Cruel taunts conveyed through social media like Facebook can torment young people, provoking despair and anguish, which can lead in extreme cases to suicide, the non-profit Pro Juventute group says.
The phenomenon made international headlines earlier this month when 15-year-old Canadian Amanda Todd reportedly took her life after becoming the target of online bullying.
Todd posted a video on YouTube to make public her experience of being blackmailed, bullied and physically assaulted.
Pro Juventute, which provides counselling to young people and parents, launched an awareness campaign on Monday, warning that it is only a matter of time before a similar tragedy happens in Switzerland.
The group uses a provocative video to suggest that clicks of the computer can be as harmful as knife cuts on a young person.
Although many people are unaware of the problem, one in ten adolescents in the country are already victims of harassment on the web or “cybermobbing” as it is called by the Swiss.
“The suicide of Amanda Todd could happen in Switzerland just like anywhere else,” Stephen Oetiker, director of Pro Juvente, told Le Matin newspaper.
Every week, the group’s telephone help line receives two or three calls from desperate young people who are the victims of cyber-bullying.
Insults, compromising photos, false accusations and intimidation are among the techniques employed, often anonymously, using websites, emails or SMS.
Sometimes what starts off as a joke ends up with serious consequences.
Pro Juventute decided to act after learning through research conducted by the Gfk institute that most Swiss misunderstand the issue.
Only one in two Swiss residents knows what cyber-bullying is, while 70 percent do not know where to find help in dealing with such attacks.
Often parents “are not aware of the importance of the virtual world for their children because the real, physical world remains much more important for them,” Oetiker said.
The Pro Juventute campaign includes national TV ads and billboards, featuring the image of a boy being subjected to “cuts” by multiple cursors.
The group encourages young people and parents to seek advice through its 147 help line, which is staffed 24 hours a day by professional counsellors.
More information is available on the Pro Juventute website (in French, German and Italian).
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