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


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.


React Now

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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn