A website enabling teenagers to post insults and racist comments about their peers has prompted an outcry in Germany after 20 youths beat another teen senseless over remarks made on its forums.
“Michelle is one of the biggest whores in the school”; “Elizabeth is a slut and bad in bed”; “Carola in class nine is screwing her biology teacher” — a selection of comments on the site where users can post in total anonymity.
Other postings on the German-language site are anti-Semitic or xenophobic. One forum is entitled: “We should get rid of these dirty Turks once and for all”.
The site, iShareGossip.com, has hit the headlines after online baiting turned to real-life violence.
A 17-year-old boy confronted another teen who had insulted his 18-year-old girlfriend on the site, dubbed the “bullying platform” in the press.
In a resulting fight, he was attacked by around 20 other people, suffering serious head injuries and needing an emergency trip to hospital.
Another recent brawl, also after barbs were traded on the site, resulted in bystanders coming to the aid of a 15-year-old boy who was set upon by around 20 others.
Bolder about bullying
In another incident from the forum, a secondary school in Berlin had to close for two days after a pupil boasted he was going to cause carnage there.
Youth protection agencies have called for the closure of the site, which was apparently inspired by the hit US drama Gossip Girl in which a New York teenager blogs about her daily life, dishing about friends and acquaintances.
The site has caused uproar in Germany, where people are especially sensitive about privacy and insults can be punished with a jail term.
Appeals to boycott the site have begun to surface on social networking website Facebook and some of its own users itself have taken a stand. “This site should be banned,” one correspondent wrote.
“At least 20 youths hospitalised a 17-year-old in Berlin. The young man wanted to prevent an argument and ended up with concussion. You should all be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves,” wrote another.
One educational psychologist said the internet had driven pupils to be bolder in their bullying.
“Before, 50 years ago, pupils would write ‘teacher is an idiot’ or ‘Peter is stupid’ on the blackboard or the table. Now they use other media available to them,” Klaus Seifried told Agence France-Presse.
Harmful to young people
With new technology, “I can disseminate something in seconds and it is available forever,” he added.
Catarina Katzer, an expert on bullying, said: “Anonymity on the web has made young people lose their inhibitions. Often they don’t even know they are doing any harm when they insult someone.”
The authorities have been stung into action by the wide media coverage. Prosecutors in Frankfurt, who are responsible for cybercrime, have begun a probe into the website.
The family ministry has announced the site would be placed on a list of web pages deemed harmful to young people. This does not mean it will be taken down, but German search engines will not direct users to it.
In Britain, the owners of a similar website closed it down after racist comments and other malicious remarks were posted.
And a high-profile case in 2006 in the United States showed how far so-called “cyber-bullying” can go when a 14-year-old girl hanged herself after being harassed on the MySpace website.
The founder of iShareGossip.com said in the only interview he has given, and on condition of anonymity, that the site was hosted by the same Swedish server as document-sharing platform WikiLeaks.
Definitely not going offline
The site itself says it “aims to contribute to more transparency on the web”. Anonymity allows users “to exchange opinions that they might not publish under their own name”, the site adds.
And in a defiant response to rumours it was set to be shut down, a recent post read: “I do not know where people have got this information from. iShareGossip will definitely not be going offline.”
The media, especially in Berlin, have been vociferous in demanding an end to the “cybermobbing” as it is know in Germany.
“This is not harmless child’s play, but psycho-terror,” said the BZ tabloid, based in Berlin. — AFP