Defeating online porn and bullying through education

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Education is essential to confront online pornography and the cyberbullying of children, says Agnes Uhereczky.

Agnes Uhereczky heads the Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE).

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he wants to crack down on big industry players Facebook and Google to detect and take down pornography. He explained that now that his children are of age to be using iPads and computers, he is worried about the content they may stumble upon online. He specifically mentioned coffee bars and other public spaces which do not have filters on their open Wi-Fi.

Big industry players have their share of responsibility of course, but with young children it especially comes down to parenting and parental behaviour.

A lot of what children may find online also depends on the settings of the device, and this is primarily the responsibility of the adults, the parents in the household, something which also figured in the interview with the UK prime minister.

But we also know from studies and statistics that as much as pornographic content is a major issue, children and young people mainly report cyberbullying as their number one concern.

And cyberbullying is not about technology, but about the way technology is used. Just like a baseball bat’s main purpose is to engage in a sporting activity, if someone uses it to hit another person, it can cause serious damage.

Cyberbullying is not such a new phenomenon, since it is linked to bullying in general. There have always been bullies, who thrive on the mockery and humiliation of others and there always will be. What makes it so unique in its viciousness is that compared to school-yard bullying (or offline bullying) the target has no way to get a break or get away from it. Cyberbullying is open for business 24/7. Nasty text messages, ridiculing e-mails, fake websites or troll Facebook accounts enable the bully to pursue its victim after school hours. Especially since text messages and other form of messages can spread like wildfire.

To make it more specific, imagine an awkward teenager standing in front of his class, reciting a lesson which he/she may not have fully prepared for. A pretty humiliating experience in itself, one that I believe only a few of us have not experienced. Now imagine a classmate filming this on his/her smartphone and promptly posting it on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social media sites teens are using these days.

This is why there is still a massive need for awareness and education, of parents, of teachers and of children themselves. Even if perhaps a large portion of cyberbullying starts out as casual joking and just having fun from the bully’s point of view, bullying is never okay, and children and young people need to understand its consequences.

COFACE started the #DeleteCyberbullying campaign in February 2013, which is co-financed by the EU Daphne programme. Within the framework of the project we just recently organised conference in Madrid on Cyberbullying, and probably the most outstanding part of the conference was the panel of 4 young people (14- and 17-year olds), who gave their own view about the problem, and what could be possible solutions.

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