Stand Up to Bullying Campaign

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

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The subject is a serious one and, like many other members’ business debates, I expect that there will be no disagreement among members on the issue.

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on giving us the opportunity to debate such an important subject.

The problem is not confined to Scotland or to these islands; it is an international problem. In the past month, UNICEF released figures that showed that two thirds of young people surveyed in more than 18 countries have been victims of bullying.

How do people come to be bullied? It is mostly because of issues over which they have no control, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or physical appearance. Even if it does not involve touching the victim, bullying is a form of violence and we should treat it as seriously as we treat any violence.

Bullying is also an attack on diversity. Diversity has huge value: the greater the diversity in our communities, the greater their strength and ability to respond to changing circumstances.

Bullying, particularly for youngsters, can endure well into adulthood and for the rest of their lives. It is not to be treated trivially or ignored. It can lead to depression, academic failure and changes in the behaviour of the people who are being bullied. Fear follows from bullying.

Mental health will, of course, be affected by being bullied. Furthermore, the behaviour will be copied. If bullying is tolerated, others will see that it goes unpunished and will themselves be open to potentially becoming bullies.

In the modern electronic world, we have some particular concerns about the new ways in which people can be bullied, such as via social media, emails, texting and so on. There are some particular things that are different about social media. First, adults do not understand social media in the same way as youngsters do. An adult’s moderating influence means that they might understand what is going on in a bully’s mind. However, the situation is likely to be less clear cut than with the physical bullying that we have been used to in the past.

Similarly, the use of social media tends to be a solitary activity. There will be no one sitting next to the person who is seeking to bully someone online—no moderating influence of someone looking over their shoulder and saying, “Hey Jimmy, that’s enough. Perhaps we should head off.”

It is also an activity that, being solitary, takes place—in many cases—late at night, when drink may have been taken. There are all sorts of disinhibitions associated with the bully that are distinctly different and more threatening in the online world.

Is there anything that we can do about it? Well, yes. Perhaps the social media providers could help by monitoring what is actually going on in social media. We know that the technology is there—Twitter, for example, has a regular banner showing what is trending. In other words, it knows what is going on. Perhaps it is time that Twitter and other social media providers took a look at whether they can help to detect and inhibit bullying through that medium.

I congratulate the stand up to bullying campaign on its actions. I hope that we, too, can be part of the effort to promote a kinder and more understanding society and that this debate makes its modest contribution to that. However, we all have a duty to stand up to oppressive behaviour, because that is what bullying is.