Opinion: We need zero tolerance of cyberbullying

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the internet provides us with some of the best of times and the worst of times.

The benefits of the worldwide web are manifold and obvious. The planet has been supercharged with access to information and business has been revolutionised.

Where once you would have had to hit the books to remind yourself it was the opening lines of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities that I just mangled, now it takes just a few swipes on a smart phone to read the author’s life story, download a digital copy of the famous work and remind yourself it was Simon Callow who played him in that episode of Dr Who.

Yet, for all the extraordinary benefits of the internet, there are dark sides.

One of the most obvious disadvantages is also one of the greatest advantages of life in the age of smart phones and the internet: We are always accessible.

For some of us, that means simply the minor inconveniences of having to take calls or check emails on our downtime, but for others trolling and cyberbullying are inescapable.

When I was a teenager, there were some natural limits to bullying.

If you had a tough time at school, or on the bus ride afterwards, home was a safe haven.

There was only a landline and anyone who rang would have had to run the gauntlet of Mum and Dad before getting to me.

Smart phones and the internet have changed that. It is now much harder to escape bullying.

These days, bullying follows our children into their homes.

Now, I’ll concede that one way to fix the problem would by to ban our children from social media and limit their access to the internet.

But, within healthy limits of screen time, why should we have to?

Why should children – or more specifically teenagers – have to be banned from using social media for its intended purpose of keeping in touch with their friends because someone else is doing the wrong thing?

It is pure victim blaming and it’s unacceptable.

How about we deal with the nasty creatures who think it is acceptable to troll and cyberbully vulnerable young people?

The suicide of 14-year-old Amy “Dolly” Everett in January shook Australia.

The former face of Akubra took her own life after what was said to be a campaign of relentless bullying by schoolmates.

More recently, the NSW government has announced tougher laws dealing with online trolling and cyberbullying and anyone who stalks or intimidates others using modern technology will face a maximum of five years in prison under legislation to be introduced this month.

There is nothing wrong with what the government has done, but let’s be honest, it’s not enough because tougher laws along are not going to combat a social problem.

We – every single one of us – need to speak out against cyberbullying.

If we are parents, we have to have a conversation with our children – and keep having that same conversation if necessary – until we know that the message has sunk in.

Just as no one wants their child to be a victim of cyberbullying, no parent wants their offspring to be the perpetrator either, and sometimes accepting that they are is really tough.

We – every single one of us – need to speak out against cyberbullying.

Dolly Everett took her own life. She was a teenage girl who hadn’t even begun to live, yet she could see no other way than suicide.

And she isn’t the only one. Dolly isn’t the first person and, heartbreakingly, she won’t be the last to see no alternative escape from relentless bullying.

That should make every single one of us take notice. Any one of us could be Dolly, or be Dolly’s shattered family.

Dolly’s parents Tick and Kate Everett have commented on the issue, and asked that it is taken seriously.

“No one should be abused or feel unsafe online," they have said.

"We need to educate everyone about how important it is to treat each other with respect.

"Laws about respect can have an impact if they are part of broader community education, standards and behaviour change."

If we really want to honour Dolly, let’s no longer dismiss the impacts of cyberbullying and trolling.  It’s not kid’s stuff, it’s not funny and it’s definitely not okay.

If you need support, call the NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511, Lifeline: 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467, or Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800