How can we protect young people from cyberbullying?

How can we protect young people from cyberbullying?
Young people are uniquely vulnerable to bullying – as both victims and perpetrators. Credit: kid-josh/Flickr

The recent arrest by Canadian police of two young people who allegedly shared a photo of a young woman being sexually assaulted has once again highlighted the danger that social media can pose for teenagers.

The 17-year-old girl was bullied after the photo, which was taken in 2011, went viral. She died a few days after a in April.

Canadian police initially failed to lay any charges despite a year-long investigation. But the case has caused such outrage that Nova Scotia, the province where it took place, has introduced a law allowing people being bullied online or their parents to sue the .

This kind of case is becoming more common with the of and Australia is in the enviable position of not having had a case of leading to death.

And there are things we can do to ensure we don't have to.

A new landscape

A regulatory response would show that the law applies equally to behaviour online, but cyberbullying and suicide are complex individual and that require a complex multi-faceted response.

We know that are uniquely vulnerable to bullying – as both victims and perpetrators, both online and off. They're acutely sensitive to peer appraisal and rejection, and are also more prone to do thoughtless and cruel things when spurred on by their .

Bullying has always had , but the all-pervasive reach of the online world magnifies its impact. Social media is accessible to everyone all the time.

And a smart phone is the permanent accessory of the teen—constantly available to record, receive and respond to text messages and images.

How can we protect young people from cyberbullying?
Boom Boom! Credit: Revolution/Flickr

Privacy has changed forever and there's little respite for today's teenagers. They face a relentless need to manage their online and reputation, and the ever-present possibility of public humiliation.

How to help kids

Our first response should be to support teenagers to be informed and empowered users of social media, as well as responsible online social citizens.

Useful resources are increasingly available, but this education is too important to be ad hoc. We need to build it into routine learning at school.

Knowing how and where to seek appropriate help when they are distressed and feeling vulnerable is also critical for young people.

We know that teenagers don't think through the consequences of their actions in the same way that adults do. This means we can't expect young people to always monitor and moderate their own behaviour without help.

Adults have a duty to protect young people when they are vulnerable, and this duty increases in inverse proportion to the child's age.

How to help the grown ups

We also need to ensure that parents (and other adults responsible for young people) are well-informed about online safety, and know how to deal with bullying and where to seek help.

Parents must realise that effective monitoring of online behaviour is now part of their role, and they need to be vigilant about both bullying and victimisation.

The responsibilities of social media companies comprise another part of an effective response.

Facebook has rules regarding inappropriate content and processes for removing it. But these rely on the content being highlighted as such and judged to violate community standards.

And Twitter is initiating easier abuse notification. But as new social media products appear on the internet, there is no guarantee that they will have a sense of social responsibility.

Some new ways to share images and other content claim to increase user control (such as Snapchat where the amount of time an image is available can be limited), but this doesn't preclude them from being used as avenues of bullying and abuse.

We could possibly do more with automated trawling to monitor content for keywords that indicate risk, and raise the alarm – potentially even to parents.

It will take time to find effective ways to monitor and moderate online environments—through the technology of the platforms themselves, and the engagement of parents and others in the community, including the police when necessary.

Social media is now a part of our social fabric and we all have a role to play to help keep young people safe from its darker side. Social media companies need to renew their efforts and it may well be time to start talking about the kind of regulatory measures we can take as a nation to help reinforce positive social norms.

Explore further

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This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).

Citation: How can we protect young people from cyberbullying? (2013, August 16) retrieved 22 July 2019 from
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User comments

Aug 16, 2013
Simple answer - if you don't like what happens there, then do not go there.

And if your parents are the kind of losers who spend their time chipping away your self esteem, so that you become a thin skinned neurotic - then change your parents.

Aug 16, 2013
Humpty, your purely adult perspective has blinded you to the situations that teenagers are forced into.

What if you don't like High School. Well you are required by law to go, so the whole "do not go there" thing is not possible. And changing your parents, well, give some kids a way to do that and I'm sure you would have many that would.

The thing is that young people are trying to form their identity, and their online identity is a major part of that in a modern world. They don't have the internal strength of character to not be affected by the opinions of others, like an adult may be able to do. We need to find ways of making people accountable for bullying, both real and virtual. Simply excluding one's self from an undesirable situation is not always an option for young people.

Aug 17, 2013
Simple answer - if you don't like what happens there, then do not go there
You can tell it about whatever else public area, like the public street and squares. The Internet was build for money of all tax payers, not just few bulliers. The bullying at internet should be criminalized and prosecuted in similar way, like in real world.

It depends. Cyber bullying can be persistent and long term, with circumventing of blocking features and the victim unable to stop it despite all attempts to do so. Such thing is analogous to real life harrassment, and I can see why it should be treated the same. However, if the victim can block the bullies or choose to not visit the page and the bullying is over, then that is not comparable to real world bullying and certainly not criminal. To prevent this kind of cyber "bullying", we should educate kids about blocking features and the existence of online trolls that are an inevitable part of the internet.

Aug 17, 2013
Awwwwwww with 50 million billion websites, the ONLY option is to hang out with the shit heads?

There are shit heads on all sites... some of it is just life, with the clubby pricks, the moral upholders, the religious, particular "scene" people, self interest / self help sites, etc.,etc.,etc.

Some are general morons, and some are plain old "me too" idiots are some people are out right cunts.

If you don't like it - don't go there, and pick and choose your sites.

"Awwww they keep treating me like shit." - "Well why do you keep on going back there?"

Some of the nastiest people I have ever met are in "respectable organisations like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club and the churches....

The doo-good voluntary organisations are also filled with utter bastards.

Both sides of the fence are filled with them too.....

To me "clubby" means arsehole.

And any site inhabited by a thick and rich assortment of utter pricks, is usually a shit site - administered by pricks too...

This is life.

Aug 19, 2013
You can tell it about whatever else public area, like the public street and squares.

Internet is not a public area. Overwhelming majority of sites, and particularly those where cyberbullying happens (Facebook, Twitter etc.), are private ones. It is up to the owners and users themselves to police content and prevent bullying. As I said, maybe if circumventing of blocking features and such is involved and it goes on persistently, then it is analogous to real life harrassment, public area or not. Otherwise, I see no legal means to tackle this.

If the spreading of child pornography on the web can be prosecuted effectively, then the cyberbullying is just another kind of nonlegal activity.

Can it? I read somewhere that child porn grows a lot with spread of the web and what is prosecuted is only the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, cyber bullying is even an order of magnitude larger issue to prosecute than child porn. I doubt it can be prosecuted except for a very small minority

Aug 19, 2013
Fortunately, it is only a small minority of cyber bullying that cannot be solved by blocking the perpetrator or abstaining from certain internet pages (not whole sites, only some pages, so dont go crying about your freedumbs). So in the end, education is the only real and legally sound solution to this issue.

Aug 19, 2013
Cyberbullying is more about bashing someone on facebook or twitter, doing things that are out of the victims control. It is not just trolling on some website, it is more like public slander, really. I don't think anyone has killed themselves over some forum community being mean, but they might when the whole high school has pictures of you drunk and naked and they call you a slut. I don't think any person who has commented really knows what cyberbullying is all about. Remember back in school when people would spread rumors, well that was the spoken word. Now those same rumors are spread instantly, digitally, and are in written form so they hurt SOOO much more. These are young people, they are not going to just say "I don't need facebook". Its like not having a cell phone, it was ok back in 2003 but you are a leper if you don't have one by now. Same goes with facebook, these young people thrive on it and not using it makes them an outsider.

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