Cyberbullying is on the rise in the UK during COVID-19 pandemic

In 2019, at least 36% of kids between the ages of 12 to 17 had experienced cyberbullying in the US. In the UK, 20% of young people between the ages of 12-20 have been bullied in 2019. COVID-19 isolation and social distancing push these already alarming numbers higher than ever before. The Anti-Cyberbullying Association by Walter Soriano joins the fight to protect children and young adults.

More than 1.5 billion children and young people have been affected by school closures worldwide. At home and away from school, children are spending more time in front of screens, whether for online school programs or on social media. This inevitably means that many will be victimized and bullied through online comments, posts and messages on a myriad of apps, from Snapchat to Zoom, at a time when they are already suffering from enhanced anxiety and stress due to confinement, illness or unemployment in the family.

Unfortunately, children have also been cut off from their normal support systems. Educators, teachers, mentors, counsellors, coaches, after-school program managers and others, who would normally be able to detect that something is wrong, are no longer seeing children daily. Even those who still communicate with children via online video apps may find it difficult to discern an issue and assist without meeting face-to-face.

This is more than mere speculation. A recent multidisciplinary research by scholars from Cambridge University Hospital, the University of Cambridge and South London and King's College London found that many of the anticipated consequences of quarantine and associated social and physical distancing measures are themselves key risk factors for mental health issues, including cyberbullying.

"“When smartphones and social media became ubiquitous for students, cyberbullying rates go up,”"

“When smartphones and social media became ubiquitous for students, cyberbullying rates go up,” concludes Sameer Hinduja, PhD, professor of criminology and criminal justice and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre.

Sadly, research also reveals racial disparities when it comes to the current cyberbullying risks. As the virus originated from Wuhan, China, and has been largely referred to as the “Chinese Virus”, children of Asian descent and appearance are more vulnerable than their classmates. “It is very possible that xenophobic or racist cyberbullying may go up. Some continue to call COVID-19 a ‘foreign virus,’ and parents have complained that their children are being accused of as carriers because they are Asian,” Dr Hinduja explains.

However despairing this may seem, children and parents should know that there are available safety measures, solutions, and support networks and that many organizations are working hard to combat the issue and offer help.

The Anti-Cyberbullying Association by Walter Soriano, which was launched in February, was originally set up with the intention of combating reputation damages, trolling, libel and defamation against adults and businesses. Now, the association sees itself obliged to also assist children and parents as much as it can.

Walter Soriano, CEO of USG Security Limited and WS London Management, the London-based businessman and philanthropist who started the initiative, advocates enhanced regulation and responsibility by governments, as he considers the internet, and social media in particular, a ‘wild west’. But the association also has advice and tools for parents and children facing COVID-19 limitations:

·         Speak to your children about safe internet use; never open unknown or suspicious links, do not engage with strangers online and do not send them private information, pictures, or videos. Be aware that many people use fake profiles online and are not who they claim to be. Be alert to phishing attempts, such as fake landing pages for social media or email services trying to steal credentials. Make sure you do not upload pictures to social media containing sensitive information or documents, such as your ID, passport, parents’ bank statements, credit card information, etc.

·         Try to spot signs of distress in children that arise in connection with their online activity. While the current changes in kids’ lifestyles and routines could cause stress and anxiety, try to differentiate between that and internet-use related stress. Encourage honesty, guaranteeing your full and unwavering love and support, and listen without judgement.

·         If you are unsure what to do or need further professional assistance, make sure you know your local reporting mechanisms and hotlines. In the UK, these include BullyingUK (08088002222), Childline (0800-1111), Supportline (01708 765200) and the National Bullying Helpline (0845 22 55 787). Regarding cyberbullying in the workplace, ACAS (0300 123 1100).

The UK government has also published guidelines online titled “Coronavirus (Covid-19): support for parents and carers to keep children safe online” and is set to send every parent and carer in the country a text message regarding online abuse.

For more information, visit the Anti-Cyberbullying Association by Walter Soriano.

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