Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bully For You

I watched Panorama’s program on Internet bullying on Monday night with a lot of interest. Not least because my friend was being interviewed on it, but also it is a subject that is close to my heart and one that needs more exposure.

Bullying has always been around, long before the internet. The web has made the problem manifest itself into a monster though. And just as offline bullying will always remain, I cannot actually see a solution to the online cases. It is ingrained into some people as an acceptable practice – just see that tosser at the end of the Panorama program arrogantly mocking the interviewer.

When we launched FriendsReunited we didn’t realise the problems that were going to ensue – teacher libel, marriage breakups, stalkers, and much more. As each story came out, we put in the best controls we could to limit the problem like moderating message boards. However the one problem of proving someones identity on login was near impossible and still is. Within a few years we had near daily contact from private investigators and police trying to establish a persons identity or following up a complaint.

Facebook and Twitter and their like have made this seem even more impossible to police. Twitter is full of fake id’s pretending to be famous people. But just as easily people can create fake id’s and post malicious posts about anyone, famous or not. Verification of ID could be done, through credit card, offline address verification, however the internet is so mature to introduce any of these would probably kill a site.

However, I think it would still go on even if we had better systems in place. People do it and don’t realize the consequences. In 2005 after leaving FR, I setup a small website for my kids primary school. It was a completely closed safe social networking site giving the kids their own login, the ability to email each other, message and play games. It was completely shut off to the outside world. The kids loved it and were taught the importance of keeping passwords private and not to post anything malicious. However, even then we had cases of children hacking into each others accounts and leaving some really nasty stuff about teachers and other children. Of course I could track them down and wrists were duly slapped. After the worst case I introduced a list of words that were banned and if a child used a banned word anywhere on the site they were instantly suspended from the site and teachers notified. Even after being told numerous times by teachers, a few children continued to post nasty comments.

My point is that with the best systems in the world there will still be people who will bully. For now all we can continue to do is educate and hope society produces a more respectful generation, however, I feel we are facing a losing battle.

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