** If you are being cyberbullied, contact the Office of the Children’s E-Safety Commissioner (web: https://www.esafety.gov.au/ ; email: email@example.com ; phone: 1800 880 176) or Kids Helpline (phone 1800 55 1800). **
WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?
Bullying is generally defined as deliberate behaviour that is meant to be hurtful; targets a certain person or a group of people through psychological, emotional and/or physical harassment; occurs more than once; and embarrasses, threatens, hurts or intimidates the target of the bullying.
Cyberbullying is any bullying carried out in the digital space, predominantly online and/or via mobile phones. Kids Helpline says:
Cyberbullying is complex and may include:
- Posting and sharing nasty, angry or rude messages.
- Cyber stalking, which is repeated harassment usually containing threatening messages with the aim to intimidate and create fear.
- Sending personal information about others that has been shared privately which may include sensitive personal information or images, often of a sexual nature.
- An extremely heated online argument using rude and offensive language.
CYBERBULLYING VERSUS BULLYING
The comprehensive Australian Government report that provided baseline information for the establishment of the Office of the Children’s E-Safety Commissioner found that, “There are overlaps between cyberbullying and traditional bullying and between bullying behaviour and victimisation… The threshold for ‘bullying’ is difficult to determine: at the lower end of severity, bullying can be confused with cyber aggression and normal robust teenage language and behaviour. At the higher end some cyber offences such as blackmail, ‘grooming’ by paedophiles, and other coercive sexual behaviour, are not normally categorised as bullying either by young people or authorities.
“However it is defined, there is increasing evidence that both ‘traditional bullying’ and cyberbullying have lasting effects on individuals and their families, including self-esteem, mental health, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation… Although there is agreement that, like ‘traditional’ bullying, cyberbullying involves intentionality and a power imbalance between the bully and the victim, there continues to be debate about whether cyberbullying must involve repetitive behaviour, and if so, how repetition can be defined in the online context.”
Bullystoppers points out that, “While cyberbullying is similar to bullying in some ways, there are also differences.
- Cyberbullying is invasive: Cyberbullying can be difficult to escape and is incredibly invasive. It is more likely to occur outside of school, including while at home, and can happen at any time.
- Cyberbullying can involve a large audience: Cyberbullying can involve harmful material being widely and rapidly shared to a large audience, for example, rumours and images can be posted on public forums or sent to many people at once. This material can also continue to be available and harmful long after the cyberbullying has ceased.
- Cyberbullies have a sense of anonymity: Cyberbullying can provide the bully with a sense of relative anonymity and distance from the target, so there is a lack of immediate feedback or consequences.
- Power imbalance: The power imbalance between the ‘bully’ and ‘target’, the repetitive nature of the bullying behaviour and the intent to harm, humiliate, embarrass, ostracise, or isolate can occur in bullying and cyberbullying.
- Types of behaviour: Types of behaviour including spreading rumours and making threats or insults, can occur in bullying and cyberbullying.
- Reasons for behaving in a bullying way: People often engage in cyberbullying for the same reasons they engage in bullying.
Kids Helpline says there are lots of different reasons people give for bullying:
- For power and strength over others
- As a way to be popular and get known at school
- For scaring others and thus hiding their own scared feelings
- Using it as a way to try and be happier as they are unhappy and taking it out on others
- Because they are, or have been bullied themselves
PREVALENCE OF CYBERBULLYING
The Australian Government’s baseline report from 2014 found that, “the best estimate of the prevalence for being cyberbullied over a 12 month period would be in the vicinity of 20 per cent of young Australians aged 8–17. Most victims are cyberbullied once or twice in a twelve month period, with much lower numbers being bullied on a regular basis.” This was consistent with international research. It also found, “Most recent studies report lower rates for cyberbullying than for ‘traditional’ bullying in schools; however there is a significant overlap between cyber and traditional face-to-face bullying.”
The report found, “Boys tend to be more likely to post offensive material on social media pages, send abusive emails and indulge in coercive sexting, whereas girls were more likely to exclude people from social media groups and to spread false rumours about others, reflecting the more preferred styles of relational, social and indirect forms of bullying. In Australian cyberbullying studies, girls were generally more likely to be victims reflecting the nature of their peer relationships.”
Other research reports that 84 percent of the kids who were bullied online were also bullied offline. It is worth noting however that recent South Australian research suggests that the prevalence of cyberbullying may be overestimated, and ‘traditional’ bullying is still a major concern: "Many children say they feel much safer at home from cyberbullying than they do in the playground where they might be hit.”
Most studies echo research findings that “bullying – whether online or offline – peaks for children at about Year 5, and again at about Year 7 or 8. The first peak coincides with students discovering the power of the peer group, and creating their own social pecking order. The second peak occurs when they move from primary school to secondary school.”
Social media usage is at an all-time high and is likely to continue increasing. The International Computer and Information Literacy Survey implemented in this country by ACER found that the most popular activity among the Australian Year 8 students surveyed was communicating with others using social networks. Fifty-nine per cent of Year 8 students reported using social media every day for out-of-school recreation – 65 per cent of girls and 52 per cent of boys. This is slightly higher than the international average for the 18 countries studied.
