THE anonymous messages poured in daily. “Go kill yourself.” “You’re worthless.” At first Courtney Axford-Dando bottled it all up. She had been bullied since she was five years old. It began in the playground and classroom and then moved to social media. Her bullies would hurl abuse about the way she looked and behaved, and try to isolate her in school. Eventually, when she was 12, her family found out. In her school in Wales, teachers spotted the face-to-face bullying. But online, her tormentors continued after classes and, as most were anonymous, the school would not help. She spiralled into a depression that only years of counselling alleviated.
Of all the forms of bullying, the online variety attracts the most attention these days. It is a big focus of the “Be Best” initiative launched by Melania Trump, America’s First Lady, to teach children the importance of social, emotional and physical health. Online platforms offer bullies ever more creative ways to persecute victims outside school hours. Cyber-bullying varies from private threats to cruel public comments to spreading sexually explicit material. Bullies might invite their target to a chat room or group conversation created for the sole purpose of hurling abuse at him or her. Conversely, exclusion from a popular group chat is the online equivalent of being picked last in gym class.
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