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School conflict and the web: The real picture

01 Oct 09

Bullying and brawling: they’re an unfortunate part of school culture. But a couple of recent incidents have   highlighted the role that the Web now plays in anti-social activity among teenagers.

A fight among girls at an Auckland secondary school, in which a male teacher was knocked to the ground while trying to intervene, was posted on YouTube. During the incident, taunts that participants were yelling at  each other suggested the clash was sparked by postings on social networking pages. Another earlier attack at  the same school, in which pupils from another college allegedly stormed into a classroom and attacked a boy,  was linked to postings on Bebo.

In all the incidents, the pupils concerned were dealt with by normal disciplinary procedures. The YouTube  video was removed, but is among many such incidents that have been filmed with cellphone cameras and  posted online.

Text messaging and social network pages have become the media of choice for young people. Cybersafety  organisation NetSafe has been workinghard to encourage better behaviour online and to give schools advice  and resources.

NetSafe Director Martin Cocker told NetGuide that physical incidents sparked by texting and social   networking are “reasonably common”. “The key thing is that, on the one hand you have to teach young people  the ethics of operating in cyberspace and explain to them that the same rules that apply that make them good  citizens also apply in cyberspace,” he said.

“Secondly, schools should have structures, policies and agreements setting rules about how people should act,  which cover students at any time, whether in school or outside of it – we’re talking about interactions between  students.

“Then the third is working with teachers as much as we can to enable them to support a culture of good  behaviour, good use of technology, so they can identify and explain what is good behaviour online.”

Like it or not, cyberspace is where young people are interacting these days. They’ve grown up with the  technology and it’s part of their everyday lives. They learn there, they have fun there, and they can get into  trouble there.

“I don’t think we can say in particular that social networking is responsible for these sorts of things,” said  Cocker, “it’s just the place where they undertake these behaviours and enables them to facilitate some of  these kinds of negative incidents.”

NetSafe has focused a lot of its work this year on cyberbullying, through its Web site cyberbullying. A  DVD resource has also been produced for schools, and more than 400 copies have been distributed to date.  The behaviour of bystanders has also been a focus – it’s generally the bystanders who are using the camera  phones and posting the results on sites like YouTube. Parents can also find information about other  cybersafety issues at “If we took away the social networking and text messaging there  would still be school violence,” Cocker said, “we just wouldn’t have so many recordings of it and an  understanding of how it came to be.”