Mobile, internet and wireless technologies have increased the pace of communication and brought benefits to users worldwide. But their popularity provides increasing opportunity for misuse through ‘cyberbullying’, with worrying consequences. It’s crucial that children and young people, who are particularly adept at adapting to new technology, use their mobiles and the internet safely and positively – and are aware of the consequences of misuse. As technology develops, bullying techniques can evolve to exploit it. School staff, parents and young people have to be constantly vigilant and work together to prevent this and tackle it wherever it appears.
What is cyberbullying?
The advent of cyberbullying adds a new and worrying dimension to the problem of bullying – there’s no safe haven for the person being bullied. Unlike other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can follow children and young people into their private spaces and outside school hours. Cyberbullies can communicate their messages to a wide audience with remarkable speed, and can often remain unidentifiable and unseen.
‘Cyberbullying is an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.’
Report to the Anti-Bullying Alliance by Goldsmiths College, University of London,
Research commissioned by the Anti-Bullying Alliance from Goldsmiths College, University of London, identifies seven categories of cyberbullying:
+ Text message bullying involves sending unwelcome texts that are threatening or cause discomfort.
+ Picture/video clip bullying via mobile phone cameras
is used to make the person being bullied feel threatened or embarrassed, with images usually sent to other people. ‘Happy slapping’ involves filming and sharing physical attacks.
+ Phone call bullying via mobile phone uses silent calls or abusive messages. Sometimes the bullied person’s phone is stolen and used to harass others, who then think the phone owner is responsible. As with all mobile phone bullying, perpetrators often disguise their numbers, sometimes using someone else’s phone to avoid being identified.
+ Email bullying makes use of email to send bullying or threatening messages, often with an invented pseudonym or using someone else’s name to pin the blame on them.
+ Chat-room bullying involves sending menacing or upsetting responses to children or young people when they are in a web-based chat room.
+ Bullying through Instant Messaging (IM) is an internet-based form of bullying where children and young people can be sent unpleasant messages as they conduct real-time conversations online.
+ Bullying via websites includes the use of defamatory web logs (blogs), personal websites and online personal polling sites. There’s also been a significant increase in social networking sites for young people which can provide new opportunities for cyberbullying.
Who is most vulnerable?
Because of the invisibility and often anonymity that technology offers, anyone with a mobile phone or internet connection can be a target for cyberbullying. What’s more, each episode can reach much larger numbers within a peer group than conventional bullying. Vindictive comments posted on a website, for instance, can be seen by a large audience, as can video clips sent by mobile phone.
Most cyberbullying is done by students in the same class or year group. What all types of cyberbullying have in common is that, although they leave no visible scars, their effects can be extremely destructive.
How extensive is the problem?
The Goldsmiths study backs up previous research, finding that:
- Between a fifth and a quarter of students had been cyberbullied at least once over the previous few months.
- Phone calls, text messages and email were the most common.
- There was more cyberbullying outside school than in.
- Girls are more likely than boys to be involved in cyberbullying in school, usually by phone.
- For boys, text messaging is the most usual form, followed by picture/video clip or website bullying.
- Picture/video clip and phone call bullying were perceived as most harmful.
- Website and text bullying were equated in impact to other forms of bullying.
Around a third of those bullied told no one about the bullying
What can you do about it?
While other forms of bullying remain prevalent, cyberbullying is already a significant issue for many young people. School staff, parents and young people need to work together to prevent this and tackle it whenever it occurs.
If you’re a school governor or headteacher
+ Schools have a duty to ensure that:
- bullying via mobile phone or internet is included, and continually updated, in their mandatory anti-bullying policies – and that teachers have sufficient knowledge to deal with these forms of bullying in school
- the curriculum teaches pupils about cyber safety – its risks and consequences
- all e-communications used on the school site or as part of school activities off site are monitored
- clear policies are set about the use of mobile technologies at school and while young people are under the school’s authority
- blocking technologies are continually updated and harmful sites blocked
- they work with pupils and parents to make sure new communications are used safely, taking account of local and national guidance and good practice
- security systems are in place to prevent images or information about pupils or staff being accessed improperly from outside school
- they work with police and other partners on managing cyberbullying
- A quarter of the young people who had been cyberbullied said that knowing how to get hold of and speak to an expert at dealing with cyberbullying would have made a difference.
- Knowing there was a staff member at school dedicated to stopping bullying was cited by 15% as a help.
- 13% said that knowing of a website with advice and tips would have helped them.
NCH/Tesco Mobile survey, 2005
+ Better links between schools and counselling organisations are seen as a key way of supporting children being bullied.
+ Make sure parents are kept informed so that the same standards are applied in and out of school – and that they know their rights in monitoring their child’s e-communications.
+ Research recommends that young people themselves be involved in developing new anti-bullying strategies.
+ www.becta.org.uk has invaluable information on devising and communicating school internet safety policies.
+ www.dfes.gov.uk/bullying has useful information and resources for parents and families, young people and teachers, including ideas for schools to consider to combat bullying.
