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6th November 2017

What Are The Effects of Cyberbullying? | Engage Education

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is threatening, harassing or intimidating someone via mobile phones, social media, chat rooms, instant messaging or email. As the content in some of these places is public, it can be seen by strangers. This can create a permanent record of activities — on online reputation for anyone researching an individual to see (employers, for example). Sadly, cyberbullying can affect someone at any age, but children are often affected, with bullying at school continuing at home, 24/7.

The issue of cyberbullying in the UK is approaching the scale of a national crisis. A 2017 study by the Guardian shows that almost half of girls in the UK are harassed online. Victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to engage in self-harming behaviours, including suicide attempts.

It is not only the victims who are at risk. With cyberbullying behaviour linked to in-person bullying and other forms of relational aggression, mental health problems and even criminal behaviour in later life, it is essential that teachers take steps to help both victims of cyberbullying and the bullies themselves.

Where does cyberbullying usually happen?

The most common places where cyberbullying usually happens are:

  • Email
  • Social media (Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, Snapchat)
  • Online gaming communities
  • Messaging apps 
  • Text messages
  • Online chat rooms, message boards (Reddit), forums
  • Internet messaging: private messaging, instant messaging

Cyberbullying laws UK

There are no UK laws that specifically target cyberbullying, however, the behaviour of a cyberbully often breaches a myriad of other laws. These include:

  • The Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • The Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • The Communications Act 2003
  • The Obscene Publications Act 1959
  • The Public Order Act 1986
  • The Computer Misuse Act 1990

Many of the behaviours that constitute cyberbullying are serious crimes and the perpetrators will be dealt with accordingly.

The penalties for committing a crime under most of these acts range from:

  • Imprisonment for up to five years
  • A fine of £5,000
  • A restraining order

What are the effects of cyberbullying on young people?

It is vital that teachers identify and prevent cyberbullying wherever it occurs in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their pupils.

However, due to the anonymity of the web and the fact that the behaviour often occurs outside school hours it can be extremely difficult to know if cyberbullying is taking place. Teachers are therefore advised to monitor pupils’ classroom behaviour for signs.

In young people, the following may indicate that they are the victim of a cyberbully:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in mood, including depression, anger or shyness
  • Changes in personality, including misbehaving in class
  • Changes in appearance, including losing weight or dressing differently
  • Social withdrawal, both from family and friends
  • Signs of self-harm
  • Protectiveness over their phone/laptop
  • Suffering performance at school
  • School refusal or truancy

What to do if you’re being cyberbullied

  • Keep a hard copy record of bullying messages you receive and note down times and dates.
  • Show the message/s to your parents, a teacher, or school administrators.  If you would prefer to talk to someone in confidence you can contact Childline (0800 1111). You can also report directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) when someone has behaved inappropriately towards you online. For example, being asked to do something uncomfortable or to meet up or sexual chat.
  • Take legal action –  The National Bullying Helpline explains when you can do this and what laws are in place to protect you if you are being cyberbullied.
  • Stop all communication with the bully. Block them if you can.
  • If you are being bullied on a website, report them to the website administrator. 

How can you support someone who is being cyberbullied

If one of your pupils comes to you because they have become the victim of a cyberbully, there are several steps that you can take:

  1. Instruct the pupil not to respond – although this can be extremely difficult if the bully is using offensive language and/or spreading lies, ultimately they are looking for a reaction. Replying to a cyberbully only encourages them and this will escalate the situation for the victim
  2. Document evidence of the cyberbullying – often pupils do not report cyberbullying because they are ashamed at the idea of showing adults the demeaning messages that the cyberbully has sent them. Explain sensitively to the pupil that these messages are evidence and that it is important to record them. Show this evidence to the school counsellor, the headteacher and (if necessary) the police
  3. Encourage the pupil to seek support – counselling can be an excellent way to help victims of cyberbullying  stay as mentally healthy as possible while the situation is resolved and to regain their confidence afterwards
  4. Contact the police if necessary – if the cyberbully is threatening the victim in any way – be it physical or emotional – this is a matter for the police. Encouraging the victim to commit suicide is a threat. Also contact police if the insults are motivated by race, religion or ableism

Remember that the personal relationship between you and the pupil being targeted is hugely important. Provide them with support and ensure that they see you as a supportive and non-judgemental figure.

This blog post is bought to you by the UK’s number 1 teacher recruitment agency, Engage Education.

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