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British Attempt To Squash Online Bullying


One place where extremist views often flourish: cyberspace. Trolling, cyberbullying, call it what you will. Abuse via the Internet is a growing problem in this digital age.

And NPR's Philip Reeves says it's become so bad in Britain that people there are fighting back.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Liz Crowter has a 16-year-old daughter called Heidi. Heidi has Down syndrome. A while back, Liz posted some photos of Heidi on the website of a support group. It didn't occur to her anyone would want to copy those pictures onto Facebook, and mock them. Yet, says Liz, that's what happened.

LIZ CROWTER: You just feel sick and sad that people have got so little respect or human kindness, really.

REEVES: Liz says Facebook eventually removed the pictures. Unfortunately, Heidi found out about them. She wasn't impressed.

HEIDI CROWTER: I think it's preposterous and unacceptable.

REEVES: Preposterous and unacceptable things happen on the Internet all the time. In Britain, the authorities are trying to counter-attack. The other day, a 21-year-old student, called Liam Stacey, caused public outrage by tweeting racist abuse about a soccer star who'd just had a cardiac arrest. Stacey was jailed for 56 days.

He joins two other young men who are serving four-year sentences, for using Facebook to urge people to join in last summer's riots in England.

But Internet security expert John Giacobbi says those were high-profile cases and that prosecutions are still a rarity.

JOHN GIACOBBI: The number of cases that have been brought are literally in single figures. I mean it's very, very concerning.

REEVES: Giacobbi is founder of an Internet policing company called Web Sheriff that tracks down cyberabusers. He has a lot of celebrities on his books, including this man.


NOEL EDMONDS: You get to keep the box.


REEVES: The British TV game show host Noel Edmonds. Web Sheriff recently discovered a student had created a Facebook page called: Somebody Please Kill Noel Edmonds. Giacobbi says Edmonds decided not to call in the cops but to meet the student.

GIACOBBI: Once the guy came face-to-face with Noel, he not only was very contrite or remorseful but broke down in tears. And then apologized because he could see that Noel was flesh and blood, a normal guy with a normal family.

REEVES: Celebrities can afford to take on their abusers. But what about people like Heidi? Will they will ever be safe in cyberspace?

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.