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young 'cyber-mentors' step up

"I'm your age, I care, and I'm listening." That's the message from a new group of "cyber-mentors", intent on stamping out bullying online.

Recent revelations over "sexting" - the sending of sexually explicit messages between young people - has highlighted the need for providing more support to young people online.

The new recruits - volunteers from across the UK aged 10-25 - were trained to give advice and offer support to bullied young people online.

Juliet Brown, a development officer at BeatBullying, told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme that typical online bullying is similar to that in real life, typically involving comments about being ugly or fat.

"With the internet, the audience is a lot larger - you could get two thousand comments a day, maybe," she said.

"That's distressing for someone who has to go through that."

Comment flood

The anti-bullying event, held at Google's London headquarters, highlighted that the effect of online abuse can be heightened due to added anonymity.

"People feel more secure to do it online because they're not looking at the person in the face," said one mentor.

Mobile phone on computer

The anonymity of the internet is key to the rise in bullying

"And they're more likely to be alone rather than be confronted."

Cyber-bullying recently came under the spotlight following a high-profile case in the US.

Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Missouri, hanged herself after receiving threatening messages via a fake profile on the social networking site MySpace. The woman who set up the profile, 50-year-old Lori Drew, was acquitted of any role in Meier's death.

Many of the Cyber-mentors said they felt compelled to help after experiencing or witnessing cyber-bullying themselves.

"When people are being bullied online they don't really know what to do about it," said one. "When you're being bullied at school, there are channels you can go through."

Another added: "If you're not on the internet, people could just be phoning you and phoning you and phoning you - you just can't really get out of it."

Take interest

Other volunteers told of people they knew who had made "saucy videos" for a boyfriend or girlfriend - only to find that those videos were sent around the internet when the relationship ended.

Ms Brown says that the cyber-mentoring site has many resources for parents and teachers, but advises that communication is the key tool to help children deal with bullying.

"Don't have your child upstairs in their room on the internet - take an interest in what your child is doing online," she said.

"We're also encouraging young people to encourage other young people to surf safely, and that they have rights."

She added she hopes the charity's effort to train young people will encourage bullied youngsters to speak up.

"Tell someone, tell your parents, tell your carers," she said.

"Just make sure that you tell someone. Don't go through it alone."

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