Bullying has left the playground and joined the currency of adult life but Twitter is an insult too far

Shocking reaction of grown-ups on Twitter to a teenage girl whose behaviour at school is charted in a fly-on-the-wall documentary

Share

For those of us who found school to be a less than jolly experience, Channel 4’s new series Educating Yorkshire has sometimes made for painful viewing. The cameras followed the children and teachers at Thornhill Community Academy near Dewsbury for seven weeks in 2012, and last week the second of four episodes was screened. “Groups, cliques, tribes,” said the blurb; “call them what you like, they have always been at the centre of school life.”

Thursday’s episode focused on two groups: the cool girls and the geeks. The cool girls admitted that they “tease” the geeks and call them names. The geeks said they didn’t know what they had done to deserve such abuse. So far, so typical – of school life, and, apparently, of exploitative reality TV.

The programme focused on two incidents in which a “geek”, Jac-Henry, lashed out physically after being “teased” by a girl called Georgia. The programme is fascinating in the way that it continually challenges viewers’ ideas of victim and villain – as it should, since, at age 15 or 16, nobody is a villain. Jac-Henry used violence, and accepted his punishment from the firm-but-fair head teacher Mr Mitchell. On the first occasion, Georgia was not punished.

At least, not by the school. On Twitter on Thursday night, viewers decided to do the job. “That Georgia” started trending, with hundreds of adults using her full name to abuse her looks, her character and more. A Twitter account that appeared to be Georgia’s returned insults, blocked a few accounts and eventually, showing more wisdom than her tormentors, asked what they thought they were doing calling her a bully.

When I was 16, I too knew a bully, and there were days when I would have happily traded my education and future to see her humiliated. But I am not 16, and the sight of adults handing out such abuse to a child is horrific. One man, whose tweet I will paraphrase on the grounds of taste, called Georgia a “flipping little scumbag”, and continued: “I’d love to volley your flipping punt in with a size 12 steeley on. Bully. Punt.”

Had Channel 4 hung the children out to dry? Absolutely not, I discovered – though obviously the same cannot be said of Twitter. “We cannot control social media reaction but we take our duty of care to the students incredibly seriously,” said a Channel 4 spokeswoman.”

In fact, the production company worked with the school, community, parents and children for months before consent was given. “We are working closely with an independent chartered child psychologist who met the students before filming and is viewing the final programmes before they are broadcast.”

All the children were given advice about social media, privacy settings and how best to react to criticism – or not react. In fact, on Friday, Georgia “was prepared for the reaction, she knew what to expect so is feeling okay with it all.” To be fair, she seemed it. (If the Twitter account really is hers.)

Was Georgia a bully? It looks that way, and obviously that touches nerves. “That sort of story’s always going to be a bit Marmite,” Mr Mitchell told me on Friday evening, “because everybody knows somebody who was a bully and everybody knows somebody who was bullied.”

His zero tolerance of bullying is made clear in the series. “In that particular programme it may have come across that bullying hadn’t been punished but that wasn’t the case,” he explained. “It was a reasonably accurate portrayal. Nothing major was left out, it was just that some of the beef behind it couldn’t be included ....

“In retrospect, had I known exactly what went on, Georgia would in all likelihood have been punished too.” She had been punished for bullying before, and Jac-Henry had received encouragement and support.

Have children of the Twitter age evolved to have thicker skins? It’s hard to judge when you’re my or Mr Mitchell’s age and you assume that bullying got left behind at school. It’s not Channel 4’s fault, or Georgia’s or Jac-Henry’s, but sadly the response to Educating Yorkshire suggests that we now accept bullying as part of life. Georgia and Jac-Henry will be fine: they seem already to have understood that a happy life is the best revenge. But for their sake, I’m sorry that not everybody can be sent to stand outside the head’s office until they learn how to behave. School is hard enough; Twitter is an insult too far.

twitter.com/@katyguest36912

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A doctor injects a patient with Botox at a cosmetic treatment center  

Why do women opt for cosmetic surgery when there is such beauty in age?

Howard Jacobson
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape