CYBER bullies should face prosecution, according to a former victim of vicious online attacks.
Amber Barry was sent hurtful messages on social media sites Facebook and Bebo by a number of pupils at her school over the course of two years from the age of 13 — forcing her to twice change her account.
Miss Barry went through depression and even considered taking her own life because the taunting was so severe.
But with the help of her parents, Michael and Elaine, she was finally placed in a school where she gained the grades to go to Bury College.
The 18-year-old spoke out after a study found that social media bullying is now a bigger problem than email and text abuse.
Miss Barry, who has now nearly completed a health and social care course and wants to work as a pharmacist, believes the problem is only likely to get worse.
Miss Barry said: “I totally back calls that cyber bullies should face prosecution. They made my life miserable for years.
“If they had done it to my face, they would have had to face the music but, because it was behind an online profile, they got away with it.
"I think the threat of prosecution might also act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of doing it.”
Miss Barry’s ordeal started in 2009 when she was just 13.
She said: “I was in year eight. At the time Bebo and Facebook were all the rage and that’s where the bullying began.
“People would send me vicious messages every day, really horrible comments about the way I looked.
“They didn’t like the fact I was speaking to another lad who was a friend of mine, so they’d post comments saying I was doing sexual things with him, all of which weren’t true.
“Every day there would be messages and, after a while, it stopped me going into school. I just couldn’t handle it any more.”
The social media report, by Nottingham Trent University psychology lecturer Dr Lucy Betts, studied 29 children aged 11 to 15.
Dr Betts said: “Increasing digitisation has led to growing concern over the effect this is having on the prevalence of cyberbullying and cyber victimisation.”
Dr Barry Silvert, clinical director for integrated commissioning at NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “GPs often only learn that a young patient is being bullied when it has been going on for some time and is having a negative impact on their health.
“We are now seeing an increasing number of young people in who are struggling with mental health problems linked to bullying, including cyber-bullying.
“Bullying can undermine confidence and cause low self-esteem, anxiety and, in some cases, self-harm or depression.
"I encourage any young people who are being bullied to speak to someone they trust, such as a parent, carer, or teacher, before their mental health begins to suffer.”
The bullying had a profound effect on Miss Barry. Usually happy and sociable, she turned into a recluse who would rarely come out of her room, prompting her parents to find out what was going on.
She said: “I kept thinking: ‘What’s the point?’ I thought it wouldn’t matter if I was no longer here. I didn’t go out at weekends or socialise.
"I just stayed in my room. I got depressed and would sleep all the time.
"I went from being happy and bubbly to locking myself away in my room. When mum confronted me after about a month, I burst into tears and told her.
"It was such a relief to have someone on my side.”
Miss Barry believes it is too easy for a bully to attack people online because untraceable fake profiles are easy to create.
She said: “I think to have a profile you have to prove who you are and that you are a certain age. It’s too easy for 13-year-olds to pretend they are 18.
“What starts off with one or two bullies can quickly escalate into something too much for anyone to handle.
“You can deal with two people, but not faceless Facebook groups. I ended up shutting my Facebook and Bebo accounts for a long time until I was able to get over it.
“In year 11, when I began to make friends, I opened my Facebook account but kept it private and only accepted people I like. I’m careful with it now because it made my life hell.”
A Bolton Council spokesman said: “Bullying is serious and pupils and parents should be assured that they will be fully supported by their school when reporting incidents.”