+ www.antibullying.net/cyberbullying1.htm has suggestions for a Code of Conduct for schools to introduce with pupils.
If you’re a member of staff:
+ Make sure you’re familiar with your role and responsibilities in:
- teaching children safe e-etiquette
- applying school policy in monitoring e-messages and images
giving pupils key messages on:
- personal privacy rights
- material posted on any e-platform
- photographic images
- taking action if a pupil is being cyberbullied or is bullying someone else
- teaching pupils the value of e-communications and the risks and consequences of improper use – including the legal implications
+ Keep up a dialogue with parents about emerging technologies their child might be using.
+ Ensure parents know what steps to take if they suspect that their child is being cyberbullied or is bullying someone else.
+ Secondary school teachers can download an information pack from www.stoptextbully.com including a classroom quiz, poster and top tips to help them tackle it with parents and pupils.
+ www.childnet-int.org has a DVD for secondary schools on the consequences of chatting online. They are currently distributing free internet safety leaflets for parents to primary schools. Order at www.childnet-int.org/order
+ www.cybersmartcurriculum.org has lesson plans for teachers on Dealing with Online Bullies.
+ The Kidscape booklet, ‘Don’t Bully Me!’, gives advice to primary school children on what to do if they are bullied. www.kidscape.org
If you’re a parent:
+ Cyberbullying in all its forms should be stopped. No one should be subjected to it, least of all your child.
+ Don’t wait for something to happen – be certain your child understands how to use technology safely and knows about the risks and consequences of misusing it.
+ Make sure they know what to do if they or someone they know are cyberbullied.
+ Encourage your child to talk to you if there’s any problem – and if so, contact the school, the mobile network or the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to do something about it.
+ Parental control software can limit who your child sends or receives emails with and block access to some chat rooms. Moderated chat rooms are supervised by trained adults. Your internet service provider will tell you whether they provide moderated chat services. Visit www.nch.org.uk for more information.
Responses to cyberbullying
- A fifth of parents think that mobile bullying isn’t common or never happens, despite the fact that a similar proportion of young people have experienced it.
- As with face-to-face bullying, it’s not unusual for young people suffering cyberbullying to keep silent about it.
- With cyberbullying, there’s the added apprehension about internet access or their mobile phone - often their most treasured possession - being removed from them altogether if they own up to a problem.
NCH/Tesco Mobile survey, 2005
Schools can help parents by:
- A Home-School agreement that includes clear statements about e-communications
Regular briefing for parents on:
- e-communication standards and practices in schools
- what to do if problems arise
- what’s being taught in the curriculum
- Support for parents and pupils if cyberbullying occurs by:
- assessing the harm caused
- identifying those involved
- taking steps to repair harm and to prevent recurrence
The law is on your side
The Protection from Harassment Act, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and Section 43 of the Telecommunications Act may be used to combat cyberbullying. People may be fined or sent to prison for up to six months.
For more information, see http://wiredsafety.org/gb/stalking/index.html
If you’re being bullied by phone or internet:
+ Remember, bullying is never your fault. It can be stopped and it can usually be traced.
+ Don’t ignore the bullying. Tell someone you trust, such as a teacher or parent, or call an advice line. (See the box on How mobile phone operators are combating cyberbullying for more details.)
+ Keep calm – don’t get angry or frightened. Just don’t react – it will only make the person bullying you more likely to continue.
- You can easily stop receiving SMS for a while by turning off incoming SMS for a couple of days. This might stop the person texting you – they may think you’ve changed your phone number. To find out how to do this, visit www.wiredsafety.org
- If the bullying persists, you can change your phone number - ask your mobile service provider (such as Orange, O2, Vodaphone or T-Mobile).
- Don’t reply to abusive or worrying text or video messages. Your mobile service provider will have a number for you to ring or text to report phone bullying. Visit their website for details.
- Don’t delete messages from cyberbullies. You don’t have to read them – but keep them as evidence.
- Text harassment is a crime. If the calls are simply annoying, tell a teacher, parent or carer. If they are threatening or malicious and they persist, report them to the police, taking with you all the messages you’ve received.
- If you get an abusive or silent phone call, don’t hang up – the caller wants you to react. Instead, put the phone down and walk away for a few minutes. Then hang up or turn your phone off. Once they realise they can’t get you rattled, callers usually get bored and stop bothering you.
- Always tell someone else - a teacher, youth worker, mum or dad or carer. Get them to support you and monitor what’s going on.
- Don’t give out personal details such as your phone number to just anyone. And never leave your phone lying around. When you answer your phone, just say ‘hello’, not your name. If they ask you to confirm your phone number, ask what number they want and then tell them if they’ve got the right number or not.
- You can use your voicemail to vet your calls. A lot of mobiles display the caller’s number. See if you recognise it. If you don’t, let it divert to voicemail instead of answering it. And don’t leave your name on your voicemail greeting. You could get an adult to record your greeting. Their voice might stop the caller ringing again.
- Almost all calls nowadays can be traced. Read the box on How mobile phone operators are combating cyberbullying for more details.
- If the problem continues, think about changing your phone number.
