A note from OHPI

The Online Hate Prevention Institute routinely gets messages from the public requesting assistance on issues of bullying, racism, homophobia or other forms of online hate. We do tackle these attacks on individuals, but to safeguard the victims we don’t make details about this work public. We do, however, make an exception where the person we have helped wishes to share their story. This is one such case.

We were approached by an Australian mother about serious bullying which led to a suicide attempt by a child. The online content which was part of the problem, a fake Facebook profile in the child’s name which likes sexually explicit content, was still online two years later and was causing renewed concerns. We’re grateful to Facebook who acted promptly on our confidential report and rapidly removed the fake profile. We’re also thankful to the mother, both for contacting us, and for writing the article below for us to share with you. Some further commentary from OHPI appears below the article.

A mother’s story of the serious bullying of her child

In the last few days the Online Hate Prevention Institute assisted my family in having a Facebook account removed. It had been made in my daughter’s name 3 years previously to bully and humiliate her. She was not quite 13 years old when it was made and she had not quite turned 16 when it was finally removed. This is our story.

In 2012, my daughter was 11 years old. We moved into a new town, a new neighbourhood, and a new school. At first things appeared to go well for our family, I got a job easily, my daughters were both in primary school, and life seemed on track. My daughter was in year 6 at the local primary school, and to begin with was befriended by local girls. That wasn’t to last.

As that year progressed some minor issues arose around mild disagreements involving my daughter and other girls, I tried to stay out of it as much as possible and let the girls work through their differences independently, not realising it was becoming more serious every day. That year most of the girls got social media accounts and profiles, my daughter included. As the year went on, it escalated to my daughters name being carved in poles in local parks, bullying on social media, smears, name calling and even at one stage other parents going up to the local highschool before the children started there and warning the highschool about my daughter, all based on what was being told by that parents child to them at home. None of which was true at the time.

Rumours began to spread around the school about our family, my daughter and myself as a single mum, and impacted on my daughter socially, as she was frozen out of most social circles. Although my background is teaching and disability support, it appeared that labels and assumptions of being a single parent raising my two youngest of four children by myself, overrode common sense and empathy for our family or my educational background.

Parents refused to let their children mix with my daughter, the local school principal who had just started himself verbally blamed my daughter for issues when they arose and did nothing to prevent the issues escalating and continuing. He must have reasoned that because we were new to the area, it must be our fault and my daughter must be the problem child. I was so upset by this stage I could not speak to the principal as I was afraid of making matters worse, but I did contact the school counsellor to talk about root issues that could be causing so much disruption and unhappiness.

During this time my daughter would come home crying but saying “I want to handle it mum”. I tried to do the right thing so it wouldn’t make matters worse. She was always trying to be mature, and to be objective, yet at the same time, she was hurting inside. She did not fit the mould of the schools norm due to her educational background (2 years in alternative Steiner education) and creative and not easily manipulated, but with a strong sense of self for her age. She was well liked by boys, and had no problem communicating or the typical pre-teen girly hangups around them. This appeared to be not taken well by the other girls. She was growing up quickly and the boys were noticing.

Another parent observed the ongoing issues and met with the principal. This parent told the principal that the girls bullying and stalking my daughter had a history of this behaviour and asked him to investigate it further. The behaviour at this point was mostly out of sight of teachers and parents, and was often out of school hours, via social media, phones and smears.

I had contacted the local school counsellor and asked if he could work with the group as a whole rather than single out my daughter or others. I felt this might assist in educating the group of girls and be of more assistance than the constant battle in the principal’s office of who said what, when, where and ongoing disputes. I was nearing the end of my tether at this point. My daughter was being attacked for her body language and her teacher had sided with the girls saying “I know these girls like the back of my hand they would not do that”. I felt powerless, and my daughter just wanted it all to go away and have a chance of a normal childhood. All girls were using social media at this point and had facebook pages, instagram and snapchat. As primary school ended, things appeared to settle.

Early in March of the following year, at the high school, my daughter sustained a head injury when she was pushed into a metal pole on school grounds and fell backwards hitting her head on pavement knocking her unconscious. The details were not fully disclosed to me at the time and I took my daughter home thinking she had walked into a pole and had a bump on head. She ended up in emergency with a massive eye trauma bleed just over 24hours later.

She became withdrawn, was being bullied and isolated by others, but was reluctant to tell me the details. She was beginning to show signs of depression and was not recovering from her head injury. My daughter had not turned 13 yet, but her name had already been smeared with labels such as “slut” and “whore” and all those types of names. I had to rescue my daughter on one occasion from a pack of girls who were attempting to hit her in the head on her way home. I got there in time.

My daughter made an attempt on her life, taking an overdose of paracetamol when she felt she could no longer take it anymore. She ended up in emergency. Two weeks later her appendix burst and we nearly lost her. The doctors had not realised there was a medical problem, having assuming she was still sickness from paracetamol overdose. When they operated on her they found her appendix had perforated inside.

