Rise and rise of cyber bullying

TRADITIONAL schoolyard bullying is being outdated by cyber harassment on social networking sites, a phenomenon the community is tackling head-on.

The Northern Star obtained Department of Education incident reports from NSW schools in terms two and three last year - under access to information laws - which revealed threats and/or intimidation on social networking sites were at the root of many violent incidents.

Contrary to perceptions of bullying only being addressed when it blows up in the schoolyard, this type of harassment is dealt with regardless of whether it happens on school grounds.

In May last year police were called to a school on the Northern Rivers after the school found a student posted videos threatening staff on a social networking site. In the video, he said his school should be destroyed. He was later found with a portable hard drive containing inappropriate material.

Further afield, a Year 9 girl in Sydney was suspended after assaulting another student. The feud was sparked by comments made on a social networking site.

In response to the growth of social networking, the Education Department has implemented cyber bullying policies and advisories, including one requiring all schools to have an anti-bullying plan.

"...(Our) advice includes warnings about the dangers of sexting, including its criminal aspects and schools work closely with police in this and in other welfare matters," a department spokesman said.

"The department is aware that as the use of social networking increases so does the potential for its misuse."

Southern Cross University Associate Professor of Psychology Rick van der Zwan said the community had become more aware of the impacts of cyber bullying.

"People are choosing other mediums (to bully) and social networks represent a real opportunity for that. And the thing is, it does not finish at school; it follows you home and into your bedroom," he said.

"Usually we can predict where the bullies will have access and that does give us some control, but the problem with cyber bullying is that the internet is a fact in our everyday lives; it's very easy to be accessed all the time." 

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