When bullying goes online.

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Cyberbullying is bullying (social and verbal bullying and physical threats) that uses digital technology in some way.

As technology becomes more central to young people's lives, cyberbullying is on the rise. Access to technology means that cyberbullying can happen at any time — a student's own home may not even be a safe place from bullying. While cyberbullying often takes place at home and after school hours, the impact can also be felt in school.

Students increasingly communicate with each other in ways that are unknown to adults and free from supervision. The nature of technology means that digital content can be shared and seen by a very wide audience almost instantly and is difficult to delete permanently.

Students talk about cyberbullying

 Student-led anti-cyberbullying group Sticks n’ Stones talk about why this type of bullying is a big deal.

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Is cyberbullying different from other bullying?

Although cyberbullying shares some of the same elements as ‘traditional’ bullying, bullying using technology can be more complex and harder to deal with.

For example, an unflattering picture or rude message can be quickly spread across the internet. The element of repetition which is seen in offline bullying is compounded by the material reaching a much wider audience and having a more lasting effect than the original poster may have intended. 

Being able to attack someone online and still remain anonymous creates an imbalance of power regardless of age, physical strength or social status. So does better access to (or ability to use) technology.

Cyberbullying can involve people who have never met in real life and who have no social connections.

Cyberbullying also has fewer boundaries than physical bullying.

This is because digital information can be:

  • quickly shared, spread and viewed
  • stored in multiple locations
  • created and shared automatically
  • stored in a way that only certain groups can see
  • shared and posted at any time of the day or night
  • left as a permanent record (eg, photos posted on the internet).

Does restricting access to technology prevent it?

Cyberbullying has some unique characteristics, but it can't be dealt with in isolation from other forms of bullying.

Imposing barriers to technology generally doesn't prevent cyberbullying. It's more effective to support the development of safe and responsible online behaviour and to talk with students about how to deal with unpleasant online experiences, than to restrict access.

What does the law say?

Under the 2015 Harmful Digital Communications Act:

  • it’s an offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately cause serious emotional distress. If found guilty you can be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to $50,000 for individuals, or up to $200,000 for companies.
  • the District Court can issue take-down notices and impose penalties on people who don’t comply with court orders (punishable by up to six months in prison or a $5,000 fine for individuals, and fines of up to $20,000 for companies)
  • it’s an offence to incite someone to commit suicide, even the person does not attempt to take their own life

You can find out more at the Netsafe(external link) website.

Parents and whānau - keeping children safe from cyberbullying

It is important that you work with your child to agree on a plan of action that supports them but doesn’t harm their social life further or reduce their contact with friends.

Save offending text messages and take screen shots of any abuse online.

Report internet cyberbullying to the website where the bullying took place. Usually there is a ‘report abuse’ button or ‘safety’ link, as well as a ‘block sender / user’ link.

You can also report an incident to NetSafe(external link) using their online form.

Many social networking sites such as Facebook have a ‘block’ or ‘report’ function where a student can enter the user names of people bothering them or people they want to avoid

If bullying occurs through text messages, contact your child’s mobile phone company and ask them to take action. Phone companies have an agreement to liaise with each other and take action where appropriate. They can block numbers or disable an account (that the texts or calls are originating from).

If the bullying involves another student at your child’s school or it’s affecting your child at school, talk to the school. Parents and whānau should regularly remind children not to post or share images they don't want spread further, including email, pxt and txt.

Schools and the 2015 Harmful Digital Communications Act

Boards of Trustees must provide a safe physical and emotional environment in schools / kura. This includes cyberbullying and online harrassment.

Under the Act anyone, including a school representative, can file a complaint with Netsafe on behalf of a young person targeted in an online incident.

The affected individual should be a student of that school and, ideally, should give consent to the school contacting Netsafe using the school's usual consent processes. 

It is important that schools are familiar with the new complaints process so that they can support students and their whānau in the event of an incident. 

It is also important to make students aware of potential implications if they are involved with the cyberbullying or online harassment of another person.

You can find out more at Netsafe about the Harmful Digital Communications Act in schools(external link)

How can schools keep students safe online?

Most students will face challenges on the internet at some stage, and will resolve most of them on their own.

Teaching students to cope with inevitable challenges and how to be good citizens is the best way to keep them safe online.

Useful resources for schools