Cyberbullying: Keeping safe online

Cyberbullying is on the rise. 52% of young people have suffered some form of cyberbullying and 25% of teenagers have been repeatedly bullied through their mobile phones or the Internet. But what is cyberbullying and what can be done about it?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. We’re talking Facebook, email, Twitter and many other forms of social media. Cyberbullying specifically refers to a minor harassing, tormenting, embarrassing, or otherwise being nasty to, another minor. If it were an adult slinging abuse at an adult online then this would be considered Cyber Harassment instead.

Cyberbullying could take the form of a targeted attack, like spamming someone’s Facebook wall with abusive, hurtful or unwanted messages; replying to a comment on a YouTube video abusively; threatening someone with real world violence; even “joking around” could be considered cyberbullying, depending on the context.

How can you spot cyberbullying?

It can sometimes be difficult to say what constitutes cyberbullying and what doesn’t. A group of people specifically sending horrid messages to one person is clearly cyberbullying. But what about a negative comment on a selfie? Or making light of someone asking for help online?

It isn’t always a clear cut case of cyberbullying. The only true way to say what is and what isn’t cyberbullying is to look at the effect on the victim. Are they joking back? If they respond, how are they responding? Are the people posting friends, acquaintances or strangers?

Are you an inadvertent Cyberbully?

As a general rule of thumb if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face then don’t post it to someone online. Folks these days seem to think that what they write on the web can in no way be followed back to the source.

Long gone are the days when you had complete anonymity online. This isn’t just relevant to cyberbullying, think about everything you post: photos, status updates, tweets, blog posts, comments, pictures of your lunch on Instagram. Everything can be linked back to you in some way: that means the good and the bad!

Why Cyberbully?

Who knows? There are dozens of reasons. Some that are unique to certain cases and some that are more general: some do it to feel big or powerful; others do it to cement their perceived social standing; a few do it without realising its effect on the victim.

Part of the problem is the implied anonymity of posting on the internet. When we believe we are unobserved and free from consequences societal boundaries quickly break down.

We believe that what we do behind closed doors is our business and no one else’s, but the internet is a wipe open door, even if you’re in your bedroom.

How can we stop cyberbullying?

Unfortunately there is no straight forward answer. Every case of cyberbullying is different and therefore every solution is as well. The first step is making sure that your kids understand how to block or remove friends and followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Then it’s a simple case of blocking nasty people, and although this may not stop the Cyberbully, it’s certainly a good start. Even if your child isn’t being Cyberbullied it’s a good thing to know.

The next simple step is to take an interest in your kids browsing habits: which sites do they frequent? Are they using the internet for school work or leisure? How much time do they spend online? Again, this is generally a good thing; fostering positive browsing habits early on can pay off in the long run.

A key problem with kids coming forward is that they fear they will not be understood, or believe themselves to be the only one affected. This obviously isn’t the case and there are a few online support groups or helplines that kids or parents can visit for help or advice.

A further preventative step is to not add someone who you don’t know or aren’t actually friends with. Facebook and Twitter should not be seen as games, in which getting a high number of friends or followers is winning. Neither should it be used as a replacement for social interaction.