The anti-cyberbullying tour gets going
Safer Internet Day did not begin and end on February 6. This is because a €150,000 donation from Enel Cuore Onlus has been used to purchase a campervan to take its message on a very special tour of 18 Italian regions. The cyberbullying awareness initiative will reach over 50,000 students and 100,000 adults (parents and teachers) as well as training 500 “anti-cyberbullying young ambassadors” in 100 high schools.
A special freephone number (800.937.070) and an instant messaging number (393.300.90.90) will also assist the ambassadors in their work as they become a touchstone for their fellow students.
This is the first time an initiative of this kind has been undertaken in either Italy or Europe. It has the support of Moige (the Italian Parents’ Movement) and the Italian State Police as well as the Ministries of Education,Labour and Social Policies as well as ANCI (the National Association of Italian Municipalities). The project was sparked by the results of a cyberbullying study carried out by Rome’s La Sapienza University, and presented to the Italian Minister of the Interior together with State Police data on combating cyberbullying.
The campervan purchased with our donation is the lynchpin of the “Anti-bullying Youth Ambassadors for a Safer Internet…on tour” project. As Enel Cuore Onlus Secretary General Novella Pellegrini explained at the presentation in Rome, the van will be used as a mobile support centre. In fact, the interior will include a modular, multipurpose space as well as a small drop-in room where Moige representatives can provide help to students, parents and teachers alike.
“Our role as Enel’s philanthropic arm is to nurture the potential offered by experiences arising from dialogue between associations, institutions and the school world. In our experience, school is not just a place to intervene in emergency situations but also a relational space that can be used to help individuals going through a lonely or difficult time get back on the right track”
– Novella Pellegrini, Secretary General Enel Cuore Onlus
An active presence on the ground
The decision to invest in a mobile unit ticked two very important boxes: the Safer Internet project will now have a constant presence on the ground and will also be able to offer a response in the field that goes beyond the merely emotive. The campervan will also be used to help foster the kind of awareness that helps develop the sustainability principles that Enel has embraced and made its own right across its entire field of action. The mobile unit will visit schools in the mornings and will involve students in a range of active discussion and participatory activities. In the afternoons, it will move to the piazzas and youth centres to provide counselling services, first assistance and psychological support. As the Central Director of the State Police’s Specialist Units Roberto Sgalla explained, in particularly serious cases, the service providers may also have the assistance of the Postal and Communications Police, Italy’s special internet crime unit.
“Part of the Postal and Communications Police’s job is to foster a culture of online safety and to ensure that the internet can be experienced by everyone, from the schoolroom onwards, as an opportunity rather than as a danger”
– Roberto Sgalla, Central Director of the State Police’s Specialist Units
Results of cyberbullying research announced
Anna Maria Giannini, a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University, provided a very clear snapshot of the youth cyberbullying phenomenon in Italy when she presented the results of an in-depth-study that involved 1,342 young people ranging in age from 14 to 19. Smartphones are the most common electronic devices used to share photos, videos and messages – 93% of the interviewee sample use them in combination with the main social media networks or for internet access. Just 2% of those surveyed use electronic devices for work or study. However, one in three youngsters makes all the material they share freely available to all, even though over half are aware of the possibility that said content could go viral – in fact, 20% fail to recognise the seriousness of this type of online behaviour.
Emblematic of this were the findings that emerged from the presentation to the interviewees of the case of a 16-year-old girl who, after her boyfriend had cheated on her, created a fake social media profile to attack him with other friends. 18% of the study interviewees felt the young girl’s behaviour was justifiable despite the fact that 83% also considered insulting or ridiculing another person to be a serious matter. 60% readily admit that a similar scenario is entirely possible, without realising the fact that starting an attack campaign often leads to the situation spiralling out of control. Essentially, young people adopt the “dual system” psychological model: they show that they know the rules and their applicability but then adopt justification mechanisms which lead to moral disengagement.
Nor do they see authority figures as a real point of reference: seven out of 10 youngsters feel that cyberbullying victims should only talk to their friends. As Moige National President Maria Rita Munizzi noted, this factor underpins the information and prevention project, particularly given that young people are leaving Facebook to prevent their parents and other adults from exerting control over their online activities.
“Protection of minors both on- and offline is an act of collective responsibility that we hope is shared and supported not just by parents but by commercial interests as well as central and local institutions”
– Maria Rita Munizzi, Moige National President
Adults and their role in the "screen effect"
The “screen effect” is the sense that there are no longer any boundaries because the entire world is just a click away and individuals feel safe because they are distanced from reality. As a phenomenon, it has implications that go well beyond cyberbullying. The proliferation of pornography, combined with fake news, is also opening the adult world to the risk of a breakdown in social relationships. Following Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s declaration that a lack of a sense of community leads to violence, the risks of responding without opening up a genuine dialogue with the other were also highlighted. Thinking we know the solutions simply because we are adults can actually exacerbate the generation gap rather than bridge it.
Two of the project’s testimonials, actresses Gaia De Laurentiis and Maria Luisa De Crescenzo, use examples from their own personal experience to illustrate this point. Roberto Sgalla also pointed out the risks of attempting to tackle the issue without the back-up of solid analytical tools such as the study presented in Rome. Because the phenomenon is, by its very nature, so difficult to control, a whole range of subtleties and implications make even the application of Law 71/2015 (which covers provisions to protect minors from cyberbullying) complex.
Gastone Nencini, country manager of Trend Micro Italia, also declared that a concerted effort on both a legislative and technological level was required in order to better define the operational context.
“It is our responsibility as adults to provide tools that will help people avoid danger. To us at Trend Micro, being a computer security multinational does not just mean selling software. It is also about providing tech tools that will make the web a safe place and help shape the digital citizens of the future”
– Gastone Nencini, country manager Trend Micro Italia
Data gathered by Italy’s Postal Police also highlight a huge gap between the total number of cases handled in which minors are victims of crime and the actual reports to the judicial authorities: 354 compared to 39. The phenomena covered include stalking, online defamation, abuse together with threats and harassment, as well as online social media identity theft and the distribution of child pornography.
To send out an immediate signal at a nationwide level, the cyberbullying awareness tour chose as its first stop-off the Institute For High School Education in Santa Maria a Vico in the province of Caserta, where a teacher was the victim of a serious attack by a minor.
The stop-off will mark the start of the new training programme for the 500 young ambassadors who were represented at the Safer Internet Day in Rome by pupils from the Francesco Morano Comprehensive Institute in Caivano and their principal Eugenia Carfora.