More parents from government schools report their child is being bullied than parents from Independent schools, but psychologist Karyn Healy from the Resilience Triple P program Parenting and Family Support Centre at The University of Queensland cautions against drawing easy conclusions from this. “This could result from the higher proportion of at-risk students who attend state schools,” she wrote. “Therefore we cannot conclude that an individual child will be less likely to be bullied if they attend a private school. There is bullying at all schools. A number of factors impact a child’s risk of being targeted for bullying. These include school management, the child’s social and emotional skills, support from friends and the parenting they receive.”
What is not in doubt is that there is significant harm associated with cyberbullying. “Several studies have now ascertained that it is more than just hurtful name calling but that it can lead to serious psycho-social and life problems. Some studies indicate that cyberbullying can have more serious effects than ‘traditional’ bullying, perhaps because it is likely to involve more exposure and humiliation, can last longer, and is more difficult to escape from.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF CYBERBULLYING?
The first port of call for any child or parent concerned about cyberbullying is the Office of the Children’s E-Safety Commissioner.
Lawstuff, the website of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre tells students: “Bullying is not OK and you don’t have to put up with it. You have the right to feel safe. You may be able to solve the problem by just ignoring the bully. But if you feel threatened, it is important that you tell someone what is happening:
- Tell your friends – they can help you tell a teacher or your parents or just make you feel better;
- Tell your parents - tell them the who, what, when and where of what's been happening;
- Tell your school – we explain more about how to do this below;
- Tell your teachers or the Principal - tell them the who, what, when and where;
- Call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 if you can’t talk to someone face to face. They provide free phone counselling 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Sometimes there can be a delay in getting through, so we encourage you to keep trying. It’s free from all mobile phones.”
CYBERBULLYING AND THE LAW
The following information about cyberbullying and the law within the Northern Territory is taken from Lawstuff, the website of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre.
All schools in NT are required to have anti-bullying plans in place to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying. You can ask your school about their anti-bullying plan (sometimes called a Wellbeing and Behaviour Policy or Code of Conduct) and see what the school is doing to stop bullying from happening.
Cyber bullying can be a crime under either NT or national law when it involves:
- Using the internet or a phone in a threatening, harassing or offensive way
- Stalking (including messaging someone to harm or scare them)
- Accessing internet accounts without permission
- Defamation (spreading lies to intentionally hurt someone’s reputation)
- Encouraging suicide
- Causing significant emotional or mental harm
- It is a crime to use a phone or the internet to threaten, harass or seriously offend somebody
- It is a crime to intentionally frighten someone by threatening to hurt them. This can be through your phone, text message, emails or online posts.
- Stalking is a crime in the NT if you repeatedly call, message or otherwise contact somebody with the intent to harm or scare them. The maximum penalty is 2 years in jail (but can be higher up to 5 years if the person uses a weapon or breaks a court order).
- It is a crime under state and national law to log into a person’s online accounts without permission. The maximum penalty is 10 years in jail.
- It is a crime in the NT to publish untrue information about someone in order to cause them serious harm. The maximum penalty is 3 years in jail.
- It is a crime under both NT and national law to cyber bully someone in a way that intentionally encourages or causes them to kill themselves. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for life.
- It is a crime under NT law to cyberbully someone in a way that causes them significant emotional or mental harm. Harm includes both physical and mental harm, but it does not include ordinary emotional reactions such as sadness, anger and fear. The maximum penalty is 5 years in jail.
- Most websites and phone companies have Terms and Conditions which control what users are allowed to do. Cyber bullying can break these rules.
- Websites may give warnings or remove inappropriate content themselves. They may even delete a user’s account if they discover cyber bullying.
- Phone companies can suspend or cancel a person’s phone number and phone contract if they use it to repeatedly harass others through calling or texting.
- In more serious cases, the website or phone company may report illegal behaviour to the police.
- When cyber bullying involves unwelcome sexual advances, sexual threats or discriminatory comments from a person at work or school, complaints can be made to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner or the Australian Human Rights Commission. A comment may be discriminatory if it makes fun of someone because of their race, sexuality, religion, impairment, religion or sex, etc.
- If the police get involved, you should contact the NT Legal Aid Commission as soon as possible for free legal advice on 1800 019 343.
Information about schools' responsibilities can be found in the Members' Area of this website.
OFFICE OF THE CHILDREN’S E-SAFETY COMMISSIONER
NT GOVERNMENT: Bullying, cyberbullying and cybersafety
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: Cyberbullying fact sheet
NATIONAL SAFE SCHOOLS FRAMEWORK
SAFE SCHOOLS HUB
BULLYING. NO WAY!
CYBERSAFETY HELP FACEBOOK PAGE
LAWSTUFF: Bullying at school (NT law)
BEYOND BLUE: Bullying and cyberbullying
KIDSMATTER: What to do about cyberbullying
RAISING CHILDREN: Cyberbullying and teenagers
ACORN: Learn about cyberbullying
KIDS HELPLINE: Understanding cyberbullying
REACH OUT: Cyberbullying
SCHOOL GOVERNANCE: Use of social media and apps in schools – risks and rewards for teachers
THE CONVERSATION: Is your child less likely to be bullied in a private school?
SMH: Who is responsible for tackling cyberbullying? (Opinion piece by the Chair of AHISA)
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT: Research on youth exposure to, and management of, cyber-bullying incidents in Australia: Synthesis report (2014)