I’ve stood up to bullies all of my life. I did when I was at school myself and have done this throughout my career. Bullying is a terrible scourge that has a long-lasting and devastating impact upon those who find themselves to be the unwelcome subject of it.
Every now and again, someone shares videos on social media with children being bullied. This morning, I saw lots of people had tweeted a video of a Syrian boy thrown to the ground and water being poured over his face.
Watching the video stirred up many emotions for me. Obviously, I’m disgusted and angered by what I’ve seen, but I’m also feeling quite disturbed by the fact that the video has been shared so widely in this way.
I am sure that the motivation for sharing such videos is well-intended, but I also worry that there are some negative consequences too. I’ll briefly outline three:
These ‘happy-slapping’ incidents are likely to have been recorded by the bullies in order to humiliate the victim. Does our well-intended sharing of these videos not re-shame and re-victimise the person who has found themselves to be the unwelcome subject?
And this one is a little more controversial. I do worry that when we watch these videos, we’re engaging in a form of voyeurism. Yes, we are appalled by what we are watching, but they also feed our curiosity. Perhaps it’s a step too far to say that we are entertained by watching them… or is it?
And by far the most controversial. We do have a duty to protect the children who are doing the bullying. Publically shaming children, no matter what they’ve done, is never something that we should be doing. It’s the equivalent to putting them in the stocks and having the public throw shit at them. The perpetrators should not have done this, but we are publically exposing them to a level of risk that I’m not comfortable with. Some will argue that they deserve what’s coming to them, but we need to remind ourselves that they are children too.
Now, I know that the intention behind sharing these terrible incidents is that they are stopped. I’m also aware that bullying is too often ignored and giving incidents a high-profile can force authorities to take it more seriously. However, for reasons I’ve outlined above, I do wonder whether there’s a better way?
(Keith Bishop is a foster carer, former youth worker and is now a Senior Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families at Newman University in Birmingham)