According to a judge in the UK who presided over a case in which a jealous boyfriend used the social networking site Facebook to prove his partner’s infidelity, the answer is yes. As reported by The Drum: Modern Marketing and Media (31st August 2012) the individual in this case created a fake profile to approach his partner under the guise of a secret admirer. When his partner responded, it resulted in physical violence. Commenting on the case, the judge lamented that ‘Facebook is causing more hassle than anything else these days’.

So while online social networks are lauded for the greater levels of connectivity they enable, there is growing evidence and concern about the negative behaviour they facilitate, with cyber bullying another prominent issue.

The Minister for Education in RoI also noted in May 2012 that cyber bullying was a growing problem in Ireland. Indeed, the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College Dublin found that one in four girls and one in six boys in RoI have come in contact with cyber-bullying as of April 2012. Similarly in NI, research conducted by the Department of Education revealed that as of November 2011, some 16% of year 6 and 17% of year 9 school pupils had been subjected cyber bullying.

However, it is important to note that the problem is not limited to children, with 10% of UK (inc NI) teachers also on the receiving end of this form of aggression according to Beatbullying’s Virtual Violence Two report. Celebrities and athletes are also ‘fair game’ for this type of behaviour, which is commonly referred to as ‘trolling’. A recent high profile victim of cyber bullying is Olympic diver Tom Daley, who was abused and threatened on Twitter after failing to win a medal in the synchronised diving at the 2012 Olympic Games. The perpetrator, a 17 year old male, was consequently arrested under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 after members of the public alerted the police.

Mintel’s_Online Social Networking – Ireland, September 2012 _report notes that this worrying phenomenon is being fuelled by the ability to express oneself without the fear of having to face the consequences because of the perceived anonymity that online social networks offer. In fact, there is no anonymity on social networking sites, as this case highlights. After the individual was released by the police, he subsequently issued an apology via Twitter. However, when this was not responded to, a further torrent of abusive language was hurled in the direction of the British diver.

So what can online social networks do to combat the perturbing behaviour & cyber bullying that is playing out on their sites?

Short of banning those whom engage in this behaviour and enforcing it, it would appear not a lot can be done at present. Arresting those who carry out this behaviour is neither a satisfactory nor sustainable long term solution as the police do not have the resources. Even if they did, this would involve the policing of what people are saying and by extension people’s freedom of speech, which is an entirely separate issue.

However, increasing awareness and education in the same vain as physical bullying could prove a more effective strategy at reducing this behaviour, as people will be better able to understand the plight of victims, to recognise this behaviour and the appropriate action to take once it has been identified.

To find out more about Mintel’s social media market research, contact us.

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