We can't beat bullying with more bullying

Online kangaroo courts are ruining lives

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The Independent Online

When it comes to bullying, we’re told to lead by example. But just this week a vitriolic witch-hunt against a 16-year-old girl has proved that we’re not setting a particularly good one ourselves.

The girl – who cannot be named due to her age – was accused of bullying two 14-year old schoolgirls in a video that went viral.

The footage depicts a clash between two groups of teenagers in Northfield, near Birmingham, last Saturday. The accused is seen telling the two girls to “get on your knees and say sorry” for giving her a “dirty look”, before punching them and emptying their bags onto the floor.

The humiliating ordeal makes for uncomfortable viewing, although the video was seen over 7 million times on Facebook before the police requested that users remove it. What was more uncomfortable, however, was the vitriolic hounding of the alleged ‘bully’ following its release.

Forget uncomfortable. What I mean is disgusting, gross, inexcusable. A cyber lynch mob got a whiff of blood and went after it with gusto. A stream of commenters, largely adult, flooded social media. They wanted justice and closure for the alleged victims. Most of all they just wanted to hate.

The girl’s identity was uncovered through social media and released online along with her phone number. Facebook groups were set-up calling for ‘karma’ to be served. Insults were hurled at the girl for her appearance. There were a number of physical threats and some even asked for her to ‘kill herself’.

The tirade became so bad that she had to be taken into police custody for safety and her phone was destroyed due to the number of death threats she was receiving. Later, she was forced to flee her home with her mother when an angry gang of vandals descended.

“A bunch of adults turned up and started spraying graffiti,” one eyewitness told The Sun after the words ‘scum’ and ’bully’ were left on her door. We’re talking about grown humans, intimidating a girl barely more than a child. Forget eye-for-an–eye, this kangaroo court were after a whole head.

I was bullied as a teenager and it can ruin people’s lives. According to charity Ditch the Label, as many as 43% of young people in the UK are thought to have suffered bullying of some kind and it has recently been linked to depression in adulthood. So why on earth did this army of supposed morality enforcers decide the answer to bullying was an even more extreme form of bullying?

Internet vigilantism and high-profile online hate campaigns have become so commonplace that the equivalent of three people a day were convicted of trolling in the UK last year. This was just the latest in a long line of recent hate campaigns that started online.

We’ve seen Reddit’s interim chief executive,Ellen Pao hounded from her job by trolls. Beauty blogger Em Ford was branded “disgusting” for daring to show her naked, blemished skin online. Don’t even get me started on both corners of the Katie Hopkins debate. It’s normal now, sort of acceptable in some circles, even, to bay for blood at anything we don’t like online. We’re legion, and our anger is magnified many, many times. 

Yet what a confusing message we’re sending out to youngsters. The teen in the Northfield video broke the law, and she was dealt with accordingly. She pleaded guilty to assault and robbery at Birmingham Youth Court, but is yet to be sentenced. Although she claims no memory of the event due to drink, she was said to be “disgusted” by her actions when shown the video. Bullying is wrong, wrong, wrong. Unabashed group hatred from a distance, however? Why not.

Teens bully – it’s not right, but it happens and we work towards putting it right. Adults, however, we’re supposed to know better. Lest she who is without sin write the first tweet, as some feller once almost said. Especially when we’re talking about teenagers.

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