Recognising and responding to online bullying and related resources for educators.
The benefits and risks of using technology
Technology is an important part of life. It effects how we socialise, connect, play and learn.
Students have access to technology 24 hours a day. It can bring enormous benefits such as helping them to learn and preparing them for life after school. Online resources can also promote student wellbeing and develop students’ help-seeking skills.
When used inappropriately, such as for online bullying, technology can cause harm. Online bullying is different from face-to-face bullying in several ways:
- The person being bullied cannot always tell who the person bullying them is. Those doing the bullying may feel empowered to say and do more destructive things than they would
- Getting rid of offensive material on the internet can be very difficult.
- It can be more public and wide-spread. What may have been a school issue can escalate and ‘go viral’, reaching a much larger audience.
- It can occur anytime of the day or night. This can create a sense of there being no escape.
Students need to be equipped with the knowledge, understanding and skills to use technology in a way that both enhances their wellbeing and keeps themselves and others safe.
What is online bullying?
Online bullying is using technology such as the internet or mobile devices to bully someone. It can include:
- sending abusive text messages and emails
- posting hurtful or threatening material on social media like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, or on gaming networks
- imitating or excluding others online
- tagging inappropriate or unflattering images
- threatening another person to do something such as sending revealing images.
Online bullying is generally covert in nature and kept out of sight from adults. This means that it is identified less often than overt forms of bullying. Signs that someone may be being bullied online include:
- an increased preoccupation with social media or technology
- visible tiredness
- being visibly upset after using the computer or mobile phone
- avoiding the use of technology
- being more vigilant and checking technology constantly
- nervousness while using technology
- being more withdrawn
- a change in engagement or school attendance patterns.
Teaching about online safety
Online bullying can be prevented or reduced by developing and communicating a shared understanding of appropriate online behaviour across the school. Schools that have clear expectations and explicit teaching of safe and responsible online behaviour establish conditions that make online bullying less likely.
Responding to online bullying
School staff need to know how to respond to online bullying if it is reported. This includes referring to education system or school policies as well as considering the following actions.
1. Listen carefully
Find a private place to talk with the student.
Let the student tell you about the issue and assure them you will help them.
Avoid the terms 'bully' or 'victim'. Use ‘the student who is bullying’ or ‘the student being bullied’.
If you are concerned that what the student tells you is related to criminal activity, tell the school principal or their delegate who can contact the police or call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Ask clarifying questions to check your understanding of what the student has told you.
- Take screenshots of relevant material.
- Record the URLs or web addresses of the material.
- Record details of the conversation.
Videos on the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s website describe how to collect this information of online bullying.
2. Discuss a plan of action
Develop a plan of action with the student. This could include supporting the student to:
- not retaliate or respond to the person who bullied them.
- block the person who engaged in the bullying or ‘unfriend them’ to stop the bullying.
- change the privacy and security settings on the their social media accounts.
- report the online bullying to the social media service it happened on. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s social media safety centres page provides information about how to report material on various services.
If the social media service fails to remove the material within 48 hours of the student reporting it to them, they can make a complaint to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
3. Involve relevant school personnel
- Notify relevant school personnel of the matter. This could be the school principal or school executive.
- Provide relevant information you have collected.
- Discuss a planned approach to work through the matter, including the responsibilities of the teacher reporting the bullying, the school executive, the student and their parents or carers.
4. Implement plan and follow up
- Contact parents or carers about the incident and discuss a planned approach.
- Help the student or their family to contact social media platforms to have content removed if this has not already been done.
- Respond to others involved in the bullying. Consider what actions and support needs to be provided to all parties involved in the bullying. Document the chosen approach. Accurate records can assist in identifying patterns of behaviour and effective support strategies.
- Encourage students to report any future incidents if they occur.
- Schedule follow up meetings with all students over the following weeks and months.
Preventing further bullying can require a sustained effort, particularly if situations are long standing.
Visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to learn more about responding to and reporting online bullying.
Resources for educators
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has developed lesson plans for primary students and secondary students which include topics including appropriate use of technology, online bullying, digital citizenship, sexting and balancing online time.
The Bullying. No Way! website has developed lesson plans for primary and secondary students about being reasonable and ethical online with online scenarios for discussion.
Learn about common social networking applications that young people use.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s offers a range of resources and training options including the Outreach Program.
The Teacher Essentials PD Program offers three hours of professional development through webinar participation in three topics - building digital intelligence; teachers, technology and the law and navigating the eSafety website. NSW teachers receive three hours of professional accreditation through the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).
The Cyber Leaders resource is available to help school staff to train and support student leaders to establish an ethos and environment where all students feel empowered to use technology in positive ways.
Some of this content has been adapted and reproduced with permission from Bullying. No Way!