Thursday, 10 July 2014

SOCIAL MEDIA

The growth of "social media" such at Twitter and Facebook has had many positive impacts. People are able to relocate long lost childhood friends. Events are easy to organise. Photos are shared and people are kept in contact through an instant medium that can link whole networks of friends. Comment is available to all and no longer confined to professional journalists.

But with any new phenomenon comes problems too. Five years ago I remember meeting an organisation called Beat Bullying who described the growing problem of "cyber-bullying" among school age children. That problem has got worse. Peer pressure has always been a powerful force among teenagers but the prevalence of social media has exacerbated that pressure.

I don't know why, but there is something about social media that all too often causes common courtesy and good manners to go out the window. All the more so when vicious and thoughtless comments can be posted behind the protective veneer of anonymity. People say things in online posts that they would never say to someone's face. It's as if the basic rules of human social interaction don't apply.

We bring children up to say please and thank you and to be kind and considerate to one another. Every primary school I have ever visited places great store on such human virtues. But for whatever reason, these values don't always spill over into online social media in the way you might expect them to. Schools find themselves increasingly in situations where they are having to arbitrate in such situations and teachers will sometimes find themselves the target for online abuse from both children and even parents.

Last week Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister, said that the government was considering legislation later this year to deal with the growing problem of so called "sexting" or “revenge porn” where intimate photos which might have been shared with a former partner then end up being circulated more widely when relationships go wrong. This can have an especially acute impact on teenagers who have enough insecurities to cope with as it is and some of the proposals could act as a real deterrent to stop potential offenders.

It's just one of the new challenges created by technology that presents new problems for policymakers and needs to be looked at closely. There are already powers in legislation for teachers to deal with suspected cases of cyber-bullying by searching and deleting images on a pupil’s phone. However with cyber bullying extending beyond the classroom and beyond students it is clear there will be louder calls for a more legal definition of the issue and more powers to deal with it.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.