Thursday, 25 August 2011

the cyber bully, the victim, and the block feature?

This week a Kent woman was spared a prison sentence for participating in the kidnap and assault of a man who posted bullying messages on her disabled daughter's facebook wall.

Sylvia Hooper from Chatham in Kent took revenge after her daughter's ex boyfriend launched a campaign of malicious postings towards her on Facebook.

After the police said they were unable to act, she, her son and a friend of his, kidnapped the man, her son hit him and he was taken back to the family home where he was made to crawl on his hands and knees into the house and make a grovelling apology to the girl.

They were charged, and prosecuted for ABH but spared prison terms on the basis that the messages sent were so hateful and the judge acknowledged that they had been pushed to the limit.

Now, there is quite possibly a debate to be had about the taking of justice into your own hands when you feel that you've been failed by the authorities, and whether or not this woman and her accomplices should have been more severely dealt with. But that is, I think, perhaps a debate for another post.

My discussion point here is one of cyber bullying.

There is of course no question that the man who sent these messages was in the wrong. There is also some question as to whether the authorities should perhaps start to take the issue of disabled hate crime more seriously.

However, all this happened on Facebook, and while there is certainly no justification for the action, facebook does have a series of features that allows its users to block individuals, posts, messages, and even to block messages from posters who are not on your friend list. One can't help questioning why, once this campaign of abuse began, this individual wasn't blocked on the girl's facebook page.

It is easy enough to block someone, and if he had created other accounts in order to continue the abuse, to set a Facebook profile in such a way that messages could not be sent to the girl from anyone other than on her friend list.

While perhaps the authorities should have had more power to deal with this individual, had the girl just blocked these messages when they first started, then perhaps it would never have got to a stage where her mother and brother felt they needed to take the law into their own hands.

Cyber bullying is an in increasing problem in our society, and more and more use is being made of social networking sites in order to send intimidating and abusive messages to people, often school-age children.

That it is a serious problem is not in dispute. However, social networking sites all have the ability to block users, so while no-one should have to endure such messages in the first place, equally no-one need put up with a sustained barrage of them either if they just use the sites' blocking features.

In an ideal world no one should have to take measures to ensure only certain people can contact them online. But in an ideal world no-one should have to lock their front door when going out or remember to not leave valuables on the back seat of an unlocked car, but we do all of these things in order to hopefully prevent crimes being perpetrated against us.

No one is to blame if they are a victim of a crime, be that a crime in person or a cyber crime such as described above. However, we can all take measures to hopefully try to limit our exposure, or in the case of cyber bullying, the impact on us. Is it really so wrong to suggest that?

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