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Young people urged to speak out against cyberbullying disguised as 'banter'

Nick Ansell/PA Wire

By Martyn Landi
Cyberbullies are hiding behind claims that online abuse is "banter", new research has claimed.

To mark the start of Anti-Bullying Week on Monday, Instagram and cyberbullying charity Cybersmile have released a report calling for wider discussion on the topic, warning that many young people are being affected by such incidents.

According to the research, two-thirds of young people (66%) said they witnessed a friend being left upset by something said to them online supposedly meant to be light-hearted, with 48% saying they had been left personally upset or insulted by something said to them online.

More than half of young people said they believed "banter" was sometimes used as an excuse for bullying.

In response to the report, the Facebook-owned social media giant and the charity have launched the Banter or Bullying? campaign, encouraging young people to talk more openly about the subject.

It has been by social media stars Zoe Sugg and Chessie King, and comedian Mo Gilligan.

Sugg, better known as Zoella on YouTube, said: "I share a lot of my life online and I know first-hand how damaging it can be to be on the receiving end of hateful comments. I'm often told they're 'just banter' and I should let it go.

"Banter is never an excuse for bullying; they are different things - one should make you laugh, the other does the opposite. Encouraging people to say when it's not ok will make sure we keep banter funny, and bullies at bay."

Instagram has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of harmful content, however, the firm has introduced a number of features designed to cut down on harmful and abusive posts and comments.

A comment warning tool now warns users to think twice about posting a comment or caption its algorithms believe could be abusive or bullying, while the Restrict feature allows users to quietly protect their account from bullies without publicly blocking them.

Instagram policy programmes manager for Europe Kira Wong O'Connor said: "Banter should never be used as an excuse for bullying. We're working hard to empower people to tackle bullying behaviour on Instagram, whether that's restricting a bully from seeing when you're online, or giving you the option to post Stories to Close Friends only.
"This Anti-Bullying Week we'd encourage parents and teens to explore how our anti-bullying tools can help keep their experience on Instagram positive."

Cybersmile co-founder Dan Raisbeck said: "As our research shows, too many young people are on the receiving end of bullying which is being masked as banter. This happens online and offline, and the two cannot be treated in isolation.

"We urge people to think about when they are overstepping the mark, and to challenge others who do so. By talking openly about this issue, we can help ensure that banter is kept safe from the bullies."

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