Regional youth at high risk of cyber-bullying
YOUNG people in small towns may be facing a more powerful brand of cyber-bullying than their metropolitan counterparts.
The vehicles of Facebook, Twitter and others carry taunts, threats and ridicule from the schoolyard, leaving victims to feel isolated or vulnerable even at home.
But as the abuse increases, those in smaller regional centres find themselves trapped - they may have little option for changing schools or even friendship groups unlike those in a larger city.
In the Central Queensland city of Mackay, like many regional areas, there is one major shopping centre - a magnet to bored young people.
The Youth Information Referral Service - or YIRS - is a drop-in centre for young people after advice, medical referrals and venue for them to escape different issues.
Service manager Astrid Steiner told APN up to 100 young people each week come and go from the centre.
The use of social media as a tool for abuse has become so widespread, YIRS banned the sites from its computers.
It hopes to encourage teenagers to "do something more useful" online.
"On a daily basis you deal with it," she said.
"Someone said such and such about me on Facebook.
"They contacted me on Facebook and abused me.
"It's used as a big, bullying cyberspace."
In larger areas, targets are encouraged to stay away from those keyboard tyrants but for the young and regional, it is harder to avoid enemies.
"There are not too many alternatives for young people to meet in a social aspect," Ms Steiner said.
"If they're young and disengaged, they may not be involved in sport - they may not have the money to join anything. "It's hard for them to find something to do, there's not too much to do.
"They're often hanging out at Canelands (the major shopping precinct) - it's just a meeting point.
"You go to shopping centres and be bored together to pass the time."
And it was not just regional Queensland affected, Beyond Blue chief executive Kate Carnell said targets from smaller communities nationwide were reaching out to the support group.
"We've had a number of cases of people reporting to us from regional areas," she said.
"It can be almost worse because the group of friends can be smaller. There's not as much choice in smaller country areas."
And sometimes the Beyond Blue advice of turning off the computer and "unfriending" the bully does little. "It's even more difficult when the social group - it may not be as easy to avoid cyber-bullying in a smaller environment.
"We've had young people who have stopped going to school, they just can't bear it."
With social media sites being so consistent, the same problems are emerging regardless of whether a user is on an isolated acreage or a waterfront apartment.
Both YIRS and Beyond Blue see the protection of the young as being reliant on education.
Australian children as young as 10 were becoming bullies, sometimes without realising the dangers.
"The issue for us is making sure young people understand the real damage they can do," Ms Carnell said.
"Bullying causes stress, stress can cause depression and depression is one of the major causes of suicide.
"It is the major cause of death for young people, about double the number who die on our roads.
"It amounts to six Australians every day.
"We need to talk to our kids about cyber-bullying and the extraordinary damage it can cause of those who are the victims."
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm, suicide or not coping, contact Lifeline 13 11 44, Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.
Detective Superintendent Brian Hay - head of Queensland's Fraud and Corporate Crime squad - likes to tell a story about social media:
Think about your social media profiles. Try this experiment. I want you to type up your profile, what you have on Facebook.
Include friends, relatives, your date of birth, age, suburb, who you work for, occupation, resume, life history, school you went to, family, friends, aunties and uncles.
Make 20 copies of that and print it. Now take all your photographs. Take all those and make 20 copies.
Include family members, loved-ones and friends.
Get 20 folders - put a copy of this dossier of your life and photos into each of the folders.
Now take them and stand outside your nearest prison and as rapists, paedophiles, murderers and burglers come out on parole, give them a folder.
If you're putting it on Facebook, you're doing that already because that's where they're looking for targets.
THE information we put online will never disappear.
Every competition we enter, item or product we "like" on Facebook or "retweet" on Twitter is stored.
Dr Mark Andrejevic is the deputy director of the University of Queensland's Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, and this data mining has him worried.
This huge crop of information is being analysed for patterns, predictions and possibilities for marketing.
Dr Andrejevic believes within five years companies will have distilled enough information from enough people to make roughly accurate brush strokes about us.
What if Holden drivers were found to generally support one side of politics?
Even if inaccurate, it matters little.
"You as an individual, you would be treated as someone who shares characteristics - you are included or excluded," Dr Andrejevic said.
WHAT TO DO
If you, a friend or a child is being cyber-bullied, Youth Beyond Blue has steps you can take:
- Tell someone: It's not your fault. Tell a friend, parent, school counsellor or teacher. Don't reply to bullying messages, it might make things worse.
- Block them: It may be possible to block people from contacting you by phone, Facebook, Twitter etc. Talk to your phone provider about how.
- Report it: Tell your school/university. Facebook and other sites have links to help you report abuse.
- Keep the evidence: Keeping copies of texts, emails, online chats etc help track the bully down
- Change your contact details: Create new email accounts, usernames, passwords or phone numbers and give them only to trusted friends.
- Don't share usernames/passwords.
- If messages are serious or threatening, call the police: It is illegal and police may be able to act.