IT’S a major form of communication in today’s technological world but with the rise of social media sites also comes the rise of cyber bullying. RUTH MANSFIELD looks at how Gwent has been affected.

THEY can help us stay connected with friends, advertise our work and keep people updated on our lives but the rise of social media sites also has its perils too.

Cyber bullying, which is any form of bullying online, is on the increase and can range from spreading rumours and gossip via the likes of Facebook and Twitter to making abusive comments, posting nasty pictures and can lead to blackmailing or even stealing an identity.

The issue has been reported all over the country and the rise has recently seen children’s commissioner for Wales Keith Towler call for new legislation on cyber bullying.

In Gwent, a rise in cyber bullying has also been evident with the police’s new head of CID Pete Jones saying he has now made tackling cyber bullying one of his priorities in his new role after seeing an increase in it during the past two years.

He said: “Social media sites do seem to increase the confidence of individuals and sometimes they really do not think it through and that what they are doing can have an impact. They could be committing an offence.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Jones’ advice to people using social media sites is to ask themselves the question before posting a comment about whether they should be posting it.

He said: “If the answer is no, then don’t do it. The evidence will be there.”

Examples of cyber bullying which has been evident in Gwent in recent months include a Facebook page named: ‘Gimps of Cwmbran’.

This allowed users to anonymously leave messages about other people in Cwmbran but the page was removed in August, just over a week after being set up, following complaints that it fuelled bullying.

Comments included that a person smelled or needed to sort their “pathetic life out”.

At the time, a Facebook spokeswomen said they provided users with industry leading tools to block people or report content which was found to be threatening so that Facebook can remove it quickly.

Gwent police also issued their own warning earlier this year through their Facebook site which warned people about the impact of making indecent or offensive comments on social media sites.

The post stated: “If you say something about someone which is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, then you can be reported to the police and face an investigation and a possible fine or a term of up to six months’ imprisonment under legislation which includes the Malicious Communications Act.”

It is not just the police though that are working to prevent and tackle cyber bullying.

Last year, Coleg Gwent launched its own campaign to try and prevent cyber bullying and raise awareness.

The e-safety project ‘think b4u click’ aims to help people stay safe online and saw staff and students from the college bring their expertise together to produce posters, leaflets and games which give learners advice on topics including behaviour in chat rooms, appropriate use of social networking sites and identity theft.

Head of learner services at the campus, June Bridgman said: “The project highlights steps students could take to stay safe when on the internet, for example promoting sensible use of social networking sites.

"Through advice and guidance on college websites, in our learning centres, in games, activities and presentations we aim to provide students with the knowledge of potential risks they might encounter online in a fun and engaging way, so that they can make more informed choices about sharing information and visiting websites."

The campaign provides advice to avoid cyber bullying including tips such as not giving out personal details when registering on sites, using privacy settings on social media sites, not giving out passwords and using nicknames when using chat sites.

The project also includes video tutorials on aspects such as how to stop cyber bullying and carrying out safe online shopping.

Ms Bridgman said: “Often when speaking about cyber bullying the language can be quite technical, so we wanted to raise awareness about online risks using language that’s accessible to all, and in a context relevant to young people.

“All full time learners are introduced to a dedicated Think b4u Click area on Moodle – the college’s virtual learning resource - at their induction. The area provides information, a video created by learners and activities to get them talking to their tutors, and each other, about the dangers online, and encourage them to be aware of the risks and how to act safely and responsibly online. This forms part of their course as part of the tutorial enrichment programme.

She added: “The campaign has been a great success. Our students appreciate the time we take to educate them on this as the internet can present many risks but also many opportunities if you use it safely and responsibly.”