- If you receive calls that scare or trouble you, make a note of the times and dates and report them to the police. If your mobile can record calls, take the recording too.
- Never reply to unpleasant or unwanted emails (‘flames’) – the sender wants a response, so don’t give them that satisfaction.
- Keep the emails as evidence. And tell an adult about them.
- To find out where the email comes from, click the right mouse button over an email to see details about the sender. Ask an adult to contact the sender’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) by writing abuse@ and then the host eg email@example.com
- Never reply to someone you don’t know, even if there’s an option to ‘unsubscribe’. Replying simply confirms your email address as a real one.
- If the bullying is on a school website, tell a teacher or parent, just as you would if the bullying was face to face.
- If you don’t know the owner of the website, follow one of the online safety links below to find out how to get more details on the owner.
Chat rooms and Instant Messaging
- Never give out your name, address, phone number, school name or password online. It’s a good idea to use a nickname – and don’t give out photos of yourself.
- Don’t accept emails or open files from people you don’t know.
- Remember it might not just be people your own age in a chat room.
- Stick to public areas in chat rooms and get out if you feel uncomfortable.
- Tell your parents or carers if you’re ill at ease or worried.
- Think carefully about what you write – don’t leave yourself open to bullying.
Three steps to stay out of harm’s way:
- Respect other people - online and off. Don’t spread rumours about people or share their secrets, including their phone numbers and passwords.
- If someone insults you online or by phone, stay calm – and ignore them.
- ‘Do as you would be done by.’ Think how you would feel if you were bullied. You’re responsible for your own behaviour – make sure you don’t distress other people or cause them to be bullied by someone else.
How mobile phone operators are combating cyberbullying
Responsible mobile phone operators are taking steps to help tackle cyberbullying. Each phone operator should have a number to ring to report phone bullying. For example:
- Tesco Mobile has a 24-hour service for young people being cyberbullied. Just text ‘bully’ to 60000 to receive advice and support. The cost of texts is donated to NCH.
- BT has a freephone number offering recorded advice – 0800 666 700. You can also call free on 150 for personal advice. If the problem continues, contact your nearest BT bureau on 0900 661 441 during office hours. They deal with malicious and nuisance calls and may suggest tracing future calls or changing your number.
- The specially trained team at O2’s Nuisance Call Bureau can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Customer Service Department on 0870 5214 000. O2 also has useful online leaflets at www.O2.com/cr/network_safety.asp
- Vodafone has a RespondPlus service, where an operator will answer your calls for you, take a message and text it to you. Visit www.vodafone.co.uk
Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA)
Established by the NSPCC and NCB, bringing together 65 organisations to reduce bullying and create safe environments where children and young people can live, grow, play and learn.
The BBC website has useful links to resources and information on cyberbullying and how to combat it.
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. Their website has invaluable information on setting up school internet safety policies and how to communicate them to parents.
A multi-award winning anti-bullying charity. Their website is user-friendly and regularly updated. Practical help on all aspects of cyberbullying for pupils and parents.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)
Set up by the Government, the CEOP website helps adults get to grips with new and emerging technologies popular with young people. It includes advice on how to report cyberbullying.
Advises on internet safety and has a range of leaflets for children and parents in a number of languages, including Hindi, Punjabi and Maltese.
The world’s first website dedicated to cyberbullying, www.cyberbullying.org has plenty of useful advice on combating cyberbullying, including how to take screenshots of online bullying for evidence.
Don’t suffer in silence
This Government website has a short anti-bullying video featuring stars like Rio Ferdinand and the Sugababes, a downloadable charter and advice for pupils, teachers and parents.
Get Safe Online
Helps you protect yourself and your family against internet threats.
Internet Watch Foundation
Includes information on its website about the regulation of the internet and how it operates, along with tips on keeping yourself safe. Useful links to organisations offering best practice guidelines.
Internet Safety Zone
Has useful information for parents, teachers and children on cyberbullying and how to tackle it.
Kidscape’s remit is to help prevent bullying and child abuse. They have useful advice for parents, professionals, children and young people www.kidscape.org.uk
A leading children’s charity, dedicated to supporting vulnerable children. In partnership with Tesco Mobile, NCH has produced valuable research on text bullying and information on phone and internet safety
Has a useful internet safety toolkit.
A Scottish website with information on cyberbullying for teachers and other professionals who work with young people.
An interactive website that helps young people tackle mobile phone and online bullying and prevent it ever happening to them. There’s advice for pupils, parents, carers and teachers, along with a fun quiz that highlights the issues.
Information from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre on how to stay safe online.
Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT)
Made up of police forces around the world, working together to fight online child abuse. The site includes advice, information and support for adults and children.
Websafe Crackers: IH8U
A website for children and young people focusing on cyberbullying and how to deal with phone abuse. It’s free to email, chat, phone or text them for advice.
Welsh Anti-bullying Network
Their website has plenty of good ideas and examples of good practice for schools to use.
The world’s largest online safety and help group. Has tips on how to stop cyberbullying, along with information on popular sites such as bebo.com.