeter sends a death or rape threat, regardless of whether that person "was joking or not".

Here are some tips to follow to keep safe online:
  • Create unusual passwords for your social media accounts. The best passwords are those that use a mixture of lowercase, uppercase, symbols and numbers. It's generally not advisable to use your name, email address or birthdate in the password. Be careful to store passwords safely if you need to write them down for future reference and if you see someone looking over your shoulder whilst you are signing in, change that password straight away.
  • When you are using public computers, make sure you don't divulge any personal information and log off fully from the machine before you leave.
  • Think before you type. If you are in an angry mood with someone because of the way they have treated you, remember that sending nasty divisive comments or pictures back at them online won't help solve the problem. It is better to speak to a friend or parent than confront the bully online straight away, or you may end up becoming a cyberbully. Once you type a comment, it's pretty much out there unless your app has a delete capability. Even then your comments may have been saved/screenshotted and passed around to other users and before long it may become viral.
How to overcome Cyberbullying:
  • You are not the one to blame. Try and look at the situation from an impartial outsider's perspective: the perpetrator often has their own personal issues that they can't deal with, so they have taken out their frustrations out on you to try and build their own self-esteem levels. You're not excusing what they have done to you but you can start to heal when you realise you didn't motivate or provoke them into bully you deliberately.
  • Don't feel the need to bottle up your emotions; if you try and suppress feelings of disappointment, shame it may lead to you becoming depressed for a significant period of time. I remember when I was bullied at school for having a high-pitched voice it did make me feel unwanted. I often went upstairs and locked the toilet door and I cried for hours thinking that somehow I was never going to be accepted by my peers. I was lucky that I had sympathetic teachers to speak to and that my parents were willing to listen to me when I felt upset to help calm me down and stop me from making a negative choice. I had people who were willing to reach out and help me deal with my emotions but many are not so fortunate to have strong support network to fall back on. All I can say is be willing to express yourself and try and talk to your boss (if bullying is work based) personal tutor (if bullying is school based) or your grandparents/parents/siblings. They may be able to get you in touch with a therapist if the bullying has been sustained over a long period. If not, go and talk to your GP, who may be able to refer you to NHS Talking Therapy or contact the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy if you want to go to private provider.
  • Managing stress is important as you try and deal with the effects of any type of bullying. I took up drama lessons after school and wrote a short piece about bullying for my school newspaper. Believe it or not, it helped my friends and peers understand just how malicious comments about a person's voice could actually become. They realised that it didn't matter what my gender identity or sexuality happened to be because your vocal chords are something you have fairly limited control over. Knowing that I had changed mindsets in my own class environment made my stress levels reduce dramatically. I no longer feared going into school which was fantastic.
  • Using the knowledge and skills that you gained whilst tackling your own bullying to help others is an amazing feeling. I've been involved with Just Lincolnshire (my local Equality Rights organisation) and GenderFreeDV (helping support survivors of Domestic Violence and Abuse regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, disability, race, religion or ideological preferences) and I'm proud to back other charities that focus on addressing LGBTQIA bullying in schools such as Diversity Role Models, Stonewall and the fantastic #IAmBeingMe campaign that launched today. Social media can certainly help you to get your story across to tweeters (but be mindful of cyberbullying-please see below:) and connecting with varying organisations to help question stereotypes perpetrated by far left and alt-right ideologies is needed more than ever these days. If you have the courage to speak out, you can make a real difference and alter mindsets which can lead to genuine social and political change.
What to do if your child/teenager/partner/parent is a victim of Cyberbullying:
  • Reinforce the fact that no-one deserves to be treated in a vicious way online and that they have done nothing wrong.
  • Help is out there-whether it is through an Anti-Bullying organisation, school teacher, HR manager, the Police or social media Help teams.
  • Remind them to take screen shots of the abuse if possible and encourage them to use any block/mute capacity on the websites to prevent the abuse from carrying on.
  • If your child/teenager is having suicidal thoughts as a result of cyberbullying, seek advice from your GP or get in touch with mental health charities such as Young Minds UK. If they have been self-harming, get in touch with Harmless or The National Self Harm Network Forum.
  • Most importantly, praise children/teens for being brave enough to deal with the cyberbullying and tell them that the experience should empower them to take responsibility to prevent themselves falling victim to cyberbullying again.
Cyberbullying isn't a joke. Words can wound others if posted intentionally to cause distress. Nobody should stand for seeing death threats, rape threats, stalking or grooming online. As online users
ourselves it is imperative that we make ourselves aware of the types of Cyberbullying currently being carried out and the steps that we can take as individuals to prevent Cyberbullying from becoming a blight in our own lives and those that we care about. We need to be positive role models- or as AntiBullyingUK has framework hashtagged it - we need use our #PowerForGood. If we think twice about replying to trolls and fuelling their egos further, we can send a message to our followers that Cyberbullying is unacceptable. Nobody is saying that anyone should be above criticism online and that being able to give our opinions on topics is healthy. It's how we make those arguments that matters. Notwithstanding Trumpian twitter battles, I think we can all agree that being nicer to one another online could help aid discussion between different politically ideological groups and that could help reduce the volume of slurs and insults to an extent. If we can teach children/teens/new internet users that sending death threats, rape threats, slurs, threatening pictures is wrong, I believe we can change the atmosphere on Twitter, FB, gaming sites et al. As for grooming, impersonation and stalking, we can only remind people that such activities are illegal and that we will empower those who may be potential victims of those activities to take steps to prevent them from happening. Paedophiles will not get to lure their victims as more awareness of Cyberbullying develops thanks to Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in schools. Blackmailers will lose their power to intimidate and bully when reporting mechanisms get faster and more accurate. We may not be able to eliminate Cyberbullying in its entirety but we will reduce it dramatically when we all work together as decent, compassionate human beings to #ReclaimTheInternet from the haters once and for all.