Online Risks Series #5: What is Cyberbullying?

Often taking place through face-to-face contact, bullying doesn’t just occur in the school playground or classroom.

In fact, given the digital resources we have at our fingertips, it might be argued that it is perhaps easier to act in a malicious manner online because of the anonymity it provides.

‘Cyberbullying’ is just that and covers all bullying behaviour which happens through a digital medium.

What are different ways of cyberbullying?

It may hurt someone if they are subjected to a verbal attack in person, but the long-term ramifications of cyberbullying can be far-reaching and leave a lasting footprint.

From sending insulting and threatening messages to creating fake profiles with the intention of mocking the individual in question – it can have a huge effect on mental health. Intrusive actions are a staple of online bullying too, with examples of embarrassing or private photos/videos being shared widely, causing untold damage.

Ofcom’s children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2019 found that around a fifth of children aged 8-15 say that they have been bullied in some way and, furthermore, children aged 12-15 say that they are just as likely to say that they’ve experienced bullying face-to-face (16%) as on social media (14%) or through texts or messaging apps (12%).

The term ‘Troll’ may be one which many are familiar with. This has become more and more prevalent in recent years, with celebrities often targeted in order to try and provoke a reaction from their fan base.

Trolls have a sole purpose and intention of deliberately posting negative or offensive comments online against others.

Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson has spoken candidly about her experience with trolling, revealing that the online bullying she was subjected to after her appearance on X Factor made her want to kill herself.

What are the potential effects of cyberbullying?

As previously highlighted, bullies can remain anonymous online, which therefore makes the reporting of individual cases difficult. With the internet, victims can feel like the bullying they’re receiving is inescapable, because of the 24/7 online capability.

This can take a toll on children’s behaviour, how they interact with people, their mood, self-esteem, sleeping habits, mental health or withdrawal from family and friends. It may, in some cases, cause depression or lead to instances of self-harm.

Shifting the focus, it should be pointed out to anyone who is considering or currently engaged in any form of cyberbullying, that it is illegal to instigate hate crime or blackmail others online.

Advice for parents & carers

Our online safety guide on cyberbullying, created in partnership with anti-bullying ambassadors programme, the Diana Award, looks at the steps schools and parents can take in order to keep abreast of developments in relation to their own children.

The Department for Education have also produced an in-depth document which provides further information on the subject for parents and carers, such as useful links to follow should you need to report an incident.

More general tips can include things like encouraging the keeping of devices in family rooms, setting boundaries when it comes to defining what is acceptable use of technology and advising your child on how to block or report any offensive users they come into contact with online.

If you are aware that your child is a victim of bullying behaviour, it should be encouraged that all negative messages are kept, as they may be used as evidence further down the line. Should the bully be from your school, the incident should be investigated and acted upon immediately. However, if the bully is not from the school, necessary reporting and blocking steps should be taken.

Find out more

Click here to view our full range of courses which are designed for the whole school community and provide further advice and guidance on online bullying as well as a range of other online harms.

Our upcoming ‘Cyberbullying in 2020 – Practical Safeguarding Guidance for School Leaders’ webinar will offer school leaders, teachers, DSLs, SENCOs and online safety leads new insights into cyberbullying and explore practical strategies around safeguarding. Click here to book.

You can also download our online safety guide on the subject of cyberbullying, which takes a detailed look at the issue and how to tackle it in more detail.

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