Traditional forms of bullying would generally happen face to face at school, or where children would physically be, such as youth/ community groups or even just hanging around together. With traditional bullying, the child would be able to return home to the safety of their four walls, where they feel safe. However, due to advancements in technology, and access to devices and WiFi there is now no break for the person who is being bullied. It can happen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and cyber bullying can now continue when they are in the safety of their own home.
Anybody who has access to a digital device has the potential to be cyber bullied. As the person who is bullying may not physically see the person they are bullying, and may never have even come in to contact with the person, this can make the bullying more persistent, because they can not see the emotional damage this may be doing to the person they are bullying. Unfortunately, because some people do not understand the impact that cyberbullying can have, it is not seen as being as dangerous or as serious as traditional bullying.
Bullying usually occurs in a peer to peer environment and can be subjective. This puts in to question the ‘banter vs bullying’ debate. This is where what one person may see as a joke or banter on the surface could really affect how the other person feels, and can consequently even affect the other persons mental health. The person being bullied may suppress what the other person has said, especially if they are already self-conscious about the thing they are being ridiculed about. We define Cyber bullying as “Using digital platforms or devices to cause perceived threat or actual mental or physical harm to another user.”
Like with physical or face to face bullying, the bully can feel like they have power over their victim, or can raise their own self esteem as they make themselves feel better by hurting someone else. Cyberbullying can also have the potential to be done anonymously, because the person who is doing the bullying can create a fake profile or avatar. The person can then not be identified as themselves, which can give them the confidence to say more hurtful things to someone, because they feel they may not be identified under the new persona. Unfortunately, cyber bullies have even less empathy when they are cyber bullying, because they cannot gage their victim’s reactions; they have even less if they have never met the person before.
Signs your child may be being Cyberbullied
Anybody who has access to a digital device has the potential to be cyber bullied. As the person who is bullying does not see the person they are bullying and may never have even come in to contact with the person. Unfortunately, as some people do not understand the impact that cyberbullying can have, it is not seen as being as dangerous, or as serious as traditional bullying.
As a parent or guardian this can be a very worrying time, as you do what you can to protect your child.
There are some signs that you can look out for as indicators for cyberbullying, which are:
- Becoming unhappy, moody or withdrawn, especially after looking at device(s) and/or accessing particular digital platforms.
- Being afraid to go to school, dropping grades or potential truancy issues.
- Suddenly stopping using their devices or low mood when or after using their digital devices.
There are steps you can take as a parent
- Find out how or if the bully knows your child, and also establish if they interact with your child in the physical world. If you find out where they know each other from, speak to that place. If it is a school/group ask how they can minimise the risk that this will continue. Try to take evidence with you, such as printed screenshots of the bullying or threatening behaviour. Do they teach children about e-safety or have an e-safety policy in place where the children are aware of the guidelines and rules?
- Make sure you save or screenshot the bullying or harassing messages and print them out, because messages can be deleted on various platforms.
- Block the profiles that are sending your child hurtful comments and messages.
- Only have people in your child’s digital community that your child interacts on a friendly manner with.
- Depending on your child’s age, you can utilise parental tools that each platform has, and also use mirroring apps to help monitor what messages your child receives. We suggest that you speak to your child before you use the mirroring apps, because they may see this as mistrust from their perspective, or as an infringement of their privacy.
UK Cyber Bullying Legislation
PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT 1997
Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 it is a criminal offence for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to the harassment of another, which the perpetrator knows or ought to know amounts to harassment. This could include sending a person multiple abusive emails with the intention of causing alarm or distress. A person found guilty of this offence could receive up to six months imprisonment, a financial penalty or both.
Section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provides the potential for greater punishment to those found guilty of causing another person to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them. A person found guilty of this offence could receive up to 5 years in prison, as well as a fine.
The 1997 Act also gives Courts the power to grant restraining orders against those found guilty of an offence in order to protect the victim.
MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS ACT 1988
Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 states that it is an offence for any person to send a communication that is “indecent or grossly offensive” for the purpose of causing “distress or anxiety to the recipient”. The Act also extends to threats and information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender of the communication. A person found guilty of this offence is liable to receive a prison sentence of up to 6 months, a fine (currently of up to £5,000) or even both.
COMMUNICATIONS ACT 2003
Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it a criminal offence to send via any electronic communication network a message or other matter that is deemed “grossly offences or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”. If found guilty of an offence under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, a person can receive up to six months in prison, a fine or both.
OBSCENE PUBLICATIONS ACT 1959
The Obscene Publications Act 1959 makes it an offence to publish an obscene article. An obscene article is classed as one whose effect is to deprave and corrupt persons likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in the article. Publishing includes circulating, showing, playing or projecting the article or transmitting the data.
PUBLIC ORDER ACT 1986
Under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour, writing or any visual representations likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress within the hearing or sight of a person. With regards to cyberbullying, this offence could apply where the camera or video functionality now found on the vast majority of mobile phones is used as a way of causing such harassment, alarm or distress.
COMPUTER MISUSE ACT 1990
If in the course of cyberbullying a person hacks into the victim’s online accounts or personal computer, they may be committing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
Who can you contact if your child is being cyber bullied?
If you feel like your child is in immediate danger, please dial 999 or the relevant professional body. To find out more information from the following organisations, click on the buttons below.
What to do if your child is the bully?
- To find out that your child has cyberbullied someone is going to surface up a number of emotions as a parent, and as a human being. You will probably feel anger and disappointment , as most parents/carers have taught, or are teaching the child they are raising that hurting others, both emotionally and physically is wrong. Regardless of your initial influx of emotions you need to understand why your child is partaking in this behaviour. Is there a deeper problem that you may not have noticed?
- Obviously you will want this behaviour to stop, so ensure your child understands the seriousness of the matter and make them understand how it would make the other person feel, even though the form of bullying they have undertaken is not physical.
- Establish whether your child has acted alone, or if they have used a gang or group mentality to bully the person. Tell them about the emotional implications that bullying can have.
- Speak to the people around you about what has happened. This could be your partner or someone who knows the chid well, to ensure you minimise any risk of this happening again. Make sure the people around you are on the same team. You may want to speak to the school or group your child attends to explain what has happened. They could react to this by putting on extra e-safety or anti bullying workshops or develop their e-safety policy.
- Your child may need extra help or support if you find there is a deeper routed issue, such as low self-esteem.