What different types of cyberbullying are there?
Modern technology has given rise to an alarming amount of cyberbullying thanks to the prevalence of smartphones, social media and digital forums where content can be created, viewed, shared and commented on.
It can happen persistently. It’s hard for teachers and parents to notice because it cannot be overheard. And it takes many different forms: some more serious than others with legal ramifications.
Deliberately leaving someone out of a group to incite feelings of rejection, unpopularity, loneliness and despondency. Feelings of exclusion can be heightened if mutual friends belong to said group.
When a bully assumes control of another person’s social media account or phone to post silly and inappropriate content as if it was from them. It’s often meant as a joke, but can lead to more serious ramifications.
Spreading malicious information about someone with a view to harming their reputation and making them feel bad.
Persistently making comments designed to incite reaction. These can be harmful, tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery. But they can also be carried out with malicious intent.
The use of extreme and offensive language to incite stress and anxiety.
Grooming someone less savvy to reveal secrets about themselves – usually photos, documents or private messages – in order to share with others and ridicule them publicly.
Making up a social media profile or hacking an email account to fake someone’s identity and post defamatory material.
Using online forums, apps and doctored imagery to insult another by spreading fake rumour, gossip and other upsetting untruths.
A particularly intimidating form of cyberbullying where one person monitors another in the digital sphere and sends them persistent negative communications, including threats and intimidation that are designed to frighten and terrorise. In extreme cases, this can sometimes extend to physically stalking the victim in real life.
The facts about cyberbullying
Cyberbullying may be more common than you think. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics around it:
- In a study conducted in 2014 by Bullying.co.uk, 56% of young respondents said they have witnessed people being cyberbullied and 42% have felt genuinely unsafe online;
- According to research by Cyberbullying.org, nearly 37% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been harassed while online, 25% have had somebody write a cruel message about them and 68% of children who have been subjected to online intimidation have suffered negative mental health consequences as a result, including stress, anxiety and depression.
- A study from Ofcom in 2017 suggested that 1 in 8 teens have been exposed to some form of bullying online during their lifetime.
- Furthermore ditchthelabel.org, an anti-bullying charity, estimates that over 5 million young people have been the victims of cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime.
What are the laws against cyberbullying?
Although there is no ultimate legal definition of online bullying within UK law, there are a number of laws that already exist that can be applied to cases of cyberbullying:
- Malicious Communications Act 1988 says it is an offence to send a communication with the intention of causing distress or anxiety
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997 covers threatening behaviour or harassment, including online and offline stalking
- Under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, it is an offence to send an electronic message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; Breach of the Peace (Scotland); and the Defamation Act 2013 can also be used in cases of cyberbullying
- And under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (EIA 2006) staff and teachers can confiscate items from pupils, such as mobile phones.
A lot of cyberbullying goes unpunished as victims find it difficult to give a detailed account of the incidents to authority figures. Persecuting somebody to the letter of the law will usually involve court proceedings and may be required to give evidence in court as a witness. Naturally, this can be hugely difficult and stressful, prolong any discomfort for the victim and expose them even more than the bullying itself.
How does cyberbullying affect children?
Let’s consider the facts: The Annual Bullying Survey 2017, undertaken by Ditch the Label.org, reveals that although they are prepared to use them, 7 out of 10 teens don’t think social networks are doing enough to prevent cyberbullying.
A YouGov poll revealed just over half of people who have been subject to cyberbullying actually bother to report the incident to the platform in question. And according to ResearchGate, victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who haven’t been subjected to cyberbullying.
Evidence is building up that cyberbullying is not only rife but negatively affects all kinds of people from all walks of life of many different ages and perspectives. Victims can feel very distressed, alone and overwhelmed, feelings that prevent them from reaching out to anyone for support: victims avoid telling their parents as they feel ashamed of the incident, don’t want to be fobbed off with instructions to “just ignore it” or are frightened that their parents will shut down their social media accounts.
Parents need to be aware that a lot of cyberbullying goes unseen and because of the proliferation of technology, can occur 24 hours a day: malicious content delivered straight into your child’s palm. There are ways you can detect if your child is being cyberbullied though, including the following:
- Are they suffering from low self-esteem? Thinking they are unlikeable, stupid or ugly, lacking confidence to try anything new and fearing change
- Spending a lot of time alone and withdrawing from usual friend groups and family
- Unwilling to let anyone near their smartphone or laptop
- Finding more and more elaborate ways to avoid school or work
- Being excluded from or disinterested by social events
- Losing weight or changing their appearance in a desperate attempt to “fit in”
- Displaying new injuries that indicate self-harming or wearing long-sleeve tops in hot weather to try and cover up any self-abuse
- Showing alarming alterations in personality, including: angry outbursts, depression, bouts of crying, deterioration in physical health and overwhelming desire to be alone and withdrawn.
What can parents do about cyberbullying?
There are a number of things you can do as a parent to prevent cyberbullying and deal with it positively should it already be in progress.
- Build trust: Talk to your child about the issues they may have to face online, or may already be facing, with candour and tolerance. Be someone they can confide in, not someone they are afraid of opening up to.
- Talk it through: If your child has a problem, listen to them carefully, remain calm and do not judge. Let your child know they are not alone and that you will deal with it together in the appropriate manner.
- Be reasonable: If you do find out some form of cyberbullying is affecting your child, please don’t simply ban them from going online. A lot of tech-savvy, online-orientated young adults fear this punishment to such an extent, they will not begin to tell the truth about their situation in the first place.
