A mum whose son took his own life after he was hounded by online bullies has warned social media users: “Your words could be somebody else’s final straw.”
Backing the Mirror’s Stop Online Hate campaign, Lucy Alexander urged every user to think twice before posting an unkind comment online.
She told the Mirror: “Before hitting send, you have to think, is it true, is it necessary and is it kind?
“How is that person going to read it and what if that person reads your final comment and decides they can’t take it anymore? And you’ve got to go to bed with that for the rest of your life.”
Her warning comes five years after her son Felix was hit by a train aged just 17 in April 2016 after receiving years of online abuse.
Now Lucy, a 55-year-old nurse who campaigns in schools on kindness and mental health, wants Felix’s memory to help make the online world a kinder and safer place.
“Felix was a brilliant, funny and engaging young man,” she said. “He has left an enormous gap in our lives.
“It doesn’t get any easier for families. You learn to carry it I suppose, but there is life before and life after. And life after is very changed.
“I will always be his mum and he will always be my son so I keep him very close to my heart and I am trying very hard to not have him to be identified as the boy who died, but the boy who made a difference. I would like him to have a legacy that he made a difference to other people.”
The mum told how Felix’s torment began when he was excluded by kids at school, before bullying moved onto social media when he was 13.
She said: “It was just constant and something would be said by somebody virtually every day.
“So it wasn’t the same person, so you couldn’t say this person is bullying my son, it was just unkind, unpleasant, sometimes really unpleasant things said every day by somebody.
“Sometimes people who had never met him – didn’t know him – but somehow felt that was OK to just join in. And it just broke his self esteem and just damaged him over time.”
She said he was initially reluctant to move schools amid fears the online abuse would follow him, but even when he found a new school and a supportive group of friends he was left “too badly damaged” by the cruelty.
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“It’s 24/7,” she added. “Back in my day if you were bullied in school, you left school and it stopped.
“But it’s there all the time. It’s in your bedroom. You cannot escape it and after a while you look for it.
“Felix used to look for these things. He used to look for the conversations and he’d screenshot them. I said to him ‘why do you do that – why do you keep looking for things that are going to hurt you?’ And he would say ‘because then I know and I feel I’m armed’.
“But that just eats away at you. It just erodes every bit of self-worth that you have.”
The mum said people often don’t think through the consequences of what they write online, adding that social media has tapped in to one of the “nastier parts of our psyche”.
She added: “One of the people who was probably cruellest to Felix, actually felt that she was his friend.
“And when I challenged her about some of the things that she had said it was ‘how could I judge a friendship based on social media when everybody says what they don’t mean on social media’.
“And she couldn’t see that there was any connection between what she’d said and how he felt at all.”
The mum, from Worcester, believes better regulation of social media could have helped shield Felix.
She also believes education on online safety for children and parents, as well as proper accountability for hate posted online will help stop trolls and cyberbullies in their tracks.
She said: “You couldn’t write that in the newspaper, you couldn’t stand at Speakers’ Corner and say that and be that abusive and that vile, and yet on social media it’s completely unregulated.
“People can do more or less what they want and say whatever they want and make very personal attacks on people that they don’t even know.
“I think people will always find ways round it to a certain extent, but if you felt that if you wrote abusive things on social media that you would be culpable for it and somebody would pull you up on it, I think there would be a reluctance to do it.”
Calling for tech giants to step up and “take responsibility”, she backed the Mirror’s five-point charter to Stop Online Hate.
Measures called for include a clear method to report abuse and proper verification processes to stop abusers hiding behind anonymous accounts.
She added: “It could be sorted, providing the technology companies are taken to task and actually are forced to regulate what they publish.
“We won’t get everything, the net will always have holes in it. However, you could make it a lot better. We need to teach it in schools, we need to talk about what is allowed and what is not allowed in schools, we need our parents to get on board, we need our teachers to get on board.
“We need everyone to be on board with this in order to make it a safer world.”
If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org