New campaign aims to put a STOP to cyber-bullying

Some of West Australia’s biggest youth social media influencers have helped kick off an anti-cyberbullying campaign.

Launched by not-for-profit organisation Youth Legal Services, the online campaign aims to increase awareness of and create conversations around cyberbulling within the 14 to 25-year-old age bracket, and encourage victims to use a ‘#stop’ emoji to both draw awareness to the behaviour, and halt it in its tracks.

Influencers included in the Instagram campaign include previous contestants from Big Brother, The Voice and My Kitchen Rules, all of whom will be promoting the campaign emoji and talking about their own experiences of cyberbullying.

David Kernohan, Director at Youth Legal Services, says cyberbullying has become an increasingly distressing issue for young people up to the age of 25, with 50 per cent of youngsters experiencing cyberbullying at some point in their lives.

“The statistics we are seeing are alarming, with one in five young people in Western Australia having experienced cyberbullying in the past month alone,” Kernohan said.

“The reality is that cyberbullying has a hugely negative affect on young people’s mental health which, at its worst, can contribute to suicide, which is now the leading cause of death among young people.

“One of the things young people struggle with is what to do when they experience cyber bullying. The aim of this campaign is really to highlight the issue, to give young people something they can do by using the stop emoji, just to alert people that they are experiencing online harassment.  Their friends can also support them.”

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen younger people becoming more isolated from their peers and support systems, and spending more time online, making the campaign more needed than ever before.

“Earlier in the year, particularly when COVID-19 first hit, the E-Safety Commissioner reported that there was increase in online bullying, and that was become young people are at home more, and online more.” Kernohan said.

“There has been a lot of discussion in society abut online bullying, but we need to have it much more broadly as a community to raise the issue and make it front and centre, because often it happens suddenly, it’s not something that you can see coming. Often young people just go online and suddenly they are experiencing this.”

The issue is one that is close to David Kernohan’s heart, his late son experienced bullying as a teenager and it forced him to drop out of high school.

“My own son experienced quite bad bullying as a student, the consequence for him was that he left school at fifteen. That interrupted his education and it took him a number of years to get back with that. He died when he was 24 and certainly towards the end of his life he was dealing with risk taking behaviour, and I often wonder if the risk taking behaviour was one of the consequences of the bullying he experienced.” Kernohan said.

For Lifestyle influencer Zak Haselby, who has over 80,000 followers to his Instagram account, he’s always had to deal with homophobic comment online, and it only intensified when he came out online.

“This campaign is really important, especially for young Western Australians.” Haselby said. “Especially for young Western Australians, it’s really easy to hide behind your phone and people can say really offensive things, so I really wanted to get behind this and show my support.”

“When I came out as gay that was huge thing for me, but even in the lead up to that people would always send stupid things. A lot of people called me ‘fag’, and I really don’t like that word.”

Haselby found that even if he muted the word saw he wouldn’t see it when people commented on his posts, he had to keep adding different spellings of the abusive terms as people would just add extra letters to the insults.

“I knew my friends supported me, but a lot of people online have their say and hide behind their phones. I ignore it, sometimes I delete the comments, sometimes my followers will defend me, but I really don’t want them to have to that.

“If you’re an influencer and you’re putting yourself online you do need to expect that you’ll get negative feedback, if I don’t receive negative feedback – then I’m not really influencing anything. I want to challenge people’s opinions, but sometimes people’s opinions got way too far.” Haselby said.

More information about the campaign can be found online.

Graeme Watson

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