First Person

Kevin McRoberts
Kevin McRoberts

With Kevin McRoberts

My son and daughter are upstairs in their bedrooms. My daughter has an iPod and is using it to chat to her pals on FaceTime, or something like that. My son is on the computer, playing a game with friends who all communicate with each other using Skype.

That all seems fine. I know where they are, I know what they are doing and I know who they are talking to ... or do I?

I don’t know how FaceTime works and I only have a vague idea about Skype.

The world of social media isn’t one that particularly interests me. I prefer the real world in which I am living. Except social media is now a big part of the real world, whether I like it or not.

I do have a Twitter account – it comes with the job – and I use Facebook (occasionally) at work too, checking out our newspapers’ pages and sometimes posting on them.

But I’ve never had my own Facebook page and don’t see that changing any time soon.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of posting details of my personal life online for anyone to see. I don’t have much interest in what some stranger has had for breakfast, so I don’t see why anyone would be remotely interested in what I had to eat this morning.

And I don’t have a fancy mobile – or smartphone – so I’m not able to constantly update my status while I’m on the go. Mine is a simple pay-as-you-go model which is used for texting and making the odd phone call.

I know from a former work colleague’s experience how quickly the online world can turn against you.

She was one of a group of friends involved in a debate about Celtic and Rangers, and she posted a stupid remark about one of the managers. It was meant to be a joke – admittedly in very poor taste – and perhaps if she’d been chatting in the pub with her pals instead of being on Twitter, she’d have got away with it.

Within a couple of minutes, her comment was seized upon and circulated to hundreds of others. She was bombarded with threats and sick, vile, hate-filled messages 100 times worse than her original post. Her employer was contacted and she was suspended. Fortunately for her, she didn’t lose her job, but it’s incredible how one ill-considered comment can cause so much trouble and heartache.

And that’s all it takes. One slip, one seemingly innocuous comment, one online conversation with someone who is not who they say they are.

That’s probably how it started for the Dunfermline teenager who tragically took his own life this summer after falling victim to an online blackmail scam.

And that’s probably how it started for the girl from Leicestershire who committed suicide after receiving hateful messages urging her to kill herself.

Neither let on to their families about what was going on in their lives online, and from there the bullying and the threats got out of control.

The charity BeatBullying estimates one in three young people have been victims of cyber-bullying, with one in 13 experiencing persistent abuse. Of these, five per cent resorted to self-harm and three per cent reported an attempted suicide.

So the odds suggest there’s a fair chance one of my children will be - or has been - subjected to cyber-bullying. It’s a frightening thought.

In the days before personal computers, smartphones, tablets and the internet, kids who were being bullied at school at least had the knowledge that when they were at home and in their bedrooms, they were out of the reach of their tormentors. That’s not the case now. Their tormentors can be there in the room with them, in their lives 24/7.

So I’m going to be an annoying dad. Every so often, I’ll ask who they are talking to or how the game is going.

And I’ll suggest isn’t it time they did something else which doesn’t involve staring at a screen ...