Words on a Screen: the Reality of Cyberbullying


Most of us know how much words can hurt. A mean comment or a harsh joke can have a lasting impact on a person – sometimes an insult can stay with us for years afterwards.

What happens when someone says something hurtful online? Does it have the same impact on a person as if they said it to their face? And if you’re reading mean things about yourself on your phone in your own home – how do you escape from it, and where do you turn for help?

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is defined by Childline as ‘when someone bullies, threatens, or harasses you online’. It can take many forms – it’s not just sending horrible messages or nasty Tweets. Cyberbullying can occur in gaming when you play online with others. It could be a person sharing photos or videos of you on social media without your permission. It could be someone revealing personal information – like your address or phone number, for example – for others to see. It could be one or more people leaving mean comments on your social media posts. It could even be a group of people starting a group chat about you.

Cyberbullying, as we mentioned, can occur on social media and online games. It can also occur on your phone through text messaging or emails, through instant messaging or chatrooms, and even by sending a computer virus.

Cyberbullying is incredibly damaging and can have an impact on a person for a long time to come. It can have a drastic impact on a person’s mental health and self-esteem. However, there are places you can go to for support, and ways that you can help to make the internet a more positive place, both for you and for others.

What the Law Says

There is no specific law that covers cyberbullying. However, there are civil laws in place that can be used to prosecute people who harass others online, including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Under the Malicious Communications Act 1988, it’s an offence to send a communication (in any form) with the intent of causing distress or anxiety. If you do send a threatening message online, you could be in a lot of trouble, and many schools, colleges, universities and workplaces are clamping down on online harassment. This is why it’s so important to think carefully about what you post online – and to think about the potential consequences that your words and actions might have.

What to Do if You’re Being Bullied Online

According to the website bullying.co.uk, 56% of young people said they have seen others be bullied online. That’s a huge amount of people – so, if you are being bullied online you are not alone, and there are resources available for you if you need support.

Firstly, we always encourage you to speak to an adult you trust. Whether that’s your parents, or an auntie/uncle, or a grandparent, or a teacher, they can help you. Although speaking out might be scary, it’s far better than struggling with bullying alone.

Next, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself online:

·         Report the bullying to the platform it is happening on. Reporting online abuse helps social media platforms to keep everyone safe. The CEOP report abuse button is a great tool – to find out more about it, click here.

·         You can also take screenshots of the harassment. This is helpful evidence if you want to report it later.

·         Change your passwords regularly and make them as safe as possible (a good rule to aim for is at least 8 characters, with at least one number, capital letter, and special character, like an exclamation mark). This is a pretty good idea anyway and will help to keep you safe online.

·         Take a break from your phone. If you’re being bullied online, it can feel as though you can’t escape from it. If you need a break from your phone, you could try giving your phone to a trusted adult for a while. It’s a good idea not to take your phone to bed at night, too. Not only is it better for your sleep, but it will also stop you from being tempted to go online just before you go to bed.

Finally, there are some helplines in place if you need support. Childline is a good place to start, as well as the National Bullying Helpline.

What to Do if You See Someone Being Bullied Online

It’s really common to see bullying happening online. Whether it’s a series of mean comments on a celebrity’s Instagram post, or a little closer to home, like messages sent to a friend, you don’t have to stand by and feel helpless as it happens. As we mentioned above, social media platform often have a way of reporting harassment easily – and even if that person is blocked or removed from the platform, your identity will not be revealed to them. Again, always speak to a trusted adult if you’re worried about something you have seen online.

What to Do if You Have bullied Someone Online

Everyone has the power to make a change in their life – and to make a positive impact on other people. Even if you feel regret for something you have done in the past, it doesn’t mean you have to continue making that choice in the future. Your mistakes don’t define you. It can be tempting to get sucked into online bullying, especially if your friends are doing it and you feel pressured to join in. However – you don’t have to make that choice.

Words on a screen may not feel like they’re doing much damage, but to the person reading them, it can be devastating. Always think before you post anything online and if you have posted something you think may have hurt someone, consider whether you feel comfortable reaching out to apologise to the person in question. They may decide they don’t want to speak to you, which is their choice, but it could make a difference to them (and to you) if you try to make amends.

If you feel tempted to cyberbully in the future, it may be worth reconsidering the apps or websites that you use. It’s also a good idea to think about the language you use online. If someone says that your words have hurt them, consider their point of view. Always think before you post: ‘how would I feel if someone did or said this to me?’

Again, consider talking to a trusted adult – they may be able to guide you, especially if you are feeling pressured into harassing someone by your peers.

The internet is an amazing tool when used positively – and we all have the choice to use the internet for good.

Revealed Projects runs a series of workshops for young people across North Somerset and surrounding areas, on topics based on self-esteem and healthy relationships, including online relationships and online safety. For more information about what we do, click here.

Megan BidmeadComment