What is cyberbullying all about?
Using technology is a part of daily life. Mobile phones, emails, websites, blogs, online games and social network sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can be a positive and fun tool to learn, express yourself and keep in touch with friends and family.
Sometimes it seems there is more sad news than happy news about technology, with the media reporting lots of stories about how technology can be used to hurt other people. You may have heard news reports about the impacts of cyberbullying and you may even have experienced cyberbullying yourself. From what young people are telling us at Kids Helpline, cyberbullying is an ongoing issue.
Bullying vs other types of conflict
It's important to remember that not all fighting or arguing is bullying. It's normal to have times when you have conflict and arguments with people. So, it's important to learn how to deal with conflict. Bullying is different to having an argument or a fight.
There are four things that can help you identify bullying over a normal argument between friends. Bullying is targeted and persistent behaviour that is intended to:
- embarrass, or
Bullying also involves:
- An imbalance of power - for example a group ganging up on an individual or someone much more confident picking on someone who is less confident
- Repeatedly picking on someone over the phone, email, website or online forum (for example, sending messages to the same person over and over).
So, how is ‘cyberbullying’ different to bullying?
Basically, cyberbullying is an extension of bullying but the people doing the bullying use technology such as websites, text messages, social networking sites and emails to embarrass, demean, harass, intimidate or threaten other people.
What young people have been saying to Kids Helpline about cyberbullying
Our counsellors have responded to lots of children and young people who are dealing with a range of different 'cyberbullying' related issues. We hear reports of cyberbullying that can range from situations such as arguments between friends that get out of control, to groups of young people deliberately targeting other young people.
In a survey Kids Helpline conducted about cyberbullying some of the things young people told us included:
‘I was paranoid that people read what they were saying about me and that people judged me because of it.’
‘I still feel scared and like I can't trust people like they're going to turn on me... it is very hard for me to make friends even to this day even though it was over five years ago.’
Our survey also asked young people to let us know ‘what advice would you give a friend who is being cyberbullied?’ Here are some responses:
‘Don't be afraid of telling, it is the best thing you can do!’
‘Don't try and get even.’
‘Blocking is your best friend!’
‘Don't take what they say to heart... there will always be people that love and care for you and they are the ones who really matter.’
Why is cyberbullying so hurtful and why do people do it?
Cyberbullying can be so hurtful because the bullying can often be very public. Mean messages left on a Facebook page are not just seen by the person being bullied but might also be seen by all their friends. Often the person being bullied can't get away from it because the messages come through on their mobile phone, to their email account or on their Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter feed.
There's lots of reasons that young people bully others. Sometimes it's about trying to become popular, or to intimidate or make someone afraid of them. Sometimes it's a reaction to being bullied themselves or because they are jealous of the person they are bullying.
What can you do if you're being cyberbullied?
There are always different ways to deal with a problem of bullying, whether it's at school or online. It may also depend on who is doing the bullying and how it started. It's important to keep in mind that dealing with bullying is about finding a solution that works for you. Sometimes it can be really hard to reach out for help or tell someone because you're concerned that people won't understand, know what to do or that it'll make the situation worse.
There are important things that can be helpful to remember if you're being cyberbullied:
- It is NOT your fault
- There is help available (teachers, parents and counsellors can all be helpful people to talk with about your situation)
- You can block the bullies from sending you messages or emails or stay offline for a while
- You can get help from the police and take legal action if needed
- It can help to keep copies of abusive messages that are sent to you because they can be used later as evidence. This might include taking a screenshot and saving it.
Useful things to remember when communicating online (to help sort out/avoid some conflict!)
When communicating using text messages or emails it's important to remember that the people who read it don't get to hear your tone of voice or see your facial expressions. This can lead to potential confusion and can then result in conflict. Sometimes you may even be perceived as a bully.
Sometimes school conflict can become a bigger problem and people can start to bully others over something that initially started as an argument. To help with this, we've included some tips to avoid fights and disputes that are occurring online:
- Remember that things can be misinterpreted. If you have a reaction to something someone has said in an email or online you might want to think about whether replying online is the most effective way to communicate with them.
- Be mindful of the people that you involve in an argument. Have a think about whether you need to bring them in and be careful using the 'reply all' function or including everyone in a group in a message.
- If you are posting photos or videos of your friends be aware they might feel embarrassed so make sure you check with them first.
- Avoid using sarcasm in text messages and emails - people often can't tell when it's being used.
It's important to respond when you see others being cyberbullied!
If you see someone being cyberbullied, it's really important that you don't just watch it happen or worse, join in. Report the bullying to someone who can help, like an adult or use the report features on the particular social media site. If you're feeling confident, let the bully know what they are doing is not cool. Take a stand against it. If everyone acts when they witness cyberbullying, it will go a long way to stopping it.
Reaching out for help is really important...and should not be seen as weakness
If you're having issues with anything that has been mentioned it's really helpful to talk to someone you trust. Research tells us that most young people do not perceive bullying as being 'cool' and would help out their friends if they knew what was going on. Our survey showed that most of the young people who told someone about being bullied (particularly a friend and/or adult) found it was helpful for them.
How can Kids Helpline help?
Talking to someone at Kids Helpline can be a great way to get your head straight as you work out what to do. Often the first step we take in working with someone who's being bullied (or cyberbullied) is to really get to know and understand the situation that they find themselves in. Research tells us that most teenagers are quite aware of how to stay safe online and what options are available to prevent cyberbullying. Our experience tells us that when young people are being bullied it can bring up strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, guilt and hopelessness. Often the victims do not believe that anything will help. Our counsellors can help you work through these emotions and get some control back in your life.
Who else can help?
The Government has setup a special website to help young people be safe online. It's called the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner and has lots of great info about online safety. The Office provides up-to-date information and resources as well as a reporting and complaints system for young people who experience serious cyberbullying online.
The eSafety website has direct links to information on how to report cyberbullying on many of the popular social media sites. It also has a complaints and reporting system that can be used by anyone under 18 years of age who's experiencing serious cyberbullying.
Links to all this information can be found below under 'helpful links'.
Some helpful links:
- Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner
- Social media services' safety centres
- Reporting Cyberbullying
You might also like to look at Kids Helpline's Hot Topic about Safe Technology & Social Networking.
- Campbell, Marilyn A. (2007) Cyber bullying and young people: Treatment principles not simplistic advice. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/14903/1/14903.pdf
- Kids Helpline. (2009). Cyberbullying: Experiences, impacts and interventions as described by Australian young people. Unpublished research report. Brisbane, Queensland: Megan Price.
Updated: October 2015