Web Rangers - teens tackling cyberbullying

August 2015


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A new law and resources for teachers and parents are good steps to help tackle the problem of cyberbullying among young people; however, the most effective weapons for preventing cyberbullying are teens themselves. JUDE BARBACK looks at why Web Rangers is proving to be successful.

Web trolYoung people are particularly susceptible to cyberbullying as they begin to experience the freedom of having their own social media identity through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Ask.fm accounts – to name a few.

New law to help tackle cyberbullying

The Government appears to be taking the problem seriously with the introduction of the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Passed through Parliament in June this year, the new law was a response to the rise of the worryingly nasty online culture in New Zealand.

The Act gives a web host two days to respond to a complaint from someone offended by comments about them – or images of them – published online. If the host gets no response from the person who posted the content, it can simply take down the offending material. If the offending material remains online, the offended party can also complain to an approved agency, which will try to mediate a settlement. But if the parties can’t agree, the web host and the author of the allegedly harmful comments may face criminal charges.

Justice Minister Amy Adams recently announced that the search is underway for an Approved Agency where victims of cyberbullying can turn to for help. The Agency is a core part of the new law and will be required to work with victims and the offending party to resolve complaints about cyberbullying in a quick and efficient way. It will also have a role in reducing harassment or bullying by advising on policies and educating people in appropriate online behaviour.

The new law is likely to see social media sites routinely taking down contentious comments after complaints to avoid the risk of prosecution and the hassle of dealing with the process.

The role of teachers and principals

While the legislation around cyberbullying is certainly important, it probably feels somewhat removed for the secondary school student who is struggling to deal with online abuse.

NetSafe provides support and access to resources, such as the ‘Lets Fight It Together’ and ‘At a Distance’ films for teachers, principals and parents to help them effectively deal with cyberbullying. It gives guidance to teachers on holding classroom interventions and encouraging students to be positive bystanders.

Web Rangers

Arguably the most effective way of preventing cyberbullying is to promote the message among young people.

NetSafe has partnered up with Google New Zealand and Sticks ‘n’ Stones to offer Web Rangers – now in its second year. Web Rangers is an initiative that challenges teens to create their own nationwide campaign encouraging better internet behaviour, leading to a safer online environment.

The programme encourages 14–17 year olds to sign up to become Web Rangers, and has also enlisted the support of Web Ranger ambassadors Caito Potatoe, Liam Waverider and comedian Rhys Mathewson. Caito, of X Factor RAW fame, has nearly 30,000 YouTube subscribers, and Waverider has two million Instagram followers.

In a series of interactive workshops in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington in June and July, the teens brought their own personal online experiences to their fellow teens. The workshops looked at a variety of topics around web safety. As well as looking at cyberbullying, they addressed issues like financial scams, over-sharing, balancing life with life online, public and private settings.

Participants are given six weeks to produce their campaigns to address issues around cyberbullying. MPs from across most parties, as well as last year’s Web Rangers winner Angus Slade, will judge the entrants, with the winners getting the chance to show their winning concepts to Google executives in Sydney.

One of last year’s winning campaigns featured a video filming the reactions of passers-by to an anonymous voice calling out insults and compliments. The clip ends with the text, ‘Just because it’s anonymous, doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. #BeKindOnline’. Other winning entries featured animated videos set to song, and an online compliment generator.

NetSafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons says challenges are a normal part of online activity, but young people sometimes need help to successfully manage them.

“The best place for teenagers to get support and understand how to be safer online is from their peers.

“That’s what Web Rangers is about. It’s young people creating content that young people understand. Campaigns like this help foster a better online environment for some of our most vulnerable digital citizens,” says Lyons.

Google spokesperson Ross Young says the Web Rangers programme is about getting teenagers to think creatively about how to stamp out bad online behaviour.

“Making sure all young people know how to help themselves and their friends is a vital part of building a safer online environment for everyone. We’ve found the best way to make that happen is to put the power in young people’s hands, because no one can craft a message to a teenager like another teenager.” 

Holding classroom interventions

  • Continue to promote safe and responsible use of technology in your learning environment.
  • Develop a ‘class contract’ with your students that includes appropriate behaviour online/on mobile both inside and outside of school time.
  • Ensure all students understand your school’s ICT Use Agreements (templates are available from NetSafe).
  • Make sure parents and caregivers are informed about what cyberbullying means and that it is not tolerated among your students.
  • Create a pledge in your classroom to be positive bystanders.

For more advice on staying safe online visit www.cyberbullying.org.nz/links.php
Source: NetSafe’s cyberbullying.org.nz

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