As we learn more about cyberbullying, the question inevitably arises: What can we do about it? In fact, a lot can be done. Effective programs, strategies and initiatives have been developed all over the world. Activities to fight cyberbullying can be online-based or take plalce in-person, they can focus on awareness raising or skill building, on individuals or groups, they can be designed as preventative measures or intervention plans… it would be impossible to list and analyse all possibilities.
This section of the manual is designed as an overview of guidelines, ideas and resources on how to tackle cyberbullying. Guidelines can provide a useful framework for all concerned to reduce cyberbullying and its negative effects1, but of course they need to be followed by practical and effective action plans.
We will be focusing specifically on guidelines and suggestions for school environments. Throughout the world, school environments are (apart from online environments) the most utilized platforms for cyberbullying prevention and intervention. School-based efforts to fight cyberbullying seem to be most effective if a whole-school approach is used and if school-family-community partnerships are involved. Key elements of a school-wide approach are building a supportive school culture, development of skills and knowledge about cyberbullying among school staff, students and parents; consistent implementation of policy and practice to reduce cyberbullying behaviours; and partnerships between staff, students, families and the wider community1.
During 2008-2012, an interesting international study was done in 29 (mostly European) countries, including Germany, Slovenia, Poland, Italy and Hungary1. In addition to a comprehensive review of available literature and research on cyberbullying, one of the project objectives was to analyse existing nationally published guidelines connected to technology use and cyberbullying from different countries. The aim was to disseminate best practices and to develop a set of common guidelines applicable on the European level.
Researchers reviewed 54 national guidelines (two per country) and scored each document on a number of criteria. They found that the most common target groups were parents (addressed in 41 documents), young people (35 documents), teachers (32 documents) and schools (23 documents). The key findings were that the existing guidelines varied greatly in covering important aspects of cyberbullying. Many documents emphasized skill building, awareness raising and modelling appropriate behaviour. School policies were often mentioned but not elaborated on. Few guidelines recognized the importance of peer relationships, peer leadership and peer influence, although research consistently recognizes them as important aspects of cyberbullying.
Based on this comprehensive analysis, a number of recommendations were made for each target group. The following subchapters will summarize the recommended guidelines1 blended with some ideas and resources for further exploration. Guidelines are divided in four sections that are important for designing a good school-wide strategy:
- knowledge and competences
- proactive policies and practices
- collaborative partnerships and
- social environment.
In each section, suggestions are given for each of the main identified stakeholders: young people, parents, teachers, and schools.
Firstly, guidelines for raising awareness about cyberbullying and skill building are presented for all stakeholders. This is the strongest area of many anti-bullying programs, including typical school strategies.
||Young people need:
- Awareness raising activities to help them understand cyberbullying, its effects, and consequences.
- Technical skills to use technology effectively and to stay safe online or using smartphones.
- Specific skills for various online activities like social networking, blogging, chatting or gaming.
- Principles of netiquette (the same standards of behaviour apply online as they do in real life).
- Knowledge and the confidence to respond effectively to a cyber-attack.
- Information about the risks and benefits of responding to cyber-attacks in different ways (what is likely to happen if they respond assertively, aggressively, passively, emotionally…).
- Opportunities to improve their social skills, level of empathy, moral reasoning, conflict resolution skills and anger management.
- Information about a safer mobile phone and Internet use, about different modes of electronic communication and how they are used in cyberbullying.
- Knowledge how to help their children determine how they can report a problem, secure privacy settings or block unwanted communication.
- Awareness that even though their children are skilled technically they may not know how to use the technology in safe ways.
- Information on signs of cyberbullying, particularly becoming withdrawn, moody or depressed, upset or angry when online or reading a text, so they can provide support for their children during this time.
- Skills to talk with their children about cyberbullying and not to wait until bullying happens.
- Professional training to intervene effectively in cyberbullying situations.
- Understanding of group dynamics and conflict management skills.
- Development of their own digital competences including technology use, cyber-safety, and online etiquette rules.
- Age appropriate strategies for action and behavioural change when intervening in bullying.
- Support to consistently implement existing strategies.
- Positive discipline, cooperative learning methods, and effective conflict resolution approaches,
- Endorsement of positive uses of technology and anti-cyberbullying interventions.
