Speaking the cyber bully’s language

Jonathan Valentine, CEO of Impero Software, shares how understanding terms used online is crucial to keeping youngsters safe

Young people today have never known a world without the internet, and it’s no surprise that many have far more advanced digital skills than the rest of us. But with more sophisticated devices with which to access the internet than ever before, the challenge of controlling their use while keeping our children safe online is fast becoming one of today’s biggest challenges.

According to a recent report from McAfee, the number of under-18s who have experienced incidents of cyber bullying has doubled in the last 12 months alone and four in ten teenagers said they had seen a fellow student being picked on online, up from the 22% who said the same a year ago.

It is essential that teachers and parents are able to quickly identify both the victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying; it can be incredibly damaging to a child’s self-esteem, with some instances resulting in self-harm or, worse still, suicide. That’s why initiatives like Anti-Bullying Week are more important than ever – we must address this issue now in order to protect our young people online and ensure the internet is used as it should be – as a tool for learning.

Other than banning access altogether and forbidding the use of internet enabled devices, which is far from realistic, the only really effective way to reduce incidents of cyber bullying is toget to grips with the technology used by young people and how they are using it.

Yet teachers and parents cannot be expected to keep their pupils safe online if they don’t know what their students are talking about in the first place. The fact is that because they are often unaware of the language used by children, incidents of bullying, racism, homophobia, sexual exploitation and self-harm are going unnoticed.

We need to understand not only the technology being used by young people but also the ways in which it is being used. This includes understanding the vocabulary used by children when they speak to one another online (and in person). What does it mean when one child in an online chatroom tells another to DIRL (die in real life), IDTTU (I don’t talk to you), IWTKM (I want to kill myself) or JLMA (just leave me alone), for example? What steps should a teacher take if a child reports the use of the term GNOC (get naked on camera) by another pupil?

That’s exactly why at Impero we recently launched a dictionary of keywords and slang terms that teachers need to be aware of to keep their students safe. They are automatically alerted when any of these words and phrases are used online. This empowers educators with the knowledge to deal with incidents as and when they happen to ensure that victims are supported and that perpetrators are adequately disciplined.

It is only by really understanding the online language used by young people and actively monitoring internet usage in school environments that we can even begin to deal with cyber bullying. Once teachers and parents have the knowledge and confidence to identify incidents as and when they are happening, they can be properly addressed and dealt with there and then. We have a duty of care towards our young people and this includes getting to grips with the language used in the online environment, and fast.


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