More than one in ten 11-16 year-olds in the EU say they have been bullied online. A majority of those affected by bullying (55%) said that it caused them to become depressed, and more than one in three said they self-harmed – and even considered suicide – as a result.
Bullying has always existed in one form or another, but anonymous bullying online is becoming increasingly common. It’s not just celebrities experiencing harassing messages and the threat of having their private photos and details published.
As part of our Debating Europe Schools series, we’ve been taking questions from students from across Europe to policy-makers and experts for them to answer. For today’s debate, we had two questions sent in from students from the Lycée Montchapet in Dijon, France.
Curious to know more about the problem of cyberbullying in Europe? We’ve put together some facts and figures about online bullying and European young people in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
The first student question was very straightforward: Should cyber bullying be considered a criminal offence and punished as such?
To get a reaction, we took this question to Seán Kelly, an Irish Fine Gael MEP who sits with the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament. How would he respond?
I think it is certainly a major offence, and if it is not dealt with sufficiently strongly then there is a danger the perpetrators will continue their bullying. I think that if the punishment is strong enough then people will think twice about doing something. Whereas if there is no penalty at all, or a very weak penalty, then people won’t stop to think.
Cyberbullying is something that has obviously developed massively over recent times, particularly because of the growth of social media, and it is doing huge damage, especially to young people. It has lead to people suffering severe depression and in some cases even suicide. That certainly is strong enough a reason for me to say that extreme forms of cyberbullying, and particularly sustained and continuous cyberbullying over a period of time, should be criminalised and a penalty should be laid down for it.
We also spoke to Dan Raisbeck, co-founder of the Cybersmile Foundation, an international charity that provides support to the victims of cyberbullying. He argued that such an approach may be in danger of criminalising children who have behavioral problems, and that bullies can often themselves be the victims of abuse at home or elsewhere.
The second question asked what happens when it is children (and potentially young children) carrying out the bullying. Rather than criminal sanctions, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to for parents to ban their children from using the internet?
Well, that is obviously a point worth considering. The age of the person must be taken into consideration before you would penalise them. Also, the gravity of the offence and, above all, whether it was persistent and continuous. So, yes, there could be a system whereby you would have a clear warning first, with the parents and others might talk to the individual involved, but if the bullying continued then it could ultimately result in criminal sanctions.
So, yes, sensitivity regarding age would obviously have to come into it because young people would not be as mature as young adults or older people, and secondly their life experiences wouldn’t be the same, so possibly they might not be sensitive to the damage they are doing. So, clearer education about what cyberbullying entails and why it is wrong is obviously a key way of dealing with this issue.
We put the same question to Dan Raisbeck. He agreed that this might be a better option than the threat of criminal sanctions.
Should cyberbullying be a criminal offence in the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!