While many Australian schools are trying to combat cyberbullying through firewalls, a new online playground for bullies has emerged from the restrictions, fake Instagram accounts.
By Kate Quinn – Z5114887
After the shock suicide of 14-year-old Northern Territories girl Dolly Everett, schools across Australia have started to implement stricter social media rules during the school day.
Everett was relentlessly bullied online by her fellow classmates through various social media platforms, including anonymous messaging app Saharah, it ended up proving too much to deal with for the young girl who took her own life in January.
The rules being implemented in schools aren’t solving the problem, rather they are driving the behaviour underground, provoking bully’s to find alternate means of cyberbullying.
A worrying alternative to generic social media use is the emergence of fake Instagram accounts, Finsta’s.
Finsta’s can be created by anyone for a variety of reasons, the most common include; unrestricted communication with close friends, indulgence in secret interests/hobbies, boost popularity, and evidently to cyberbully others through imitation.
The main motivation behind the creation of a Finsta is to escape the constant monitoring that a Rinsta (real Instagram) comes with.
Along with the emergence of this new taunting mechanism comes an increase in youth suicides.
The head of suicide prevention research at Orygen, Dr Jo Robinson explains the trend “what we are seeing is an increase in suicide rates among young women under the age of 24.”
Dr Robinson acknowledges that cyberbullying is difficult to combat but says “schools are not very good at dealing with bullying.”
Willoughby Girls High School is one of the few schools in Australia that have implemented a complete mobile phone ban on students during the school day.
The Principle who reinvigorated the ban in 2016, Mrs Diprose, says that it has had positive results, “we know where our students are and we know what they are doing so we are confident they are safe at school and cyber safe”.
Mrs Diprose explains the three key reasons for bringing back the ban was to ensure students are cyber safe while on school grounds, promote social engagement with one another and to ensure students have downtime from technology.
While the ban at Willoughby Girls High appears to be successful, Dr Jo Robinson doesn’t agree that it is the correct approach to prevent cyberbullying.
Dr Robinson says, “I think banning something generally makes it more attractive to young people.
“It’s much better working collaboratively with young people … by taking social media platforms away from young people, we’re cutting off quite important opportunities to help them”.
The initial use of Finsta’s was frivolous in nature, providing a way for close friends to share funny images and videos with a more select audience.
However, like most social media platforms, users found a way to exploit the platforms that provide anonymity.
Cyberbullies are now using Finsta’s to imitate other students, staff members and even entire schools with the aim of tarnishing their reputation.
While it is difficult to track such anonymous accounts, many schools maintain their focus on the network firewalls rather than the mobile applications themselves.
A year 12 student at Sydney private school Kincoppal-Rose Bay said that her school also has implemented firewalls, “we have a program called NetBoxBlue. It pretty much blocks you from seeing anything they don’t want you to see”.
Though the program is successful at blocking content on her laptop, she still has full access to her phone and mobile apps during the day, admitting she uses her phone regularly during the school day, “yes, every day!”.
Similarly, a year 11 student at Fort Street High School says the school has implemented firewalls but are well aware that students find alternate ways to access social media.
“I think they are pretty relaxed about it because I feel like they’ve come to accept that all the students use social media,” he says.
Cyberbullying is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in schools across Australia and the world.
E-Safety Commissioner, Ms Inman-Grant says, “we have seen a 133 percent spike in cyberbullying reports from young people over the first two weeks of February when kids have been going back to school”. (ABC 16/3/18)
Those statistics are incriminating for schools, indicating a lack of understanding as to how education about cyberbullying should be implemented to prevent it in the future.
While the most obvious way to deal with any form of bullying is to confront the bully, Dr Jo Robinson cautions schools and the families of cyberbullying victims to think twice about how they confront the bully.
“I think the witch hunt that’s gone on over the last few months in the country around cyberbullying is very insensitive to the fact that it is potentially placing lots of other young people at risk,” she says alluding to the equally unstable mental health of people who partake in bullying.
While cyberbullying is a difficult beast to control, Orygen maintains that it shouldn’t just be left up to the schools to fix.
“Helping educate young people to stay safe online is a community responsibility,” Dr Robinson says.
The work that Orygen does around cyberbullying emphasises the importance of communication and education, as opposed to the blaming of technology and social media.
“I think blaming social media and online platforms for bullying is an oversimplification,” Dr Robinson says.
She argues that the benefits of social media, such as communication, collaboration, support etc. far outweigh the risks.
“That facilitating help-seeking, that non-stigmatized provision support, that sense of community, are all benefits that probably are mitigating a lot of the harm”.
Orygen is currently pilot testing an educational workshop in schools across Melbourne called SafeTalk, which focuses on peer-to-peer communication about suicide prevention.
According to Dr Robinson, the results so far have been promising, finding that “it reduced suicidal ideation, it reduced helplessness, reduced depression and it increases problem-solving skills”.
Cyberbullying is a dynamic issue currently facing society, with Finsta emerging as one of the many means of online bullying, working collaboratively with young people through communication and education is the key to helping them become more cyber safe.