Stand Up to Bullying Campaign

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th September 2016.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing a debate on this important matter. As we have heard, cyberbullying is a key issue that is increasing in relevance every year in Scotland and we should all take it very seriously.

Nowadays, bullying does not stop at the school gate and its victims are not limited to young people, as Fulton MacGregor noted. Bullying occurs in homes, wider communities, boardrooms, lunchrooms, stadiums and pubs. It is all around us. Of course, bullying also exists online—we know that. Such bullying can involve a persistent and unrelenting attack and it often targets those who are already vulnerable in one way or another.

Access to technology—specifically, the use of mobile devices—means that those who are being bullied online cannot even go home to a safe haven and shut the door on the bullies, because those bullies are with them constantly.

Such bullying can, as we know, have tragic results, including suicide, among the young people who are the victims of sustained online abuse, particularly when it is from their peers. Annie Wells mentioned that in her speech.

To raise the issues in debates such as this one is a good step on the way to addressing the very modern scourge of cyberbullying, but more work is needed right across society—Stewart Stevenson made some particularly interesting points about that.

We should recognise and commend the work that has been done by the Diana Award, as mentioned in the motion, by other charities in our communities and in particular by the stand up to bullying campaign. However, in order to adequately tackle cyberbullying, we need to raise awareness more widely about the negative consequences of personal attacks on others that are perpetrated from behind the barrier of a computer screen or a mobile phone.

We have all heard stories of schoolyard bullying and attacks via phones or social media. In some cases, it strays into direct harassment, but public awareness of the difference between joking around and the more serious charge of harassment is often pretty poor. If we can increase knowledge both of the outcomes and of prevention, it is possible that we can eventually begin to bring an end to this worrying phenomenon.

While recognising that, we should also consider the effect that such abuse—or trolling, as it is sometimes called—has on adults, especially those who have to use social media for their jobs or simply as a means of necessary communication. They cannot just turn off their technology to get away from it.

I think and hope that we are finally beginning to gain a better understanding of how sexism, for example, can hurt women online, but we need to extend that understanding to include all forms of identity abuse. Some of that has already been mentioned in the debate.

Being careful with the use of language is very important. Offensive comments cannot just be dismissed as banter. As parliamentarians, we also need to look at new forms of bullying that might fly under the radar as technology develops and open our minds to the fact that the victims of cyberbullying are as diverse as they are numerous.

Among young people in particular, cyberbullying can lead to prolonged absenteeism from school as well as negative consequences for physical and mental health. Of course, such effects on health and wellbeing can also occur in anyone of any age who is experiencing cyberbullying.

If we do our best to address the individual and specific concerns of victims, that will go a long way to changing the narrative around online bullying. However, I give one word of caution: when we are doing that, we must be careful not to unjustly criminalise certain sections of society, specifically the young, as some interventions have tended to do in the past.

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for calling me to speak in the debate. I once again congratulate Fulton MacGregor on this really important debate.