With the rise of social media, cyberbullying has become increasingly common. It is a term used to describe bullying online. The difficulty is that cyberbullying can be very hard to escape, and can also escalate very quickly.
Cyberbullying often takes the form of unpleasant or derogatory comments on social media. It can also include unauthorised publishing of photographs, perhaps sexual in nature, and creating fake accounts for individuals on social media.
Online Bullying is Not Harmless
An old saying goes:
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me
The trouble is, as anyone who has ever been bullied will know, names certainly do hurt. And unpleasant comments on social media hurt too.
In fact, unpleasant comments on social media often hurt a lot more than a spoken word, because:
- They can be seen by lots of people very quickly. Unpleasantness can go viral very fast.
- They are there forever. Even if deleted, there will still be a record somewhere. Someone will have copied, shared or commented again, and the comments will always be there.
- It is very hard to escape. Yes, you could switch off your phone/tablet/computer, but most young people’s whole life is online, and asking them to switch off is like asking them to cut off their entire social existence.
Cyberbullying is so serious that people have been known to commit suicide as a result of it.
There is no question that cyberbullying is very hard to address.
Just like ‘real life’ bullying, however, the first step is to tell someone else.
Take a screenshot of anything that you feel is bullying, so that you have evidence of it even if the perpetrator deletes it, or is using something like Snapchat.
You can also report online bullying using the CEOP button (the red button in the top right of the website of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre).
People are very often bullied online by people they know ‘in real life’. Cyberbullying may either be happening on its own or an extension of ‘real life ’ bullying. If the latter, it may stop if the ‘real life’ bullying is addressed.
See our page, Coping with Bullying for more.
DO NOT be tempted to ‘have a go’ back. It will only make things worse.
Instead, report unpleasant comments to the website concerned, and ask to have them removed.
Quote the section of the website’s terms and conditions that has been breached by the comments (there is a usually a section on freedom from harassment), and include a copy of the comments as evidence in your message.
The advice website www.bullying.co.uk, run by the charity Bullying UK, has a useful page explaining how to report bullying to each social network and on apps like Snapchat. It also includes details of how to block contacts.
You can also block people from contacting you via particular website, or even seeing that you are online. If you are being bullied by one person in particular, it may be a good idea to block them.
If the abuse is coming via your mobile phone, whether the internet or as text messages, your phone provider may be able to help. It is worth giving them a call to check.
Your internet service provider (or that of the person posting the abuse) may also be able to help. They usually have an email for reporting problems.
Involving The Police
Because cyberbullying is often anonymous, it may be necessary to involve the police. If the activity is severe and prolonged, it may amount to harassment, which is against the law. It is also an offence to post anything threatening, abusive or defamatory, which includes untrue information about someone.
The police will also want to know about any violent or abusive images, as these could also be against the law.
Remember that although messages may seem to be anonymous, phone providers and ISPs can track them back to the perpetrator.
Don’t delete any messages until you have shown them to the police, as they can be an important piece of evidence.
What’s Done is Done…
It may be possible to prevent any future bullying.
It may, however, be harder to manage what is already ‘out there’. This can be a huge problem if the bullying is sexual in nature. For example:
- Someone has created a fake account on a sex website using your details;
- Someone has published naked or semi-naked pictures of you, either real or photoshopped.
These are extremely serious issues as they can lead to long-term persecution online, and have even led to people having to change their names.
You can, and should, ask the website concerned to take down your details, explaining that they were published without permission. This should be enough to focus their attention. If it is not, you may need to involve the police.
If you are under 18, anyone publishing naked or semi-naked photos of you is committing an offence. If they are under 18 too, it is still an offence.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
The best ways of preventing the kind of damage that can arise from cyberbullying are to avoid handing out personal information or pictures.
Play it safe and be sensible when communicating online.
Stick to the rules below to minimise the chances of embarrassing, malicious and hurtful posts, comments and images appearing online.
1. NEVER GIVE ANYONE A PICTURE OF YOU NAKED OR SEMI-NAKED…
…not even your boyfriend or girlfriend. They may not be your boyfriend or girlfriend forever, and then they may look for a way to get back at you.
…and especially not someone you have met online.
You have no idea who they really are. They may sound nice, but you would not give an intimate photo to a man who came up to you in the street, so don’t do it online either.
2. Avoid telling even your best friends your personal secrets, especially if they are embarrassing.
Best friends do not necessarily last forever either. What nobody knows, nobody can spread on social media.
3. Never give anyone your mobile number or any contact details online
Even if you know them in real life, don’t hand out your contact details online. Your account or theirs could be hacked, and then your personal information could be public.
4. If you upload photos containing images of other people, make sure that they are happy for you to do so. Never alter any image of someone and publish it.
Not unreasonably, people want to (and have a right to) control their own image. Do other people the courtesy of checking that they are happy for you to publish their image before doing so.
If someone finds an image that you have published of them offensive, they could report you to the police for harassment.
5. If you are tagged in an embarrassing or unpleasant photo, untag yourself, and ask the person who published it to take it down.
You have a right to control your own image, so do so. It is also worth doing a check of your name from time to time to check what comes up. There is more about this in our page on Managing Your Online Presence.
6. Think before you write
Consider the possible impact of your words, as well as their intended impact, before publishing. As a quick check, make sure that you would be happy to read your comment if it was aimed at you.
Also consider whether you will be happy to have a future employer see content in which you are tagged, or which you have written.
Once something is published online, it is there forever. There is no going back.