‘With the increased polarisation that we see in the world both on and offline, it’s easy to dismiss trolls as these people who are not “one of us”. The reality is that many trolls are just people like ourselves having a bad day. Recognising that we’re responsible for both the inspiring and the despair-inducing conversations is key to having better, more productive online debates in future.’
Red Balloon is the CSJ’s winner of the Education, Employment & Skills Charity Award. Since 1996, it has helped severely bullied or traumatised children unable to attend mainstream school; providing them with a ‘wellbeing curriculum’ that combines full GCSE National curriculum with tailored therapies and where possible supports their return to mainstream school and work.
Over 16,00 children in the UK are not in school and not getting a proper education because of bullying. This outstanding charity provides a unique service to those children who have fallen between the cracks of the system; over 77% of the children they help have been out of school for 7 months when they first arrive. As Red Balloon CEO Quintus Travis says, this organisation ‘restores young people to society’ who may otherwise have been lost. You can see some moving accounts of their work here.
As always-on-tech extends the insidious grip of bullying, schools and health workers must be better equipped than ever to spots the signs and manage the fallout. A recent Pew Research Center survey estimates that cyber harassment effects four out of ten users. The phenomena of trolling is the subject of new research by Justin Cheng of Cornell University, which suggests that, disturbingly, ‘trolling is more situational than an innate characteristic’; ‘under right (or wrong) circumstances, anyone can become a troll’.
Just as those who are bullied are twice as likely to bully others (NSPCC), those who see ‘troll comments’ in a discussion doubles a person’s likelihood to troll themselves. As Cheng observes, ‘Trolling also has a domino effect: the more troll comments there are at the start of a discussion, the more likely subsequent participants in that discussion will also troll.’
Around 1.5 million young people were bullied last year; 33% of those being bullied have suicidal thoughts. A recent study of mental health provision for 11-16 year olds in UK schools found that 73% of surveyed teachers ‘found themselves often or occasionally worrying about a particular pupil’s wellbeing when they are away from school’. Yet 34% ‘say they have received no formal training on how teenage development impacts on mental health, and 23% ‘would not feel confident referring someone for mental health issues’.
Red Balloon are now seeking financial support from a technology partner with an interest in experimental learning and distance education to help them roll out Red Balloon of the Air: an online offering that offers vital scalable support, helping them bring their service to more vulnerable children. If this is of interest, please get in touch at mark.florman