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article imageOp-Ed: Fighting cyber-bullies or pushing for censorship?

By Alexander Baron     Feb 8, 2012 in Politics
A BBC 'Panorama' documentary earlier this week exposed cyber-bullying, but does this term actually mean anything, and do the people who made the programme have a hidden agenda?
The latest Panorama programme can be found here for people who can receive BBC iplayer; if that does not include you, watch out for it on YouTube. It tackles or professes to tackle behaviour on so-called social networks that is anything but social, a problem that we are led to believe is only slightly less serious than the fallout from Deep Water Horizon.
Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and before may recall a popular playground rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. This phrase dates to at least the 19th Century when no one had ever heard the words racism or sexism much less homophobia. The bottom line is that cyber-bullying - as far as any such entity can be said to exist - consists of name calling, insults, trolling and on occasion mocking the dead. Why anyone should even consider suicide over such puerile behaviour remains to be seen, but of course in both the real world and the cyber-world, even ludicrous insults can and do have terrible consequences. Probably no case illustrates this better than that of the tragic 15 year old Natasha MacBryde who committed suicide in February of last year. Her father was interviewed for the programme, and of course one can only have the greatest sympathy for his loss.
That being said, even if cyber-bullying were not a contrived problem, there are far easier solutions than yet more legislation - difficult in any case for anything of this nature that crosses national boundaries. Facebook is cast as the principal villain here, but like every other Internet entity, Facebook has terms of service, one of which is that users must sign up using their real names, and a lot more besides.
Users who post gratuitous insults, etc, can have their accounts terminated. Think of it like this, if you were in a restaurant, supermarket or some such and stood in the middle of the floor shouting insults at other people, you would be asked to leave. Nothing more Draconian is or should be required of Facebook, and if people who are on the receiving end of such unruly behaviour were to report it with suitable documentation - such as screengrabs - that would be the end of the matter. Trolls are also best ignored; if they don't provoke a reaction, they generally go away and find someone else to annoy.
Alas, this oh so simple solution appears to have evaded not only the staff of Panorama but cry baby and wannabe Cher Lloyd, who also appeared in the programme. Someone should also tell Miss Lloyd that unpleasant though this may be, it comes with the territory. Anyone who attains a smattering of fame, whether deserved or contrived can expect this and worse, sometimes in the real world. At least she hasn't had a deranged fan breaking into her house with an engagement ring - as happened to Kate Bush recently, or been branded a giant lizard from outer space (Lord Rothschild), and don't let's even start on 9/11 and anyone who works for the US Government up to the man in the White House.
Perhaps this simple lesson should also be taught in our schools along with the reintroduction of that old playground rhyme, but somehow one gets the impression that such an approach does not gel with the cult of victimhood that has grown up alongside the pernicious doctrine of political correctness.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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