Focus on online cyberbullying

Cyberbullying YP on phoneResearch by anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that one in three said they lived in fear of cyberbullying.  Appearance was cited as the most likely topic for abuse.

70% of young people (in a survey of 10,000 people aged 12-20) admitted to being abusive to another person online.  17% claimed to have been a victim of online cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is one of the biggest challenges facing young people today…

So what is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is repeated online targeted bullying or harassment that can take many forms: rumours, threats (such as homophobic or racial slurs), sexual remarks, bribery, or even disclosing personal information about someone.  Grooming is a serious form of online bullying where people are not quite what they seem to be.  The perpetrator gains trust from a child specifically to commit sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking.

How is it different from offline bullying?

Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying doesn’t involve face-to-face interactions.  Online cyber-bullying can however reach a much wider audience or go viral, very quickly.   There appears to be no relief for the victim, as it can happen 24/7 unlike offline bullying.

Cyberbullying can happen anywhere as most people have access to the internet and social media apps.  Simply by logging on people can perpetrate this form of abuse.  Bullies can also hide their identity and attack people anonymously (we see this with adults too in the form of ‘trolling’).  These factors can make it very difficult to avoid cyber-bullying.  If videos and images are used, this can be particularly damaging for the victim.

What does cyberbulling look like?

There are various ways of cyberbullying:-

  • Harassing someone via text, instant or email messaging with the intention to threaten or embarrass the target.
  • Impersonating someone by creating a fake profile and posting rude or hurtful remarks.  It can involve stealing the victim’s passwords and chatting to other people and making offensive remarks.  ‘Catfishing’ is luring someone into a fake relationship by pretending to be someone else.
  • Using photographs to bribe someone by threatening to share embarrassing/degrading photographs.  If photographs are shared, there is no way to control the distribution of them, and hundreds of people could receive them.
  • Creating websites or polls to post and share personal information or photos/videos that insult or shame the victim.
  • Video shaming can involve sharing a video to humiliate and embarrass someone – for instance filming and sharing kids physically attacking another, or creating a situation and filming and sharing someone’s reaction.
  • ‘Subtweeting’ or ‘Vaguebooking’ is when someone posts something that doesn’t mention the victim by name, but the victim and the larger audience know who the posts refer to.

Why do people cyberbully others?

People that bully others can find anger, frustration or revenge a motivation.  Boredom and jealousy can also play a part as they can do it to provoke a reaction or to get laughs from their peers.  As they don’t always see the reaction of the victim it’s easier to engage in unacceptable, sometimes anonymous behaviour.

Do cyberbullying victims and perpetrators fit any stereotypical profile?

It seems that there is no stereotypical profiles of victims and bullies – and people often switch roles.

How do people react to cyberbullying?

Positively – by blocking messages from the bullies, deleting messages before reading them.  Letting a responsible adult know that it’s happening.

Negatively – by taking revenge or retaliating (and therefore switching roles), or avoiding the situation.  This can often manifest in serious problems like eating disorders, anxiety and depression – even suicide.

How can people prevent cyberbullying and stay cyber-safe?

Firstly, parents should talk to their children about the problems of online bullying – and the risks of sharing private information and images.  If cyber-bullying does occur, its important to know how to report it.

Make sure that privacy settings are active on your computer and don’t share your personal information online to anyone.  This includes your passwords even with your friends – and always make sure you sign out of any accounts you use before leaving a computer.

And here’s a few ‘do nots’…

  • Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t mind anyone seeing.
  • Don’t open any attachments or messages from anyone you don’t know.
  • Don’t respond to rude or goading messages – by replying you can aggravate a situation and make it worse.

If a parent suspects their child is a victim of cyberbulling, what should they do?

  • Firstly parents should encourage their child to confide in them, especially when things go wrong.  Let them know it’s not their fault.  Support your child and let them know you will deal with it.
  • Keep an eye on them, the after-effects can be very traumatic and even lead to suicide.
  • Block the perpetrators from contact whether it be from their phone or social media.
  • If inappropriate or offensive material is visible online, contact the site to ask them to remove it.
  • You should notify the school if other students are involved.  In serious cases inform the police (they can decide whether a message is potentially criminal).
  • Make sure you have printed evidence/transcribes of any instances of bullying – documenting attacks when they happen can be useful.

What can parents do if they suspect their own child is an online bully?

Early intervention is key here – and parents should not accept excuses.  Bullies often blame others – they should be reminded that bullying is a choice they made, even if there was a degree of peer pressure.

Find out why your child chose to bully another.  It’s important to let the bullies know how their actions impact on their victims – try to get them to see the situation in reverse, and how they would feel.

Consequences should be in line with the nature of the offense.  Apologise to the victim but only if its appropriate. Taking away privileges can also deter bullying and supporting a school’s disciplinary action can also help.

There’s plenty of online help – see our information page here.