Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that is found in digital media. It may occur through different types of platforms, such as social networks, blogs, online games, instant messages, text messages and email. While generally associated with young people, cyberbullying can affect people of all ages.

Acts of cyberbullying may take various forms, such as denigration, isolation, insults, rumours or threats, and they may be committed against another person in a direct or indirect manner. Sometimes, the person targeted by cyberbullying may not know the identity of the person committing the act. For example:

  • when students make fun of an overweight teacher in a widely shared online video, which can have severe consequences for the teacher’s personal and professional life
  • when a university student regularly receives text messages or emails that call the student a “loser,” which causes the student to avoid others and increasingly skip school
  • when recurring remarks that discriminate against First Nations and Inuit are posted in the comment section of online articles

Consequences

Cyberbullying has the same consequences as bullying and can severely affect the person being targeted. Individuals who are intimidated, harassed or threatened online are likely to also be negatively affected in other areas of their life (e.g. at home, work or school, or with friends).

In addition, cyberbullying also has its own, specific consequences. For example, an act of cyberbullying can result in a breach or invasion of privacy, or in a feeling of powerlessness against a sometimes anonymous aggressor.  

The mode of communication can also have an effect on the degree of consequences. In fact, a single act can be shared rapidly on an online public platform and reach an unlimited audience. It is often also impossible to erase any trace of such an act, which may have devastating consequences for the person being targeted.

Taking action

It is important that witnesses or victims of cyberbullying take action. This allows them to play a significant role in helping to make a difference. Some actions you can take as a witness:

  • do not encourage unacceptable actions and do not like or share them online
  • offer support to victims by showing consideration, compassion and respect, and by helping them to obtain professional support or to file a complaint
  • talk directly to those committing acts of cyberbullying and ask them to stop, provided you feel comfortable and safe enough to do so
  • openly voice your disagreement with acts of cyberbullying
  • openly support the person being targeted
  • ask other witnesses to show their support
  • report the situation to a qualified person, if you cannot take direct actions yourself
  • report unacceptable behaviours to the administrators of specific platforms
  • report any criminal offence to the police

Prevention

Exercising ethical citizenship in the digital age plays a major role in the prevention of cyberbullying, and the development of this digital competency is essential.

For individuals to exercise their citizenship in the digital age, they must adopt responsible and respectful behaviours online. They must fully understand the digital world and its rules of conduct. It is thus important that all citizens be made aware of safe practices, digital dangers and the consequences of their digital choices and actions. Such awareness is achieved through ethical reflection and critical judgment, which is sometimes called a process of ethical empowerment.

At home or in school, adults can also act as role models of digital behaviour. By fostering kindness, self-respect, respect of others and respect of private and public spaces, adults can teach young people how to engage with others in healthy ways.

Resources

Although cyberbullying is not necessarily associated with criminal acts, it can nevertheless severely affect the person being targeted. Nobody signs up to be humiliated, hurt, oppressed or wronged. Regardless of the situation and despite feelings of fear or concern, it is important that victims take action while ensuring the safety of themselves and of others.

Victims of cyberbullying can:

  • temporarily disconnect from the platform on which the cyberbullying takes place
  • block the person who is committing the act of cyberbullying
  • resist the urge to respond immediately or impulsively
  • discuss the situation with a trusted or qualified person, or call a help line
  • keep evidence of the acts (e.g. screenshots)
  • report unacceptable behaviours to the administrators of specific platforms
  • report unwanted messages to your internet or mobile service provider
  • report any criminal offence to the police

Various resources are available that can help victims take back control of the situation, speak out, or put an end to the cyberbullying. For example:

Last update: November 7, 2019

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