- Block, report but don’t delete: Cyberbullies aren’t anywhere near as powerful when you shut them down. Block any offenders immediately and report them to the social platform in question (we’ll outline how to do this on each platform below). You should also gather evidence of the bullying should the issue go any further. Be calm and think methodically.
- Support, support, support: Cyberbullying does not go away overnight. Stay on top of it with your child by reassuring them that you are always there to help should they need you.
How parental controls can help protect from cyberbullying
Parental controls on social media sites aren’t always the most obvious things, but look beneath the surface a bit and you will find that most social media companies have built them in. Let’s examine the most popular ones below and see what control parents can take…
Instagram is a platform for kids to share their photos, videos and stories and enjoy the comments posted underneath. However, it is also a popular platform for online trolls to post insulting, derogatory and offensive remarks that can embarrass and humiliate other users.
There are plenty of ways a parent can take control of the app to protect their children though, including: the option to block accounts, block commenters, hide offensive comments, create your own manual comment filter, check log-in activity, set up two-factor authentication, take off location tagging and report inappropriate behaviours.
Probably the most well-known social media app in the world, Facebook’s privacy settings can still be a complete mystery to most parents. First of all, you should know that the age limit to set up a Facebook account is 13 years old, but it’s dead easy for under-13s to sign up with a false date of birth. The good news is, accounts set up by under-18s are automatically set to ‘private’ and location sharing is ‘off’ by default.
If an account is ‘private’, your child’s profile can only be viewed by friends, friends of friends or groups they are involved in. Exposure to strangers is minimal. Facebook Messenger for kids is the same – they can only converse with people they know.
Aside from making sure their account is private, to make sure your child is protected, go to the settings icon on their Facebook profile page – it’s the round icon with three dots in the middle – and choose Facebook Privacy. From here you can conduct what Facebook calls a ‘Privacy Check-up’.
Snapchat is a photo and video sharing site with a difference: any content shared online – known as ‘Snaps’ – disappear 1-10 seconds after they’re posted. The minimum age for Snapchat users is 13 years old, but it’s super-simple for a savvy child to circumvent this with a fake date of birth. All a child needs to participate is a phone or device with a camera to send personal Snaps. However, they can send chat messages without a camera.
The best way to safeguard your child when using their Snapchat account is to adjust the privacy settings and put restrictions in place so they are only able to share content and view content from approved contacts.
Although Snaps are wiped promptly after being posted, they can easily be recorded and reposted directly back on Snapchat or other social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp. Also, your child can receive private messages or inappropriate content from strangers who might be pretending to be someone they’re not.
TikTok is a popular social media app that allows users to watch, create, and share short and snappy videos – mostly of people lip-synching to popular songs – directly from their smartphone. A lot of young users just want to watch what others create though and join in that way.
TikTok states that users be 13 years of age, but this restriction can be circumvented incredibly easily by using a false date of birth: the app doesn’t ask for any age verification documents.
For the most part, TikTok is harmless fun. However, because many music videos contain swearing and sexual content – including suggestive clothing and dancing – children can enter dark territory quite easily. It’s a good idea, therefore, to ask to sit in on some of your child’s TikTok sessions to make sure the stuff they’re up to is appropriate.
As with most social media, the TikTok app also opens up lots of opportunities for cyberbullying, so parents need to know about the app and how they can help to make it safe.
YouTube is generally quite a safe space for your children, but there are issues to be aware of and policies to adopt that will help calm any parental concerns.
To start with, you should know YouTube is meant to be for users over the age of 13, but most parents would have to admit that their under 13s have indulged. Google – which owns YouTube – has strong policies on child safety and community guidelines in place to help protect creators on their channel. But, as always, supervision is the best watchword.
The video channel provides near limitless entertainment, but with that comes the temptation to watch endlessly, or view content that may not be suitable. YouTube is very enticing, not to mention addictive, especially as each video rolls on to the next one.
To combat any risks, you should consider screen time limitations and try to keep your child away from harmful content where possible.
Owned by Facebook, WhatsApp is a free download that allows over a billion users – including under-age ones! – worldwide to send unlimited messages, voice calls, movies, videos, images, documents and other media via a phone, tablet or laptop.
Your child needs to be 16 years of age to legally use WhatsApp but, as usual, it’s fairly simple to get around the rules. It’s not really your typical ‘social media’ app, as when you’re on WhatsApp you can only communicate with another person if you have their phone number. But parents should still put some parental controls in place to protect their child. Parents should be aware, for instance, that within WhatsApp’s group chats, your child can come into contact with strangers.
What should I do if my child is the cyberbully?
Not every child is a victim. Here’s some advice if your child is the one doing the bullying:
- Acknowledge the problem. Do not bury your head in the sand. Your child is causing hurt and pain to others. Come to terms with it yourself before you help them.
- Remain calm and try to fathom why they would do this. When discussing it with them, don’t demonise them or attack them.
- Communicate openly and encourage your child to be honest. Try to make sure they know that they can tell you anything: cyberbullying may be a retaliation to something negative going on in their lives.
- Try to get to the root of the problem. Unhappy people usually want to make others unhappy. Try to figure out what belies the inappropriate behaviour your child is indulging in.
- Dig deeper. Try to fathom the extent of the bullying: does it span multiple apps or is it fairly limited and random.
- Encourage empathy. Try and help your child understand the negative effects they are causing in someone else’s world. Cultivating compassion can go a long way to changing your child’s behaviour.
- Educate yourself. Stay on top of your child’s social media life by understanding more about the apps and how your child uses them. Communicate with them and learn from them and with them.
- Set up parental controls.
You can find out more about internet safety and gain that extra peace of mind from Internet Matters.