Cyber bullying is nothing new, but it’s only in recent years that cases have made the headlines and captured the attention of the public. This type of sickening activity is still ‘tolerated’ despite victims’ suffering; and there used to be an argument between police and regularly targeted sites such as Twitter over who is responsible for dealing with malicious behaviour.

Police intervention or self-policing?

While police have previously maintained that tracking and identifying the culprits was not their responsibility, Stuart Hyde, chief constable of Cumbria police who speaks on e-crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, recently said that police should intervene when Twitter abuse is serious enough to contravene existing legislation such as the Malicious Communications Acts of 1998 and 2003.

However , he has also said that there is no need for new legislation and that recent negative publicity involving high profile victims such as Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and Olympic diver Tom Daley should prompt Twitter itself to take action, especially as police resources are stretched.

Greater vulnerability

There should be no distinction between online and offline activity, but the anonymity afforded by the Internet and the vast online community leaves individuals much more vulnerable than they would be in the school playground. It’s important to remember that no one is exempt from being targeted by cyber bullies; young or old, celebrity or mere mortal. The resulting comments are usually unfounded and cause needless distress, with the potential to have a long-term negative impact on the lives of victims.

Victims are left wondering what to do next and are often encouraged to take matters into their own hands or simply ‘toughen up’ by fellow users, especially when they are non-celebrity citizens without the resources to fight the bullies. The law is in place to enable criminal activity to be distinguished from non-consequential behaviour that doesn’t warrant punishment, yet there has been a reluctance to use it: perhaps a change in police attitudes will be to the victims’ advantage.

Educate those at risk

We must also address the risk of those who could inadvertently become involved in bullying others online. Peer groups boast strong bonds that could easily lead to innocent friends getting embroiled in someone else’s behaviour in an effort to defend the perpetrator.

Oversharing contributes to individuals’ susceptibility to cyber bullying, so the advice is to avoid it. We’re continuously warned and guided about the likes of hackers and identity thieves, but the more sensitive topics remain somewhat taboo as we struggle to discuss the harsh reality with our children.