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Inside Spain: Cyberbullying at schools and the right's 'sludge machine'

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Inside Spain: Cyberbullying at schools and the right's 'sludge machine'
A truck displays an image comparing Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to Adolf Hitler and reading "Sánchez out, dictator and tyrant". (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

In this week's Inside Spain, we look at the country's increasing rates of school cyberbullying and how the Prime Minister himself also feels he's been the victim of another kind of harassment by what he calls 'the sludge machine'.

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Up until only a few years ago, the concept of bullying wasn’t really recognised in Spain, so much so that when social awareness about this problem grew, Spaniards first adopted the English word ‘bullying’ to describe it. 

They also referred to it as bulling, or bulin to make it easier for them to spell and pronounce, and used it to describe physical and verbal abuse at work as well. More recently, they’ve coined the more Spanish and specific term acoso escolar (school harassment).

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It’s likely that bullying in Spanish classrooms was around decades ago, but there’s every reason to believe it wasn’t as widespread as it is now, as the latest figures suggest one in three kids in Spain has suffered bullying

It’s not that Spanish schools and high schools are any worse than elsewhere in Europe. In fact, according to the latest stats from the World Health Organisation, Spain has among the lowest rates of bullying on the continent, whereas Lithuania, England, Denmark and Latvia have the highest prevalence.

Rather, Spain’s rising bullying rate has the same roots as in other countries: cyberbullying, whereby young people humiliate, insult or verbally abuse their classmates online, is on the up

The 50 percent rise of cyberbullying (or ciberacoso) in schools in the Valencian Community is the chief reason why the regional government has decided to ban mobile phones in all schools and high schools from Monday. 

Seven regions in Spain have now limited mobile phone usage in classrooms as a means of putting an end to this toxic behaviour and to increase pupils’ concentration. 

One in three teens in Spain is reportedly addicted to social media and 95 percent of those who receive screen detoxing help are girls

The healthy al fresco Spanish upbringing isn’t quite what it used to be, nor is the innocence of the country’s youth. Spain’s next generations are afflicted by the very same challenges as the rest of the globalised world. 

READ ALSO: Is bullying a problem in Spanish schools?

And it’s not as if the country’s political classes are setting a very good example, as this week’s events have shown.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had 48 million Spaniards holding their breath for five days before announcing that he wouldn’t resign in the end, even though “the sludge machinery” (maquinaria del fango) and “smear campaign” (acoso y derribo) he and his wife had been subjected to by right-wing groups had apparently led him to seriously consider giving up. 

READ ALSO: Spanish prosecutors question credibility of corruption probe against PM's wife

For many, it was much ado about nothing from Sánchez, or pure political strategy, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, as he says he’s been the victim of what analysts call “domestic lawfare”.  

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Satirical TV presenter El Gran Wyoming describes it as: “Certain media publish fake news, certain political groups amplify it and repeat it until it enters the collective imagination, certain pressure groups take it to court, and certain judges accept the complaint, and then you have the headline: the case of the Prime Minister’s wife reaches the courts, and even if the investigation proves no wrongdoing the damage is already done”.

And it’s not the first time Sánchez’s wife has been targeted by cruel and outlandish claims peddled by the right, from her being a man, to her family being drug traffickers or that they run a chain of brothels. 

The PM himself has also been called a “psychopath”, a “terrorist sympathiser” and a “traitor” who in the words of Vox leader Santiago Abascal deserved to be “strung up by the feet” in allusion to the death of fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Not that Sánchez is completely blameless either, as The Guardian wrote in an op-ed

Whether it’s in the corridors of El Congreso or those of a Spanish high school, the propensity for damaging bulos (fake news) spreading appears to be just as likely nowadays.

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