What is a Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the attempt by one or more minors to threaten, intimidate, belittle or make fun of other minors using a mobile phone or computer, and can be a criminal offense. This must take place between two minors, if an adult is involved it is considered harassment, stalking or sexual grooming, not bullying. Cyberbullying is considered as a bad as any other kind of bullying in the real world.
Types of Cyberbullying
Using a mobile phone to send abusive or threatening text messages, video messages, photo messages and phone calls. This includes anonymous text messages sent using Bluetooth technology and distributing phone video footage of physical attacks on people, or happy slapping.
This includes abusive or threatening emails sent to a single target, or to a group in order to encourage or incite others to take part in the sending of abusive emails or phone messages to individuals.
Instant messenger and chatrooms
The use of instant messaging or chatrooms to send abusive or threatening messages or to encourage others to send abusive or threatening messages to individuals.
Social networking sites
Creating profiles or contributing to pages on social networking sites that abuse or threaten individuals. Also, the posting of images or emails of others on social networking sites without their expressed permission, or assuming the identity of others by getting hold of their account details and sending or posting messages on their behalf.
The use of games to abuse or threaten others. This includes locking people out of games, spreading rumours about others, adding the email addresses and profiles of others to gaming mailing lists, or hacking into other’s accounts.
The use of viruses sent to others to corrupt or delete information on their personal computer.
What you should do if you are a victim
Less serious bullying should be dealt with within the relevant school or institution. Schools and teachers will have strategies in place which can deal with the problem quickly. A quick resolution can prevent a small incident from escalating.
However, there could be circumstances in which the police are called in, for the following possible reasons:
Strategies in place have failed
There are serious consequences for the victim – to an outsider, an apparent minor incident could have very serious long term consequences.
Reporting the bullying to the police could help the victim and prevent it from re-occurring.
It is vital for teachers and parents to work in co-operation with the police and other agencies e.g. social services.
What you should do if you are a parent, teacher or adult responsible for a victim
All incidents of Cyberbullying should be properly recorded to facilitate an investigation. All attempts should be made to keep a record of all communications as evidence. Attempts should be made to identify the bully by looking at schools systems. It is a requirement to involve Police to gain access to any internet service provider’s records or data of phone or internet users i.e. the alleged bully.
Cyberbullying and the law
Students of all ages have the right to be educated in an environment free from fear. Teachers and those responsible for running schools have a duty to protect pupils from intimidation, assault or harassment. These rights and duties are enshrined within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Bullying is not specifically a criminal offence, but there are laws that can apply in terms of threatening behaviour or menacing communications. Some cyberbullying activities could be deemed a criminal offence under a range of laws, including:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997;
- The Malicious Communications Act 1988;
- Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003;
- The Public Order Act 1986;
- The Education and Inspections Act 2006 (EIA 2006) – this act provides for staff and teachers to confiscate items from pupils, such as mobile phones
Pros and cons of taking legal action
- Involving a solicitor can make the victim feel they are being taken seriously.
- A solicitor can provide support against school authorities.
- A favourable court decision could rule that the school did not act properly.
- The court could order that damages be paid to the victim.
- A high profile case could act as a deterrent to potential bullies.
- Cross-examination can be very stressful on a fragile victim.
- The amount of time it takes to collect evidence and prosecute can cause lengthy delays and prevent the victim and their family from moving
- forward and putting the incident behind them.
- The outcome of the case is uncertain.
- Possible enormous expense.