British Attempt To Squash Online Bullying

Barely a day passes without a fresh example of abusive behavior in cyberspace. Cyber-bullying is an epidemic that's causing misery to a multitude of often vulnerable people. NPR's Philip Reeves says the problem is so bad in Britain that people there are fighting back.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One place where extremist views often flourish: cyberspace. Trolling, cyberbullying, call it what you will. Abuse via the Internet is a growing problem in this digital age.

And NPR's Philip Reeves says it's become so bad in Britain that people there are fighting back.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Liz Crowter has a 16-year-old daughter called Heidi. Heidi has Down syndrome. A while back, Liz posted some photos of Heidi on the website of a support group. It didn't occur to her anyone would want to copy those pictures onto Facebook, and mock them. Yet, says Liz, that's what happened.

LIZ CROWTER: You just feel sick and sad that people have got so little respect or human kindness, really.

REEVES: Liz says Facebook eventually removed the pictures. Unfortunately, Heidi found out about them. She wasn't impressed.

HEIDI CROWTER: I think it's preposterous and unacceptable.

REEVES: Preposterous and unacceptable things happen on the Internet all the time. In Britain, the authorities are trying to counter-attack. The other day, a 21-year-old student, called Liam Stacey, caused public outrage by tweeting racist abuse about a soccer star who'd just had a cardiac arrest. Stacey was jailed for 56 days.

He joins two other young men who are serving four-year sentences, for using Facebook to urge people to join in last summer's riots in England.

But Internet security expert John Giacobbi says those were high-profile cases and that prosecutions are still a rarity.

JOHN GIACOBBI: The number of cases that have been brought are literally in single figures. I mean it's very, very concerning.

REEVES: Giacobbi is founder of an Internet policing company called Web Sheriff that tracks down cyberabusers. He has a lot of celebrities on his books, including this man.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEAL OR NO DEAL")

NOEL EDMONDS: You get to keep the box.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

REEVES: The British TV game show host Noel Edmonds. Web Sheriff recently discovered a student had created a Facebook page called: Somebody Please Kill Noel Edmonds. Giacobbi says Edmonds decided not to call in the cops but to meet the student.

GIACOBBI: Once the guy came face-to-face with Noel, he not only was very contrite or remorseful but broke down in tears. And then apologized because he could see that Noel was flesh and blood, a normal guy with a normal family.

REEVES: Celebrities can afford to take on their abusers. But what about people like Heidi? Will they will ever be safe in cyberspace?

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.