Bullies use iPods and networking sites to wage hi-tech campaigns

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The Independent Online

Playground bullies are deploying iPods and social networking sites such as MySpace and MSN Messenger to wage increasingly hi-tech campaigns against victims, according to new research.

Academics studying the growth in so-called cyber-bullying discovered that youngsters, particularly girls, who were twice as likely to be affected as boys, ruthlessly exploited every new technological gadget.

Victims reported feeling more lonely, having fewer friends and being less liked. Among the findings was a growing trend to circulate video clips of young people getting changed after PE sessions. The images are captured on mobile phones and passed onto classmates' video iPods. They are often accompanied by sound tracks of critical comments from laughing bullies. Others found images of their abuse on the MySpace and Bebo sites, although the researchers said operators were quick to remove offensive entries. There was also evidence that that the instant messaging service MSN Messenger was emerging as a hurtful new weapon.

The research, presented at the British Psychological Society conference in York, found that 16 per cent of children were victims of cyber-bullying - up by nearly a quarter since 2002.

While numbers appeared to have levelled off, partly as a result of increased media coverage, researchers said children were often ahead of them when it came to finding new ways to torment their victims.

According to Nathalie Noret, of York St John University, cyberbullying is now the second most prevalent form of bullying. "It seems that as soon as something new comes out - no matter how unlikely it might appear - bullies quickly learn how to use it," she said.

The study of 15,000 students at secondary schools in York found girls were much more likely to be cyberbullied. Twenty per cent were affected in 2006, compared to 10 per cent of boys.

Direct verbal bullying remained the most prevalent form among both genders, but Ms Noret said girls, who were encouraged to be less confrontational, were more likely to resort to "covert forms of aggression". Most bullying is among members of the same sex.

John Carr of the children's charity NCH said: "Before it was possible to go home and close the bedroom door but in an online environment it is 24/7. It means bullies can always get at you."

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