Cyber-bullying is the use of the internet and related technologies to hurt an individual or group of individuals in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner. This threat has worsened as internet-related technologies and high-tech devices have become omnipresent in society in general, and among children and youth in particular. In many cases cyber-bullying has become an extension of school bullying that can reach victims even within the safety of their own homes.
In many countries, Israel included, children and teens are often exposed to internet bullying, whether as victims, bystanders or supporters; such exposure can lead to distressing results. Victims of internet bullying can often become despondent, depressed, have nightmares, and in extreme cases, even commit suicide.
As a result of the widespread use of online technology and the phenomenon of cyber-bullying and other harmful uses of the internet, in the last decade there has been an increased effort on the part of governments and NGOs around the world to educate and develop means to combat cyber-bullying. Law enforcement organizations, parents and non-profit educational organizations have been working together to raise awareness about cyber-bullying and provide assistance to victims.
A Joint Response
In Israel, multiple strategies are utilized by government agencies, the internet industry, NGOs and public organizations to raise awareness about internet safety and to prevent bullying. The Ministry of Education coordinates a National Safe Internet Day, in which the Israel Police and the Ministry of Public Security and its civilian crime prevention programs participate, including Metzila, City Without Violence and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority. These organizations take an active role in educating the public, students and the community about the dangers of the internet, proper and responsible use of social media, what behavior may be considered unlawful and what to do if you are a victim of violence or abuse on the internet.
In addition to educational activities, the Israel Police works diligently to discover internet crimes and has recently established a cybercrime division to investigate online crime and acts of violence on the web. Furthermore, the Israel Police, both through the cybercrime division as well as through their new media department, has played a central role in saving the lives of many youths who have posted suicidal thoughts or threats on the internet, by locating the individuals and stopping them before they can harm themselves.
Community Crime Prevention
City Without Violence, one of the Ministry of Public Security’s community crime prevention programs, provides safety counselors in schools, who attempt to identify and treat bullying, both in school and over the internet, and also serve as responsible adults to which the students can turn to in times of need. Students have reported many incidents to the counselors, including bullying on social media sites, the spreading of embarrassing or compromising pictures of teenagers, and fellow students posting suicidal thoughts. In addition to City Without Violence, the Ministry’s Society and Crime Prevention Division – Metzila, also works to combat cyber-bullying throughout the country by conducting programs aimed at educating parents and youth about the dangers of the internet and safe internet practices. Metzila developed a crime prevention model for combatting crime on the internet over 10 years ago, and continues to develop methods and practices to reduce crime and bullying and to educate about safe internet use.
The Ministry is also involved in roundtable discussions with the Ministry of Education and the Israel Internet Association, where representatives discuss ways to promote safe internet conduct that does not interfere with freedom of speech and free internet usage.
The Ministry of Public Security uses its digital platforms to raise public awareness regarding internet safety and has developed a safe internet guide and a variety of tips and advice for parents and children. The Ministry's Information and Knowledge Unit, together with additional government agencies, developed a website dedicated to internet safety. Throughout the year, and in particular before school vacations, the Ministry and its crime prevention programs, together with the Israel Internet Association’s Internet Safety Center and the Ministry of Education, send out information packets. These are also published on the Ministry’s website and social media in an effort to raise awareness and create healthy discussions between authority figures and children. Metzila and City Without Violence also have staff members who work in cities throughout the country and run educational programs on a regular basis.
The Ministry’s Metzila division, together with the Ministry of Education, developed a “Safe Internet Pact” in Hebrew and Arabic and called on children and parents to sign it and pledge to follow a number of safe internet guidelines. The pact reached thousands of parents, who discussed the guidelines with their children and signed the pact, and was featured in the news and media. Additionally, the Minister of Public Security, Knesset Members, Mayors and additional Ministry officials signed the pact as well to show their support for the initiative and raise awareness.
The Ministry of Public Security recently held the first National Personal Security Conference, attended by over a thousand people from the fields of public security, police, corrections, welfare and education. One of the central issues discussed was the prevention of violence among youth, with a special panel discussion held on the topic. The use of social media and internet bullying were a significant part of the discussion.
Metzila, which together with City Without Violence and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, operates Parent Patrols across the country, is currently working on a project to create online Parent Patrols in which an adult presence will be felt on children's websites and internet hang-out spots.
Internet violence and bullying are a widespread phenomenon, but they do not have to be. With persistent efforts in the fields of education, public awareness and legislation, we can create a safe and secure online environment for ourselves and our children. To that end, the Minister of Public Security has made safe internet use a priority and it is one of the main points of his 2014 policy. Together, we can make a difference.