Eliot said breaking up playground fights was possible, but, when students had camera phones, controlling the fallout from the incident proved much more difficult.
“If you happen to be in the place at the time, nothing has really changed, teachers are trained in those situations,” he said.
“But once the footage is put online, we’re fairly powerless to do anything about it.
“And in my opinion, that’s where the significant amount of the damage is being done.”
He said the fighting and filming he had witnessed was often cheered on by other students on the sidelines, and for some, the ability to document and share the violence acted as a kind of social currency.
“[The filming] incentivises violence and I have seen that happen at a couple of different schools,” he said.
“It’s encouraged and promoted for the entertainment of other students.
“I’ve discussed it with some students before and I’ve had mixed responses — some students seem to glorify it.”
But for victims, the story was very different.
Eliot said those targeted by the violence could become anxious and noticeably withdrawn, which affected their academic performance.
“If students don’t feel safe, then there’s no way they’re going to be able to learn, and that’s obviously a big problem,” he said.
He said schools had been teaching cyberbullying awareness for some time, but the focus was largely on ensuring students kept their private information safe online.
He said, in contrast, students received scant information about photo or video-based cyberbullying — in particular, the long-term impacts.
Student given just one day suspension for fights: parent
For Canberra father Liam* the emergence of fight videos involving ACT school students was closer to home.
His son had been assaulted at school on two occasions.
He said both incidents were filmed and the graphic vision was shared to fight groups on social media. There, the footage was watched by classmates.
“He came home with a fat lip, and I asked him what had happened, and he said that somebody had punched him at school,” Liam said.
“The way my son was punched, and fell on the ground, by some stroke of luck he didn’t hit his head against the pavement.
“I don’t want to send my son to school knowing there’s a real threat that I will be called to the hospital.”
Liam said when the incident was recorded and circulated on Instagram it compounded his son’s distress.
“My son felt very embarrassed that some of his peers were laughing at him,” he said.
If you or anyone needs help:
Liam said the school was aware of at least five incidents where a group of bullies attacked and recorded other students, including his son, but that it led to just one day of suspension for one of those students.
“After the first incident, I told the school and complained, and they said they were going to do something,” he said.
“But looking at the footage of the second video, it was quite scary for me.
“I don’t think the actions the school is taking are doing much to prevent this.”
He said the impact on his son was “ongoing” to the extent that he often pretended he was sick to avoid having to face the bullies at school.
‘Where does it end?’ Opposition asks schools to be vigilant
ACT Liberal spokeswoman for education Elizabeth Lee said more needed to be done by schools to stamp out bullying and violence.
She said she had met with concerned parents who shared similar stories to Liam’s.
“What we’re currently seeing, with the spreading of violent and dangerous footage around the internet, is clearly something that is unacceptable,” she said.
“If we have a circumstance where children are regularly going home bloodied and bruised, what is going to stop us to say, ‘hey, where does it end?'”
She said part of the problem was schools not keeping accurate data on school violence and bullying.
Ms Lee hit out at the ACT Government for what she said was a “standard response that says the data is only kept at the school level”.
“And anecdotally, I have spoken to parents who have informed me that even the schools are not keeping proper data on when their students are being injured through violent incidents at school,” she said.
The ABC approached Education Minister Yvette Berry for an interview, but a spokeswoman said she was unavailable, writing that the “ACT Government has been working to address violence and bullying in schools for many years”.
Last Thursday, Ms Berry passed a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly for the Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs to report on the management and minimisation of bullying and violence in ACT schools.
The committee is due to report back in October.
But the Education Directorate could not confirm whether it had implemented any new strategy in the interim.
“The directorate has over the last few weeks continued its work in responding strongly to the serious issue of violence being filmed for social media,” a spokesperson said.
“This means educating students about how to be good digital citizens and engage in respectful relationships online and more generally.
“When these videos are circulated and brought to our attention, we provide support to students who need it as well as talk with students to remind them about how to behave appropriately online.
“When required, these incidents are reported to police.”
ACT schools ‘no more violent’ than other jurisdictions
Nationally, the office of the eSafety Commissioner operates a complaints scheme for Australian children under the age of 18 who are targets of serious cyberbullying. It also has legislated powers to issue civil penalties to social media providers.
ACT secretary for the Australian Education Union, Glenn Fowler said more needed to be done to “manage” cyberbullying.
“Violence is a problem that all of society is grappling with, as is mobile phone use and cameras on phones, so this problem’s not going to go away,” Mr Fowler said.
“Schools are becoming very adept now at handling occupational violence, but it is true that the efforts so far have been largely focused on physical violence.
“There’s a cultural change taking place, but it is also fair to say that cyber violence is probably an evolving piece of work.
“The ACT is no more violent than anywhere else. It’s just that in the ACT, we’re leading the nation in the way we report and address violence.”
Anyone with concerns has been asked to contact the Education Directorate on (02) 6205 5429.