Bullying has featured a lot in the press recently following several allegations against politicians such as Priti Patel and John Bercow.  Bullying has been, is and always will be a challenge faced across all areas of society and is a topic which is taken very seriously and given a lot of focus within schools. The years in which bullying was merely an act of the playground are long behind us. It can be found not only in schools, but also in workplaces, communities and, increasingly, it can also be found online. In the modern day, as a result of the internet, alongside communication platforms of all forms, the means by which to bully have expanded far beyond anything people could have previously imagined.  

There has been a recent proliferation of bullying in the form of cyber bullying.  These days, it is very easy to go online and bully someone, with little to no consequences. In online platforms such as video games and social media, it is very easy to harass a friend, associate or even strangers.  This is especially problematic with online anonymity, as often people can say whatever they like on the internet to whomever they like and face no repercussion. 

Bullying is described as “an imbalance of power which is used to either defame, harass, intimidate or upset another person”.  In schools it may be defined more broadly as any action which causes unhappiness.  I wonder to what extent the intent to cause unhappiness is a relevant factor or whether activities which may be considered “banter”, “differences of opinion” or “arguments” which unintentionally cause unhappiness can amount to bullying?  

Where can the line be drawn between something as simple as an argument, a difference of opinion or just simple banter and straight-up bullying?   There is also the right of free speech, which may give rise to a problem when it comes to whether certain matters are allowed or not, as technically there is absolute free speech, allowing anyone to say anything. Should this be revoked in order to prevent unhappiness for other people?

Banter is described in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’. This is a very good definition and sums up the problem with banter. The problem is that there is a thin line between whether somebody inadvertently causes unhappiness for another person or not. If this is not the case, then there is nothing wrong with it and it can continue. However, there can be an issue if the person being talked about feels unhappy or offended. If this is the case, then they may feel they are being bullied, even though the person speaking the banter does not intend to do so.  Banter is common in schools.  We should encourage people to be open and speak up if they are offended by banter, giving the person the opportunity to cease the behaviour which is causing upset.  

Arguments, differences of opinion and conflict are likely to be present in most places like the workplace and certainly in politics. Some might consider that a certain level of assertiveness which may amount to aggressiveness or intimidation may be required in business environments in order to climb the ranks of a company. This may be considered acceptable and not viewed as bullying, although one could argue that it is if taken too far, as the methods of intimidation and coercion are like those used by bullies to gain power in the playground. Alongside this is the concept of harassing certain politicians based on their opinions, with Brexit being one of the most recent examples causing significant unhappiness to many politicians.  Although people have free speech, I personally believe that there ought to be made a firm line between a mere difference of opinion and bullying or harassment against someone based on their political opinions. 

Overall, it is clear that the age of physical bullying is thankfully largely over and has been replaced by a period in which verbal abuse, particularly so-called cyber-bullying, dominates.  It is something we should all be aware of and it is up to us all to consider how collectively, through our behaviours, we may try to eradicate bullying once and for all.