After this incident the fake Facebook profile of my daughter came to light. I reported it dozens of times, asked friends to report it, spoke to school and local police liaison officer, then I blocked it assuming it would be removed. I also pulled my daughter out of the school at the end of yr7, and put her in a private school.

After a while a I had to remove her from the private school due to her ongoing post concussive brain injury which made the workload too much for her. She was constantly unwell with migraines, sickness and exhaustion. She continued her studies from home due to her ongoing health problems, then tried to return to the local high school for a few months in year 9, hoping things would have settled and her health improved. By the end of year 9 she was still very unhappy and isolated by the same group who have continued to gossip and smear her name locally. I removed her permanently from the school.

She now works part time and studies from home, has a very small trusted friendship network and a boyfriend. I came across the fake profile again recently and was horrified it was still online. I again tried desperately to have it removed, hundreds of complaints, passing it on to social media groups to attempt to mass report it, with no success in its removal. I was very fearful of my daughter seeing it again and the impact it would have on her. She found out when her boyfriend came across it and asked her “what the hell is this”.

The humiliation associated with that time of her life has left lasting damage on her, the social media bullying via Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere was relentless and at its worst, police, school and counsellors all tried to address it but to no avail. It was simply unstoppable in groups of teenagers who have targeted a person and will do anything to destroy them and make them miserable.

The page was one of many things inflicted on my daughter, all because she didn’t fit in and was not a pack person, or someone who could be manipulated into harming others, which is where the dispute with girls began, when they wanted her to join a group and not be friends with others. She declined and told them she makes friendships based on personal qualities not based on what others tell her. That was the beginning. She then spoke out on an issue at highschool when another girl was being bullied online and she was invited into the pack, she declined but also told them it was wrong what they were doing and she would have no part of it. It was around that time the page first surfaced. My daughter does not use social media now, she has a Facebook profile which she disables for the most part, and occasionally logs in, but prefers not to be part of social media world. She is settled and she is finally showing signs of a full recovery and being the person she was before the nightmare began.

We are so thankful this fake profile has now been removed and we are certain that without the help of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, nothing would have been done. I was getting notifications daily saying it did not go against facebooks standards, and would remain online. I tried everything. I would have given anything to protect my daughter from further harm.

The saddest part is that the girls that made it, moved on without a second thought. They didn’t realise the long term damage their actions had on our family and my daughter who could have lost her life over their bullying and cruel actions. There must be more accountability for behaviour online, on social media and laws and regulations that can be enforced, and proven. Facebook in particular is a world full of trolling, bullying, disturbing content and yet there is very little that can be done to address it. It’s like it is run by robots rather than human beings.

Online Hate Prevention Institute, thankyou from the bottom of our hearts, keep up the good work and your actions do make a difference!

Invited comment from Trista Hendren (author & activist)

When I was a young girl, I was bullied for being flat-chested. The searing taunts, even thirty years later, are still enormously painful. Today the bullying our children endure is a hundred-fold with social media. There is no respite, even in our homes. Social Media is a 24-7 event.

My daughter turns ten next month, and I am dreading the day she starts asking for access to social media. After following the accounts of devastating bullying for many years, from Amanda Todd, Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons—to the many names we will never hear about –I know I cannot fully protect my daughter.

Facebook is notorious for censoring women’s non-sexualized bodies in everyday use. If empowering images of women’s bodies can be meticulously pulled down in the name of “Community Standards”, there is no reason in the world that Facebook cannot better monitor the use of their site to bully children.

Mark Zuckerberg wrote a rather public birth announcement for his daughter Max last year: “Max, we love you and feel a great responsibility to leave the world a better place for you and all children. We wish you a life filled with the same love, hope and joy you give us. We can’t wait to see what you bring to this world.” It is time for him to put his money where his mouth is. Our children’s lives depend on it.

Trista Hendren is a feminist activist and author of The Girl God book series. She co-founded Rapebook, a Facebook page that campaigns against online rape humor and other abusive Facebook content.

Final comments from the Online Hate Prevention Institute

The action taking in this case involve the compilation of a confidential Online Hate Prevention Institute Report which was shared with our contacts at Facebooks along with a request for rapid action. Our confidential reports cover some of the most serious work the Online Hate Prevention Institute undertakes. They range for reports into violent extremism through to attacks targeting individuals. These reports are only ever seen by a handful of people, our Board of Directors, the social media company impacted, and the relevant Government agency, department or commission.

In this case we were please to share news of the profile’s removal, along with a copy of our confidential report, with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner is a Federal Government agency whose creation we advocated, whose establishment we welcomed and whose recent success we celebrated. Their focus is online safety for children. Parents are encouraged to visit the e-Safety Commissioner’s website at: https://www.esafety.gov.au/

Unfortunately, there are many more cases coming our way than we can process with our current resources. Some involve children, but many do not. The cases range from death threats to stalking and intimidation. They involve racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious vilification, serious trolling and cyberbullying. Without sufficient operating funds, we’re having to prioritise, and we’re having to say no to people who are come to us as a last resort. The Online Hate Prevention Institute is a tax deductible harm prevention charity. We reply on public donations. Donate now to support this vital work.

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