Police Community Support Officers have been going into classrooms to delete Facebook profiles, due to fear of cyberbullying. But should they be doing this?
Tom Bennett, a teacher and the Government’s behavioural expert explained, “Community police officers are coming into the classroom to try to establish what’s going on in Facebook conversations.” However, he noted that many young people found this step to be “extraordinarily shocking” since it was seen as “an attack on them personally.”
This latest news comes as research shows an increase in cyberbullying – especially among boys. Mr. Bennett, who is the Department for Education’s discipline tsar, said, “Some community police officers are now spending 50 per cent of their time on cyberbullying and social media accounts have been deleted as an ultimate last resort.”
He continued, “Community policer officers are coming into the classroom to try to establish what’s going on in Facebook conversations. Children are quite naïve on security settings and it is very easy for the police to see what they are saying and track down who’s bullying who. Police talk to teachers, friends and family and resolve the situation.”
Mr. Bennett continued, “As a last resort, they get in touch with social media organisations and recommend that accounts be deleted.”
But should this sort of thing be within the remit of police officers?
Mr. Bennett asserted, “It is because of the role of the in school officer isn’t just about catching lawbreakers, but helping to encourage children to behave appropriately in communities. This is the police equivalent of preventive or community medicine.”
However, Mr Bennett was sure to note the impact deleting social media accounts can have on the young people, saying, “It’s like stripping them away, taking away the online platform. It’s equivalent to dismantling part of their identity, part of their personality.” He added, “This is extraordinarily shocking for the child because so much of their identity is online that it’s almost like an attack on them personally. This stripping away has led some young people to react by crying or shouting, while one child was seen physically throwing themselves against a wall.
Researchers looked into the online habits of 7,443 pupils. One fifth of teenagers admitted to having said something hurtful to someone else via social media, and one in three secondary school pupils and over a quarter of primary school pupils said they have experienced something online that concerned, upset or frightened them.
Indeed, this may just be the tip of the iceberg with nearly a quarter of the teens surveyed saying that they hadn’t told anyone about their negative online experiences.
Mr Bennett was keen not to downplay the impact of cyberbullying, saying, “Bullying isn’t a simple thing,” noting that cyberbullying can cause a “drip-drip erosion of a child’s confidence by undermining their achievements without being explicitly and openly insulting.”
He added, “It can be things like suggesting to someone that they’ve got no friends or telling them that nobody likes them. The terrifying thing is that with cyberbullying these insults follow the child home. Technology has made a difference to the way children behave in the classroom. Smartphones have had some effect.”
Mr Bennett continued, “In my lifetime there has been a reduction in the propensity for children to have deference for adult authority. Children are far more aware of their rights but I am not sure that they are more aware of the concept of responsibility.”
There may be a very real problem with cyberbullying in UK schools but is it right to have police stepping in to help?
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Neighbourhood Policing, Assistant Chief Constable Gavin Stephens said, “At the national level, we are not aware of PCSOs going into schools to delete children’s Facebook accounts or spending half of their time dealing with cyberbullying. Most police forces have protocols with their local schools to agree what should be reported to police and what should be managed within the school. Police don’t want to become involved in managing bullying of kind in schools; if it can be dealt with in another, more appropriate way by the school then it should be.”
Mr Stephens added, “PCSOs generally have excellent relationships with their local schools. There is a growing threat to children and young people from digital crime, including online abuse and bullying, and so some schools and PCSOs may find appropriate ways of working together to give advice to children and young people about protecting themselves online.”