Sandra Dick: Shutting down websites can’t delete hurt

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WITH a name like mine, it was inevitable that my schooldays would involve much sniggering at roll call and “hilarious” comments from classmates.

Looking back I can’t recall 99.9 per cent of what was said or who said it, the comments just verbal diarrhoea to be flushed away and forgotten. These days though, thanks to faceless cowards armed with keyboards and an internet connection, nastiness has a habit of lingering, spreading its viciousness across continents, apparently impossible to halt.

Take this episode: three years ago I was asked to write a piece that happened to mention a former Hearts player. Cue abuse on the fans’ website: “Take it your (sic) mocket”, wrote one, “snivelling little whore” the response from a woman to cyber applause from the gents.

I know how my stomach churned to read it and how impotent I felt when it came to finding some way to respond.

Goodness knows, then, how those affected by two vile Facebook sites felt. Embarrass Your Ex Edinburgh encouraged men to post private images of their ex-partners much to the hilarity of other idiots, while the Edinburgh Munters pages contained pictures of unsuspecting men and women and invited users – all devastatingly good looking, no doubt – to post whatever misspelt insult took their fancy. Hilarious, eh?

Facebook removed the pages, shame it can’t instantly delete the hurt they caused.

Sadly the internet offers many chances for cowards to get their laughs. Take Ask.fm, which encourages users to answer anonymous questions from friends – along the lines of “who do you fancy?”, or “favourite colour?”. Innocent enough, until the school bullies come on board.

“You’re so fat and ugly, why don’t you kill yourself?”, “no-one likes you”, “just go and die”, are a few comments from my son’s friends’ Ask.fm pages. Bad enough in the playground, worse when read over again in an inward-looking teenager’s bedroom where self doubt and angst are roommates.

Increasing concern has led to this Friday being declared Stop Cyberbullying Day. Organised by the Cybersmile Foundation, it’s intended to raise awareness and campaigns to crack down on the perpetrators.

Sadly, deleting this kind of vile behaviour for good is probably impossible. And all we can do is remind our children, just like in the schoolyard, to at least try to play nice.

• Advice and information about cyberbullying go to www.cybersmile.org and www.beatbullying.org.