Website bullies: plea for action

Victims targeted on a whim by anonymous website commentators. Picture Richard Ponter 132220b
Victims targeted on a whim by anonymous website commentators. Picture Richard Ponter 132220b
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A young Scarborough woman has spoken out about the latest website abuse that ridicules people at random.

Charlotte Francomano, 25, of Cambridge Street, was horrified when she discovered a hurtful comment posted on ‘Spotted: Scarborough’ which poked fun at her appearance.

The ridicule was on a Facebook page which allows people to post anonymous comments and pictures of people in Scarborough.

Although her name wasn’t included, Miss Francomano said the post on the page, which has almost 5,000 ‘likes’, was clearly aimed at her due to it naming her workplace.

She said: “I felt really upset. It just makes you feel like everybody is laughing at you. You don’t know who said it so it makes it worse as it could be anyone.

“My mum and sister have reported it to Facebook and a few people commented on the post saying they were going to do the same. It was a personal attack and I feel like my privacy has been invaded. I don’t think it should be allowed. I have seen posts where they have taken pictures of people and slagged them off. It’s horrible. It’s just an excuse to ridicule people.”

Following complaints, the page’s administrators took the post down last Thursday and issued a public apology on the site, agreeing that it was “unacceptable”. It comes after the site was also criticised for publishing a photograph of a youth without parental consent. Speaking to the Scarborough News, ‘Admin #3’ said the page was primarily set up “as harmless fun” and posts and content were monitored, adding bullying would not be tolerated.

The administrator said: “The page does not promote bullying, and we have made it clear that we are against bullying, and do not tolerate attacks on others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or medical condition.”

The administrator accepted that some people may be offended but said it was their choice to look at the page.

“We don’t force people to look at our page, and we certainly don’t give the offence that people take. The content is viewed by users who form their own opinion on it, as a result they will sometimes take offence and this is completely down to the individual,” they said.

Adding that the “good outweighs the bad”, the administrator said the site had helped reunite a lost dog with its owner.

However, Charlotte’s mother, Gillian Coulson believes the site promotes cyber bullying. Mrs Coulson, 51, of Highfield, said: “I’m in two minds whether to report it to the police. It’s cyber bullying. It’s my daughter today but it’s somebody else tomorrow. It’s having a laugh at someone else’s expense.

“There are a lot of people in Scarborough who feel the same way. It’s a small town and not difficult to identify people event when they aren’t named. There’s a lot in the media about people taking their own lives because of sites like this. It can have serious repercussions.”

Charlottes’s sister Emily Webb, 23, of Eastfield, added: “There are similar sites popping up all over the country that do the same thing – humiliate people. It’s bullying and it could affect young people.”

MP Robert Goodwill, who is regularly targeted by internet trolls, has also criticised the site.

He said: “While the internet can be a force for good and a way for people to keep in touch with their mates via Facebook or Twitter, it can also invite some very nasty and twisted comments which can be hurtful and in some cases even lead to people attempting suicide.

“The activities of so-called internet trolls are something to be deplored, particularly when done anonymously, and whilst we can’t control the internet in this way, people should be aware that anything they put up can come back to haunt them.”

The page’s administrator stressed that any posts which came into conflict with the site’s terms and conditions were deleted and members were encouraged to point out any potentially damaging material. “We block repeat offenders and if we consider real world laws to be broken, we will inform the authorities.

“We have only had to block a few users. We have also set an age-restriction to the page so that any Facebook user below 18 cannot ‘like’ or view the page,” they said.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the page had been checked and didn’t break any of the company’s rules.

“However, I can say that some content on the page has been removed for violating our policies,” she added.