Cyber-bullying occurs when people deliberately and repeatedly intend to hurt another person via communication technologies such as email, websites, message boards, instant messaging or mobile phones.
How is cyber-bullying different from other types of bullying?
While physical and verbal bullying are done face to face, cyber-bullies hide behind a computer screen or phone, doing their damage anonymously. Cyber-bullying can be more vicious, because people are less inhibited when they think they can hide their identity. In addition to not knowing who is bullying them, sometimes the person doesn’t even know it is happening. While cyber-bullying is ‘virtual’, its repercussions are anything but. This form of bullying can be seen by more people because the internet has a worldwide audience and victims are no longer protected by the safety of their home.
Don’t be part of the problem. Think before you type. Words are powerful. They can hurt people. Treat others as you want to be treated. Being unable to see a person is no excuse for rude behaviour.
Is cyber-bullying only a problem for young people or does it affect adults too?
Anyone, at any age, can be a target of cyber-bullying, just as anyone, at any age, can be a cyber-bully. In fact, teachers have been cyber-bullied. We probably hear more about cyber-bullying in relation to young people, because they are often are more tech-savvy than adults, spending many hours on the internet and using mobile phones.
So what can we do?
Cyber-bullying is everyone’s business and the best response is a proactive or preventative one. Protecting your information is a good starting point for thwarting the random cyber-bully.
- Do not give out any personal or identifying information
(i.e. your name, names of family/friends, home address, phone number, school, shopping centres, parks or other locations near your home, your favourite teams, email addresses or screen names, passwords, photos of yourself). Be cautious. You have no way of knowing if the person you’re talking with is honest, no matter how nice they seem. When you fill out online profiles, don’t give identifying information. You don’t know who will see the information. If bullies don’t know how to find you, it’s harder for them to escalate to a physical attack. If they don’t have your photo, they can’t manipulate it to embarrass you.
- Guard your contact information.
Only give your mobile phone number, instant messaging name or email address to trusted friends, and keep a note of who you’ve given it to. Consider using caller ID blocking to hide your phone number when making calls. Similarly, don’t leave your name on your voicemail. Don’t give your details to people you don’t know – or don’t want to know!
- Use privacy settings.
Social network sites, web-based email accounts and web browsers all have privacy settings that you can use to help protect yourself from unwanted attention. For example, you can block people you don’t know from accessing your photos or profile on Facebook.
- Chatroom safety.
Only go to moderated chatrooms and observe chatroom conversations before chiming in. Select a screen name that doesn’t reveal your name, age, sex, location or any other personal information. Don’t select a screen name that can attract the wrong crowd or bring you negative attention. Don’t agree to have a private chat with anyone. If someone asks A/S/L (age/sex/location), say you are not comfortable revealing that information. Be polite and respectful, just as if you were talking in person.
- Take a stand against cyber-bullying.
Speak out whenever you see someone being mean to another person online. Most people respond better to criticism from their peers, than to disapproval from adults.
If you are being harassed online, take the following actions immediately:
1. Assertively ask the bully to stop. Otherwise, don’t respond or argue with the bully. Don’t answer emails, instant messages, text messages, or other messages from a bully. Don’t visit the bully’s blogs, web pages or other sites you know the bully uses. Your visit can be detected even if you don’t type. People who bully get their kicks from knowing they’ve upset their target. Don’t let them know they’ve upset you and you’ve taken away half their fun.
2. Tell your parents or a trusted adult, this can be a teacher, older sibling or grandparent – someone who can help you to do something about it.
3. Save proof of cyber-bullying. Don’t delete anything. Copy and paste conversations or take a screen grab (use the “prt sc” button, or shift or control and “prt sc” or “fn” and “prt sc”) and paste it into a document. Save emails. Save text messages and/or voicemails. Keep a record of witnesses.
4. Make changes. Leave the area or stop the activity. Place the offender on block/ban/ignore. Log out. Change your email address, screen name, mobile phone number and any other ways the bully might contact you.
5. Report cyber-bullying to the moderator, the site, your internet service provider (ISP) or the mobile phone company. Most service providers have appropriate use policies that restrict users from harassing others. They can respond to reports of cyber-bullying over their networks, or help you track down the appropriate service provider to respond to.
6. Have your parents or another trusted adult contact the bully’s parents with evidence of cyber-bullying. Let them know this behaviour could be punishable by law and that you’re willing to press charges.
7. Contact your school. If cyber-bullying doesn’t occur on school property, your school may not be able to help; but, it’s worth a try.
8. Call the police. If you feel that you are physically at risk in any way, including any criminal activity such as threats of violence, extortion, stalking, obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages. Explain the situation and let the police guide you. It’s a criminal offence to use any form of communication to menace, or harass or offend another person.
9. Download the Cybersafety Help Button where you can talk, report and learn about cyber-bullying. It provides links to Kids Helpline counselling services, links to the safety centres of social networking and online games sites to report abuse and bullying, and access to cybersafety websites for information about cyber-bullying. The Help Button is free to download from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s website at www.dbcde.gov.au/helpbutton
10. If all else fails, consider seeking legal advice. Community legal centres offer a free and confidential service. For contact details of the National Children’s & Youth Law Centre go to www.lawstuff.org.au
There are several warning signs: changes in your friend’s mood or behaviour – such as crying, depression and fearfulness or changes in eating and sleep habits; uncharacteristic reactions while on the computer or mobile phone (quickly clears screen or stops talking on phone when anyone walks by); refusal to talk about their internet use; withdrawal from friends and family; not wanting to go to school or participate in school activities; and a decline in school marks.
Cybersafety Help Button
Download the Cybersafety Help Button so you can talk, report and learn about cyber-bullying. It provides links to Kids Helpline counselling services, links to the safety centres of social networking and online games sites to report abuse and bullying, and access to cybersafety websites for information about cyber-bullying. The Help Button is free to download from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s website at: www.dbcde.gov.au/helpbutton
Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) is a free and confidential counselling service for 5 to 25 year olds in Australia. www.kidshelp.com.au
Lifeline (13 11 14) is a free and confidential service, staffed by trained volunteer telephone counsellors, who are ready to take calls 24-hours a day, any day of the week, from anywhere in Australia. www.lifeline.org.au