What is Cyberbullying?

What is Cyberbullying?

Bullying is always wrong and is unacceptable behaviour. It should never be overlooked or ignored. Cyberbullying generally takes a psychological, rather than physical form. However, it is often part of a wider pattern of ‘traditional’ bullying.

Cyberbullying occurs when bullying is carried out through the use of ICT systems, such as e-mail, mobile phones, instant messaging (IM), social networking websites, apps and other online technologies.

Forms of Cyberbullying

PERSONAL INTIMIDATION: sending threatening text (SMS) messages, posting abusive and threatening comments on the victim’s profile or other websites, or sending threatening messages via instant messaging (IM).

IMPERSONATION: setting up fake profiles and web pages that are attributed to the victim. It can also involve gaining access to someone’s profile or instant messaging account and using it to contact others and subsequently bully them while impersonating the account or profile owner.

EXCLUSION: blocking an individual from a popular group or community online.

PERSONAL HUMILIATION: posting images or videos intended to embarrass or humiliate someone. It can involve users sharing and posting images or videos of victims being abused or humiliated offline, or users sharing personal communications such as emails or text messages with a wider audience than was intended by the sender.

FALSE REPORTING – making false reports to the service provider or reporting other users for a range of behaviours with a view to having the user’s account or website deleted.

Must the bullying be prolonged or continuous?

Bullying is more likely to be behaviour that is sustained or repeated over time. It is generally a deliberate series of actions which has a serious negative effect on the well-being of the victim. Once-off posting of nasty comments on someone’s profile or uploading photographs intended to embarrass someone is not very nice but it may not, by itself, be bullying.

However, a one-off electronic message is very different to a hand-written message. The big difference between writing nasty messages on the back of a schoolbook and posting it on the internet is that the online messages can potentially be seen by a very wide audience almost instantly. On top of that, the message can remain available on the internet even if it is later removed from the site where it was first posted. In other words, the online message, even if intended to be one-off, can become, in effect, permanent.

Many people tend not to feel as responsible for their online actions as they do in ‘real life.’ For example, a more informal style is often used when posting messages on the internet. However, ‘informal’ must not become ‘careless’.

When they are online, users can hide behind the anonymity that the internet can provide. There is also a tendency, especially between young people, to hide their messages from adults, even when there is nothing abusive or insulting.

In most cases, cyberbullies know their targets, but their victims don’t always know the person bullying them. This can prove very isolating for the victim in group, club or school settings where they come to distrust all their peers.

Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place. Parents should be aware that for many children, home is no longer a safe haven from bullying.

How young victims might react to cyberbullying

There are many reasons why young people are often reluctant to tell others about being bullied. They may fear that the bullying may worsen if they tell. They may worry that if they report the bullying, adults will take away their mobile phone or other device and/or their internet access. As a result, young victims of cyberbullying can feel isolated, and their judgment, self-image and confidence may suffer.

It is important for parents to communicate openly with their children about their behaviour online. Cyberbullying intends to annoy – however, we can also cause annoyance unintentionally. Remember that the same message may be interpreted differently, depending on whether it was received as, for example, a text or as an oral message, by post or as a tweet. Therefore, it is always best to think before sending a message.

This article was taken from the ‘Get with it!’ Series “A guide to cyberbullying” 2013, produced by The Office for Internet Safety, Department of Justice and Equality. You can get further information on general internet safety issues by visiting www.internetsafety.ie