Bullying is a serious global issue. Statistics reveal that 1.5 million young people in the UK have been bullied within the past year and two out of 10 of those were bullied every day.
To propel Anti-Bullying Week in England into the limelight (it started on Monday and finishes today), and in an effort to further raise awareness, international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label has published the findings of its major study into cyber-bullying and hate speech online.
The study has evaluated 19 million tweets from the US and the UK over a four-year period. The aim is to better understand the reasons behind cyber-bullying and other forms of bullying online.
As part of the feature, we got in touch with two people (Matthew and Ella), who have been deeply affected by bullying in their lives, to get an insight into the endemic problems that can arise.
Matthew was a victim of homophobic abuse while in secondary school, both verbally and online through Facebook and MSN Instant Messenger. Interestingly, he also tells us that he was also once the bully himself as well.
He described to us how it all happened:
"I was always targeted verbally, called names and pulled to the floor. It was just really embarrassing... I just remember not wanting to be there [at school] and really anxious all the time."
"On Facebook, people were commenting on my pictures and calling me a queer. It was just like a massive embarrassment for me. It gave me a lot of anxiety, so I never wanted to post pictures that I thought would provoke anyone saying something."
He also talked about an incident where his then boyriend tried to expose his sexuality to his family:
"I was 16 and I had this boyfriend but it was all under wraps. He used to always threaten me and ask me to meet him or he'd tell everyone that I was gay. I was out with my mum shopping once and he asked me to meet him but I obviously couldn't. He put the phone down on me, called my mum and then rang me back and said 'I've told your mum you're gay'. I remember that moment well."
The boyfriend at the time also threatened to tell everyone at his school, too. Matthew vehemently denied being homosexual to his family after the phone call.
However, he also admitted to sometimes bullying other people as what he described as a coping mechanism to his abuse at school and on the Internet. He said he bullied others as a way of boosting his own status and directing the negative attention away from himself.
He regrets this decision now, stating:
"It's not something I was proud of, because to this day I regret sinking to that level. I'm not the kind of person to do anything like that. It's just at the time that was how I coped with it."
Matthew has since come out to his family in his own time and is thankful to the group of friends he has that helped him do this.
To those out there who might be victims of bullying or homophobia, Matthew offered the advice to speak out, either to friends, family or members of staff at schools. It's important to know there are always people looking out for you and they can help you get through it.
He also suggested that schools should do more to bring more awareness and a positive reception to the presence of homosexual and transgender pupils in classrooms across the UK:
"There's seven billion people in the world now... we're all so different. Schools really need to target change more and just really talk about how different people can be... we're in 2016."
Ella was another victim of bullying who was kind enough to speak to us about her experiences. She was also subjected to verbal and cyber-bullying abuse from as young as eight years old. Another girl in her primary school singled her out and would publicly make fun of her in front of others.
In secondary school, Ella suffered online abuse from girls who were initially within her own friendship group. Statuses labelling her and two other friends as "immature cows" went viral around her year group.
Ella said: "I was dreading going to school the next day because I didn't really have that many friends and we were just being attacked by these people."
She described how the girls would spread rumours and pressure others into calling them names. They weren't the only people targeted. She explained that when the bullies joined her dance school they would laugh and make comments on other girls 'weights. She subsequently left in order to avoid the abuse.
Ella chose to go to a different college rather than stay on at the same 6th form. There things improved and, now at university, Ella claims to be a much stronger person for it. She still struggles with anxiety when talking to new people. But she surrounds herself with much a more positive group of friends and the new school helped her to realise that those who choose to bully others are a tiny minority.
She explained how she talked to her family a lot and looked up to her older sister as somebody who inspired her to be strong during this difficult time. She believes that conversing with others about her issues helped a lot.
She also thought that schools would benefit from a greater focus on the impact of bullying. She described how days dedicated to anti-bullying at school were never really taken seriously by students and more could definitely be done, especially for those who feel like they have nobody to reach out to.
And this is where the findings from Ditch the Label come in handy to gauge the extent of bullying in the UK and further afield.
The research into cyber-bullying is a follow up study to Ditch the Label's Annual Bullying Survey 2016. This was the first major research project aided by cooperation with schools and colleges across the UK as to why young people choose to bully others.
Ditch the Label Founder, Liam Hackett, is extremely enthusiastic about the great work his charity is doing and had this to say in regard to bullying, both in schools and online:
"There is often a belief that bullying is 'just part of growing up', but it isn't. Our research consistently finds that bullying can and does have devastating effects upon physical and mental health, behaviour, social lives and grade potential. In fact, one in 10 attempted suicides are as a result of bullying, 41 percent of victims felt socially anxious and 15 percent developed an eating disorder. Those who have been bullied are also more likely to go on and bully others. It is important to never underestimate the impact that bullying can have."
Credit: Liam Hackett @diageoliam
Some of the key findings from the study into cyber bullying can be seen below:
- Politics is the topic most likely to receive bullying remarks, followed by topics related to sport and food.
- Racist language was the most common form of hate speech on Twitter. Of the 19 million tweets analysed, over 7.7m tweets featured racially insensitive language. Men sent 59 percent of these.
- Tweets about masculinity, homophobia and transphobia also featured largely.
- The majority of insults on Twitter related to intelligence (33 percent) and appearance (20 percent) with sexual orientation, religion and gender also used as hate speech.
- Female trolls tended to use insults relating to intelligence, appearance, and derogatory animal terms, while males were more likely to use homophobic insults.
- Responding to people who troll escalates the conflict. Research found that responding to bullying tweets made things worse in 44 percent of cases, compared with only three percent leading to positive outcomes.
The full report is available here.
Young people who have been impacted by bullying can get support directly from Ditch the Label via its website:
Featured Image Credit: Ditch the Label