In 2012, the United Nations declared 4 May to be the official Anti-bullying Day.

It is now recognised by many countries worldwide, including Australia, France, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the United States and there are many variations on the theme:

  • Stand Up Against Bullying Day (Canada)
  • International Stand Up to Bullying Day
  • Anti-Bullying Day (Australia)
  • Ban Bullying Day (UK)
  • National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence (Australia) and
  • World Day of Bullying Prevention.

Upper Hunter Youth Council took the lead this year and combined the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, the third Friday in March, with Pink Shirt Day.

The original Pink Shirt Day event was held on 4 May 2007, and was organised by a couple of blokes from Nova Scotia, Canada, who bought and distributed 50 pink shirts after a male ninth grade student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt during the first day of school.

Events like Pink Shirt Day and the home-grown Do It for Dolly Day, focus largely on children and young people and work within schools and youth focused social services, having evolved from the first Anti-Bullying Week held in the UK in 2004, which included the launch of the ‘Stand up for us’ guide for primary schools and secondary schools.

As early as 2009 the slogan for that annual event was ‘Stay Safe in Cyberspace’ and focused on cyberbullying.

This year, councils across New Zealand were prompted to unite to take a stand against online bullying through a confronting video released for Pink Shirt Day.

In a two-minute clip released by Hamilton City Council, NZ, staff from 17 councils across the country took turns to read some of the abusive messages they had received.

The video follows the success of Hamilton City Council’s Pink Shirt Day video last year, which saw the Council’s Communication and Engagement Team reading just a few harmful messages. 

It remains Council’s most-viewed video with more than 6000 views to date.

Chief Executive Richard Briggs said the support received from the community and other local government organisations compelled Council to issue a nationwide call out.

With the growth of online services and increasing use of social media, councils receive thousands of comments and messages through Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram every month – and many are positive. 

But the growth in digital channels has also led to a sharp rise in abusive messages.

And when it comes to contentious issues, it is often staff taking the brunt of people’s anger.

Since last year’s video, Hamilton City Council has made changes to its social media policy, taking a harder stance on inappropriate comments. 

It is also more proactive with hiding comments and messages that break terms and conditions.

While social media provides a platform for people to air the worst of themselves anonymously and without accountability, their uncensured comments can penetrate deep into the workplace and even the homes of publicly elected councillors and the teams who work to support them.

Councils need to call out bullying and abusive behaviour from within their organisation and from the community they work for. They need to have strong proactive digital media protocols that protect both staff and councillors. They also need to show leadership and pause to think before they tweet or text or post.