Regional cyber-bullying victims 'trapped'
YOUNG people in small towns may be facing a more powerful brand of cyber-bullying than their metropolitan counterparts.
The vehicles of Facebook, Twitter and others carry taunts, threats and ridicule from the schoolyard, leaving victims to feel isolated or vulnerable even at home.
But as the abuse increases, those in smaller regional centres find themselves trapped - they may have little option for changing schools or even friendship groups unlike those in a larger city.
In the Central Queensland city of Mackay, like many regional areas, there is one major shopping centre - a magnet to bored young people.
The Youth Information Referral Service - or YIRS - is a drop-in centre for young people after advice, medical referrals and venue for them to escape different issues.
Service manager Astrid Steiner told APN up to 100 young people each week come and go from the centre.
The use of social media as a tool for abuse has become so widespread YIRS banned the sites from its computers.
It hopes to encourage teenagers to "do something more useful" online.
"On a daily basis you deal with it," she said.
"Someone said such and such about me on Facebook.
"They contacted me on Facebook and abused me.
"It's used as a big, bullying cyber space."
In larger areas, targets are encouraged to stay away from those keyboard tyrants but for the young and regional, it is harder to avoid enemies.
"There are not too many alternatives for young people to meet in a social aspect," Ms Steiner said.
"If they're young and disengaged, they may not be involved in sport - they may not have the money to join anything.
"It's hard for them to find something to do, there's not too much to do.
"They're often hanging out at Canelands (the major shopping precinct) - it's just a meeting point.
"You go to shopping centres and be bored together to pass the time."
And it was not just regional Queensland affected, Beyond Blue chief executive Kate Carnell said targets from smaller communities nation wide were reaching out to the support group.
"We've had a number of cases of people reporting to us from regional areas," she said.
"It can be almost worse because the group of friends can be smaller. There's not as much choice is smaller country areas."
And sometimes the Beyond Blue advice of turning off the computer and "unfriending" the bully does little.
"It's even more difficult when the social group-it may not be as easy to avoid cyber-bullying in a smaller environment.
"We've had young people who have stopped going to school, they just can't bear it."
With social media sites being so consistent, the same problems are emerging regardless of whether a user is on an isolated acreage or a waterfront apartment.
Both YIRS and Beyond Blue see the protection of the young as being reliant on education.
Australian children as young as 10 were becoming bullies, sometimes without realizing the dangers.
"The issue for us is making sure young people understand the real damage they can do," Ms Carnell said.
"Bullying causes stress, stress can cause depression and depression is one of the major causes of suicide.
"It is the major cause of death for young people, about double the number who die on our roads.
"It amounts to six Australian every day.
"We need to talk to our kids about cyberbullying and the extraordinary damage it can cause of those who are the victims."
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of self-harm, suicide or not coping, contact Lifeline 13 11 44, Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.
Bullying increasing in younger children
ARMED with powerful smart phones and savvy on tablets, children as young as 10 are becoming bullies online, targeting peers sometimes years before they even reach high school.
After years of playing with mum and dad's gadgets, these youngsters now likely have their own internet-capable phones, giving them responsibilities potentially beyond their years.
Beyond Blue chief executive Kate Carnell told APN while high schools were the traditional hotbeds for bullying online, the bad behavior was increasingly reaching younger children.
"High schools and increasingly primary schools would appear to be the worst," Ms Carnell said.
"We're starting to see it in primary schools with Year 6 and Year 5 students in that space."
She said many of these children saw the behavior as particularly "cool", and perhaps did not realize they themselves were bullying others.
Mr Carnell's views come on the heels of a survey from Optus which found just one in five parents had spoken to their children about cyber safety.
She said kids may see someone being ridiculed, attacked or threatened online and share it with others on Facebook, or if on Twitter they will retweet it.
"A lot of people are not initiators but they pass it on, and that makes you a bully," she said.
"I think it's important for parents to have serious discussions with young people about the usage of their mobile phones as smart phones become pretty pervasive even among young children.
"It wasn't that long ago that if young people had mobile phones, they could only make phone calls or send text messages."
When asked if it was time for parents to stop their children using this technology, Ms Carnell said she felt "the train has left the station" as more children used the gadgets as part of their early learning.
"We don't believe the majority of young people are cruel, they're not," she said.
"They're just thoughtless.
"It's up to us to talk to our kids about appropriate usage."
WHAT TO DO
If you, a friend or a child is being cyber-bullied, Youth Beyond Blue has steps you can take.
Tell someone: It's not your fault. Tell a friend, parent, school counsellor or teacher. Don't reply to bullying messages, it might make things worse.
Block them: It may be possible to block people from contacting you by phone, Facebook, Twitter etc. Talk to your phone provider about how.
Report it: Tell your school/university. Facebook and other sites have links to help you report abuse.
Keep the evidence: Keeping copies of texts, emails, online chats etc help track the bully down, particularly if they are hiding behind anonymity.
Change your contact details: Create new email accounts, usernames, passwords or phone numbers and give them only to trusted friends.
Don't share usernames/passwords.
If messages are serious or threatening, call the police: It is illegal and police may be able to act.
An officer's perspective
Detective Superintendent Brian Hay - head of Queensland's Fraud and Corporate Crime squad - likes to tell this story about social media.
Think about your social media profiles. Try this experiment.I want you to type up your profile, what you have on Facebook.
Include friends, relatives, your date-of-birth, age, suburb, who you work for, occupation, resume, life history, school you went to, family, friends, aunties and uncles.
Make 20 copies of that and print it.
Now take all your photographs.
Take all those and make 20 copies.
Include family members, loved-ones and friends.
Get 20 folders - put a copy of this dossier of your life and photos into each of the folders.
Now take them and stand outside your nearest prison and as rapists, paedophiles, murderers and burglers come out on parole, give them a folder.
If you're putting it on Facebook, you're doing that already because that's where they're looking for targets.
Data mining 'worrying'
THE information we put online will never disappear.
Every competition we enter, item or product we "like" on Facebook or "retweet" on Twitter is stored.
Dr Mark Andrejevic is the deputy director of the University of Queensland's Centre for Critical and Cultural.
This data mining has him worried..
This huge crop of information is being analysed for patterns, predictions and possibilities for marketing.
The patterns might not be obvious at first, but after looking at the habits of millions or billions of people, clues could emerge that hint at who we are.
Dr Andrejevic believes within five years, companies will have distilled enough information from enough people to make roughly accurate brush strokes about us.
What if Holden drivers were found to generally support one side of politics?
Or that people who like a certain type of music were better at paying back loans?
Even if inaccurate, it matters little.
"You as an individual, you would be treated as someone who shares characteristics - you are included or excluded," Dr Andrejevic said.
"There could be a similar correlation with the car you're driving and whether you're likely to default on a loan.
Your information could be put into the machine, potentially when applying for a job, home loan, health insurance or rent a house.
"You don't have any other explanation other than, 'The computer said no'."
Dr Andrejevic believed better detailed legislation was key to forcing information harvesters to tell us where our information goes.
"Once we see the way the data shapes those decisions, I think we'll be interested in influencing its use. And its abuse."