Cyberbullying is a phenomenon unique to the internet. With increased internet use, being aware of the impacts and signs of online bullying is important in supporting vulnerable children.

Bullying is understood as behaviour by a person or group with the intention to hurt and harass someone. Ofcom reports that 53% of 12 to 15-year-olds were concerned about bullying, abusive behaviour and threats. Whilst schools have measures in place to tackle bullying within their premises, sometimes bullying over the internet can go unnoticed.

Cyberbullying is a phenomenon unique to the internet: it is largely done via social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. November holds the anti-bullying week and as a result, we want to help you recognise the signs and dangers of cyberbullying. Awareness means being better prepared to help and support those you know might be at risk.

What is cyberbullying?

As explained by Bullying UK cyberbullying can take shape in different ways. Some of the most common forms are:

  • Harassment – This happens when someone constantly sends insulting and offensive comments, messages or photos about an individual, online via social media, gaming sites or chat rooms.
  • Denigration – This happens when someone sends photos or messages that are fake, damaging or untrue, especially in order to ruin someone reputation. Altering and posting photos without consent can be a form of bullying.
  • Flaming – This happens when someone purposefully causes distress to someone else by getting into online arguments and using extremely offensive language to get a reaction.
  • Cyber Stalking – This happens when someone sends messages that include threats, harm and harassment, leading an individual to fear for their safety.
  • Exclusion – This happens when an individual or group does not include someone in social media groups or chats with the purpose of isolating them.

Impacts of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying, just as offline bullying, can have severe impacts on its victims. Young people might refuse to go to school in fear of getting bullied. Individuals who are bullied might also be excluded from social events, develop low self-esteem, as well as withdraw from friends and family. These can lead to mental health issues as severe self-harm.

Overall, being bullied over the internet can lead to changes in personality, with individuals becoming more angry and depressed. If you notice these changes from close ones, reach out and talk.

At JAN Trust we are particularly concerned about cyberbullying, because we know that vulnerable teenagers who spend time online can become targets of extremists and gang groomers. Extremists working as individuals or groups prey on isolated individuals whilst drawing them into extremism by faking support and an alternative way of life, exploiting the desperate situation of a vulnerable youngster.

60% of girls aged 12-15 year old reported being concerned about bullying, abusive behaviour and threats.  Unfortunately, cyberbullying as well as grooming  are popular methods of manipulating young girls online.  There are countless cases of teenage girls being drawn into online relationships with groomers, who appear innocent at first, but soon turn exploitative. For example, young girls will share intimate photos which the groomers, who then use the photos to blackmail teenagers in either in performing sexual acts or joining gangs or extremist forces.

At JAN Trust we have been working on issues related to the internet since 2010 when we launched Web Guardians™. We believe that vigilance when using the internet is key. Our programme aims to train mothers in detecting the harmful aspects of the internet for children. Our more recent Another Way Forward™ programme focuses on empowering young girls who may be vulnerable of being groomed and radicalised. It trains them to identify issues that arise from the internet, but also campaign, support each other and have a voice on something that affects them in particular.

What to do if you are being bullied

The Government’s advice on bullying recommends that if a child is being cyberbullied, it is best to not to respond or retaliate. Instead, the evidence of the abuse should be saved and the incident should be reported to a trusted adult.

The regulations on cyberbullying and online harms

The attempt to regulate the internet and the dangers that come with it has been a longstanding issue. In 2017, Facebook and other tech giants created a collaborative forum in an attempt to share best practices and potential solutions to  issues such as cyberbullying. At the time, Google also started enabling users to report false or offensive information in their search suggestion. Thus far, however, the large tech corporations have not been able to sufficiently self-regulate the content posted on their sites to ensure the safety of a user. In the same year, the Crown Prosecution Service ordered prosecutors to treat online hate crimes as seriously as they would offences carried out in person. The Government is currently discussing the Online Harms Bill which  would provide a framework for tackling issues that arise online, as well as set expectations for technology giants in protecting users. We know how important the issue of online harms is and how much it can affect people’s lives: therefore, we hope the Government will treat the matter with the urgency it requires.

At JAN Trust, we are aware that solution to issues such as cyberbullying only became more widely spoken about in 2017. We recognise that the Government’s approach to tackling cyberbullying, online hate and harassment is still relatively new.  We believe that our programmes – Web Guardians™ and Another Way Forward™ – are an essential part in protecting our communities from cyberbullying and other online harms. Our programmes in particular breach the gap between the impending legislation on tackling online harms and at-home protection.  Whilst our AWF™ programme is currently going forward, unfortunately Web Guardians™ has funding to be delivered, leaving our community and young people vulnerable to online harms and cyberbullying.