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

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh  

Scottish independence: Forget Yes and No — what about a United Kingdom of Independent States?

Ben Judah
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week