Bullying used to be a strictly kid-on-kid affair, but with the advent of camera phones and YouTube, teachers are now finding themselves the butt of elaborate international hate campaigns masterminded by students. Raised on a diet of television and videogames, children have an acute grasp of the media landscape, as well as the determination to use it to deliver untold pain on their traditional enemy: the teacher.
Imagine the communication savvy of a Saatchi advertising exec, crossed with the promotional toolset of Google, and topped off with the insidious hatred that only a 16 year-old child can muster. You have a recipe for humiliation that pupils might only have dreamt about a few years ago.
What used to amount to a drawing pin placed on a chair, or a whispered insult in the corridor, has now escalated to the point that teachers can wake up one morning to discover that they're starring in the front-page hate video on one of the world's most popular Web sites.
Pupils with camera phones can easily create elaborate Photoshop montages where a teacher's head is superimposed onto the body of a naked woman dancing the Lambada. These videos are then uploaded to YouTube where an audience of millions may view them.
Many of these videos are already available to watch. The Guardian reports on a YouTube video in which a male teacher is shown "with his trousers down", as well as a case in which a female teacher's head was stuck onto a character in a porn scene.
Victims of this kind of bullying sometimes take time off work, bewildered by stress. The pupils involved may be suspended, but this may not help, as domestic broadband allows them to carry on posting hate material, or using expensive cinema post-production tools pirated from BitTorrent, to super-impose teachers' heads onto the cast of Stanley Kubrick's goth-sex masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is demanding that someone stops these pupils from posting teacher-hate material on YouTube, but given the wide accessibility of the Internet this may be exceedingly difficult to do.
Who can stop a child, heady from a half-litre of cider pawned off a tramp, from heading into the nearest cyber-café and posting video to YouTube using an anonymous account? The Internet simply does not allow accurate targeting of the correct child, nor does it have a good mechanism for bringing the child to justice. The genie of digital surveillance is well and truly out of its bottle.
One suggestion is to ban mobile phones with cameras from schools. Not only would this eliminate 'happy slapping' kid-on-kid violence, but it would make it very hard for pupils to photograph teachers without using an old-fashioned easy-to-spot medium-format camera. You'd definitely notice a kid with one of those black drapes over his head, inserting a photographic plate into the back of a massive wooden box.
Yet given that even cheap 'n' nasty phones now come with decent cameras, and that it takes invasive surgery to separate most teenagers from their phones, it's going to be a tough job. -Chris Stevens