Digital tools to combat bullying
Imagine a classroom with 25 children sitting at their desks, in any school. Most likely, six of them will develop anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social phobia, anger and feelings of helplessness, all because a small tyrant, supported by the inaction of many other onlookers, makes their life impossible.
The data collected by the ANAR Foundation indicate that 25% of children and adolescents in Spain are victims of school harassment and 70% of them suffer from it every day: mockery, insults, threats, physical aggressions, marginalisation ... Although this problem has always existed, the emergence of new technologies has given harassment a much wider scope, since these new channels for harassment never let the victim rest.
Cyberbullying has grown significantly in recent years, with a greater number of viewers and increasing the number of bullies, as more people join the harassment driven by the feeling of impunity in the network. Also, cyberbullying ends up depriving the victim of the tranquillity that, up to now, they could "enjoy" when leaving the school.
The most widespread form of cyberbullying is through the mobile phone (90%) and, specifically, through WhatsApp and the social networks, according to the I Study on cyberbullying according to the victims, prepared by the Fundación ANAR and the Fundación Mutua Madrileña. What’s more, the most common forms of cyberbullying, accounting for two out of three cases, are insults or direct offences; these are followed by threats and the sending of compromising photos or videos.
With cyberbullying there is a new scenario, since the dissemination of content or offensive images and other defamatory practices on the Internet can constitute a crime (in the Spanish Criminal Code), and violate the rights of the victim. Also the publicity of the acts, the diffusion achieved over the social networks, increases the sequels in the victim.
Technology: cause and solution of harassment
Despite all of this, the existence of the Internet, new technologies and platforms, is considered an advantage for the victims, since it provides the system of prevention, detection and action against bullying with new tools to deal with it. Achieving cohesion in the classroom, building a group identity or working on tolerance and equality are some of the fundamental points to eradicate bullying. In this sense, technology has proven to be a potential ally in changing the trend in schools.
A good example of this is the KiVa method, a technique that through didactic materials and digital intervention has achieved a very significant drop in school bullying in Finland, the place where the method was created and where it is currently applied in 90% of schools. KiVa provides students with a virtual environment and a video game where they are made aware of the importance of taking an active role against bullying, that is to say, doing away with the passiveness that aggravates the victim's helplessness. It also offers teachers the necessary mechanisms to detect these situations and act on them.
"It is necessary to raise awareness among young people so that they empathise with the victims"
This initiative takes on special relevance as the schools are their scope of action. The educational communities, which include students, teachers and parents, have stressed the lack of fluid and effective communication. As a technological measure we find Appvise, a multi-device school platform that connects all these agents and allows the harassment to be identified.
Unfortunately, bullying is often a silenced reality, either because people "look the other way" or because the victims hide it from their families because of fear of their aggressors or out of shame. Applications like Zeroacoso seek to offer help to schools and to those who are attacked: it has a function that measures the climate of coexistence through questionnaires that students do anonymously. When there is a situation of harassment, this app connects the victims to a team of educational psychologists who can give them the assistance they need.
How to put oneself in another’s shoes?
The violence we see in the classroom is a reflection of the violence that already exists in society. How can we change the system and ensure that bullying becomes residual and eventually disappears? Experts point out that it is necessary to raise awareness among young people so that they empathise with the victims, to make them capable of understanding the magnitude of this problem and the consequences it has.
In our country, technological initiatives have emerged that focus on raising awareness about bullying. Gamification, with videogames like Monité, help to raise awareness among the young "without their noticing": the game gives them the tools to identify their role in the face of harassment, an active role and one of rejection.
Moreover, awareness campaigns have recently appeared on the networks to catch students’ attention, which, once more, have relied on technology to achieve greater impact:
- #NiPasoNiMePaso: through change.org and a 360º video on the social networks, a campaign was created to create a national plan against bullying. In the video anyone can see what the daily life of a victim is like and understand the scope of the problem.
- #AsignaturaEmpatía: the Community of Madrid, in collaboration with Samsung, carried out a virtual reality project to raise awareness among students on bullying, by showing them a real situation and trying to emphasise how by working together and not being passive spectators school bullying can be brought to an end.
Providing children and adolescents with digital training, explaining the advantages and potential risks of the network, is another solution that the studies give to this problem. Although technology has been responsible for opening up the cyberbullying scenario, it is not harmful in itself; it is the young people who must learn self-control and avoid compulsive and abusive behaviour online. And we are the ones who must ally with technology and get the most out of its potential.