Schoolgirl left on ‘suicide watch’ after Instagram ‘ugly or not’ poll
PUBLISHED: 12:03 19 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:49 19 July 2018
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A heartbroken mum has revealed how she has had to place her 10-year-old daughter on suicide watch after the schoolgirl discovered an ugly-or-not poll launched by cyber bullies.
Mia-Lili Bennett had not stopped crying and told her parents Corrinia Bennett, 33, and John Bennett, 42, that she wanted to “end it all” after seeing the cruel Instagram poll.
The post featured a photo of the Norwich schoolgirl’s face with the words “who thinks she ugly” plastered over it – to which 53pc responded “hell ya”.
Bullies created an account called puglife123456 under Mia-Lili’s name to post the survey on June 2 and a family friend alerted Corrinia to its existence last Tuesday, July 10.
The mother-of-three said she immediately reported the poll to Instagram who removed the post.
But shocked by what she had seen, Mrs Bennett then faced the devastating task of showing Mia-Lili the post to find out if she knew about it, leaving her blissfully unaware little girl in floods of tears and suicidal.
Mrs Bennett, a customer experience assistant at a bookmakers, said: “I was made aware that this post had been going round by a friend. I reported it straight away and so did a few other people.
“Instagram were really good and they have taken it down.
“But the next day I needed to wake up my daughter and ask her about it. I didn’t want to show her but I needed to know what had been going on.
“She saw the post and just started crying. She cried so much she collapsed and her dad had to scoop her up off the floor.
“She hasn’t stopped crying since and neither have I to be honest.
“We’ve had to put her on suicide watch at home. Her dad and I have to make sure someone is with her 24 hours a day because she keeps talking about ending it all.
“She had hairbands tied up in a hoop on her bed and I had to take them down because I was terrified what she might try to do.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I never thought I would be dealing with my daughter being a victim of cyber bullying at such a young age. They’re still so innocent at this age.
“Even though you’re always going to be there for your kids when something happens, you don’t expect something this evil to happen. It’s horrible.
“For someone to even think about being that malicious is horrendous.
“It has completely destroyed her confidence, she’s very self-conscious about the way she looks. We tell her she’s beautiful all the time but she won’t believe it.
“After it happened, Mia-Lili felt so self-conscious she didn’t want to go to school anymore but she went on Friday and she told me, ‘I won’t let them win’. I’m so proud of her.
“She has the kindest heart. She always gives homeless people her pocket money and if you ask her if she wants something from a shop she’ll say she needs to get something for her dad and sisters first.
“She’s so willing to open her heart to people. Even if they’re horrible to her she calls them her friends. I don’t understand why they can’t treat her with the same kindness.”
Mrs Bennett also contacted Norfolk police to report the cyber bullying and says they were “brilliant” at consoling Mia-Lili.
A spokesman for Norfolk Constabulary confirmed the investigation was ongoing.
Without her mother’s consent Mia-Lili set up an Instagram account at the beginning of June but confessed a couple of hours later.
Mrs Bennett, of Wherry Road, told her daughter she was not allowed to have a social media account until she meets the required aged limits – with Instagram only allowing accounts for 13 year olds and over.
Mia-Lili did as asked and deleted the account but in the few hours it was live, someone got hold of the little girl’s profile photo and turned it into a nasty poll.
Since the incident Mia-Lili’s mother, father, and sisters Lexi-May Bennett, nine, and Neave-Marie Bennett, four, have given the youngster as much love and support as possible.
And Mrs Bennett is now urging all parents to watch their children’s internet activity more diligently to ensure they don’t become victims of online trolls.
She said: “When Mia-Lili told me she had set up an Instagram account, I told her straight away it needed to be taken down and uninstalled as she’s not old enough yet.
“She did what I asked like she normally does and took it down. We didn’t hear anything else of it until we heard about the poll.
“Kids don’t know how to set their accounts to private so it’s all public and someone got hold of her photo.
“I reported it to the police and they have been brilliant. They told Mia-Lili it’s not her fault because she has been blaming herself, she thinks it’s her fault for setting up an account.
“She has been the victim of severe bullying before. The kids used to rub her tummy and call her fat. We used to live in London and we moved to Norwich for a fresh start.
“We had finally got her confidence back up but now it is completely gone again.
“Her dad has been so strong for her, he always is in these situations. And her little sister Lexi-May is so angry for her. We’re doing our best to have as much family time as possible.
“As a mum you blame yourself. You wonder if you’re doing something wrong, putting her in the wrong clothes or shoes. You think it’s your fault that your child is being targeted.
“But it’s the internet. Bullies are more confident online. They feel like they can do whatever they want when they’re hidden behind a computer screen but there needs to be consequences.
“Parents need to be so vigilant when their children use the internet.
“And if some parents do think it’s okay to let their kids use social media then they need to keep an eye on what they’re posting and who’s sending them private messages.
“It’s not just bullies, there are so many predators out there. It is so dangerous and as parents you need to do everything you can to keep your children safe.”
Michelle Napchan, head of public policy for Instagram in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “People want to feel free to express themselves online without fear of being bullied or attacked.
“That’s why Instagram provides the tools to help people report any offensive or hurtful content and has a team of reviewers to remove anything that violates our guidelines which clearly state there is no place for bullying on Instagram.”
The rise of the cyber bully
Government research suggests playground bullying is on the decline, replaced instead by online bullying and the power of social media and anonymous apps.
Nick O’Brien, assistant headteacher Neatherd High School in Dereham, previously echoed this and said while they hadn’t seen an increase in bullying overall, much of it had moved out of school and onto the internet.
“Traditional bullying has changed - the days of the bully flushing a child’s head down a toilet have, largely, gone,” he said.
“But with those sorts of cases, everybody understood what had happened - there was a bully, there was a victim. It’s much less clear today.
“And it’s particularly hard with older generations - it’s easy for people to say that children shouldn’t be on social media, but it is just the way it is. It’s sad that so much of young people’s self-esteem is tied into likes and retweets, but unfortunately that’s where we are.”
Government should regulate social networks, says charity
Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online, said: “No child should have to go through this kind of bullying that Mia-Lili has been subjected to.
“The NSPCC has lots of support for parents on our Net Aware site, including how to have regular conversations with their children about their online lives and how to keep safe.
“Instagram did the right thing by removing this vile post, but not all social networks are as responsive to reports of abuse.
“The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for government to regulate social networks, and force them to build in extra protections for children.”
The NSPCC’s online safety helpline for parents, run in partnership with O2, can be contacted on 0808 8005002 and any young person who’s being bullied can talk to Childline on 0800 11 11 or at childline.org.uk.
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