- Strategies to develop online communication and other social skills, such as digital citizenship.
A good school-wide approach against cyberbullying includes proactive school policies, plans, and procedures that are effectively implemented in practice and regularly evaluated. The following guidelines emphasize some relevant considerations from the viewpoint of different stakeholders.
Firstly, guidelines for raising awareness about cyberbullying and skill building are presented for all stakeholders. This is the strongest area of many anti-bullying programs, including typical school strategies.
||Young people need:
- A sense of ownership of their school’s anti-bullying policy.
- Their opinions on the definition, procedures for reporting and investigating and intervention strategies for dealing with cyberbullying to be taken into consideration as relevant.
- Encouragement to be responsible for their own online safely rather than relying on restrictive adult supervision.
- Development of digital citizenship through peer support programmes, cyber-mentoring and counselling.
- Attitude of respect and tolerance of others.
- Ability to be explicit in their disapproval of cyberbullying.
- Familiarity with policies and procedures in place in their children’s school.
- Opportunities to participate in developing school policies and strategies.
- Clear, consistent and accurate information, support, and procedures for preventing, detecting, reporting, and responding to cyberbullying from the school management.
- Training on how to act when cyberbullying happens.
- Encouragement from school management to consistently implement and evaluate effective responses to cyberbullying situations.
- An integrated and uniform approach for staff and all other members of the school community to preventing, detecting, reporting, and responding to cyberbullying.
- Support and consistency from the school management on issues of cyberbullying.
- On-going conversations with students about cyberbullying.
- Staff members acting as role models and students supporting those who are victimised.
Schools and families are among the most important risk factors as well as protective factors in cyberbullying. To deal with cyberbullying effectively, links between communities need to be established and resources in local communities should be utilized. The following guidelines discuss the needs of all stakeholders from the partnership building perspective.
||Young people need:
- Empowerment to report cyberbullying to school staff, parents or other trusted adults.
- Awareness of resources in local communities, including agencies and organisations where they can find information, advice and guidance on internet safety and cyberbullying.
- Encouragement to seek counselling if affected by cyberbullying.
- Awareness that the sooner unacceptable behaviour is addressed the sooner cyberbullying will stop.
- Encouragement to take action when they suspect their child is being cyberbullied or is bullying someone else.
- Awareness that children can both be cyberbullied and bully others and that cyberbullying might also be linked to ‘traditional’ bullying.
- Encouragement to familiarize themselves with their children’s school’s policies and procedures for cyberbullying.
- Communication skills to stress to their children there is no shame in being bullied and that they should not hesitate to seek help from parents, teachers, youth leaders or others.
- The ability not to over-react to cyberbullying or deny their children online and phone access if they are being targeted, but instead cooperating with their children to find possible ways of dealing with cyber-attacks.
- Active collaboration with parents to establish strategies for dealing with cyberbullying.
- Contact with parents when appropriate, and increased parental and community awareness about cyberbullying.
- Active participation of all members of the school community, teachers, parents and students in order to combat cyberbullying.
- Awareness of all stakeholders that cyberbullying is a shared responsibility.
- In cyberbullying situations, all parties involved need to contact each other and work together.
The ‘climate’ or rather the ‘culture’ of social environments that students are a part of, plays an often invisible but important role in cyberbullying prevention and intervention. The following guidelines examine what different stakeholders need to contribute to a positive, healthy, bully-free social environment.
||Young people need:
- Awareness of how important it is to support peers that are targets of cyberbullying in and out of school and awareness of the importance of reporting the incidents.
- Training in effective strategies which they can use should they be witness to their peers being cyberbullied.
- Support when defending or seeking help for peers that are targets of cyberbullying.
- Opportunities to develop leadership skills, moral reasoning, empathy, and emotional coping.
- Students are in a unique position to have a vital role in addressing the problems of cyberbullying in schools, and should be actively engaged in these processes.
- Opportunities to practice safe bystander skills in the school.
- Assurance that parents, teachers and other adults will not over-react if they report cyberbullying as they often fail to report incidents of cyberbullying behaviour to school personnel for fear that the technology will be taken away.
- Awareness of the role of bystanders, peer pressure and positive peer influence in relation to cyberbullying. They should encourage their children to intervene when they witness cyberbullying.
- Should parents learn of their children’s involvement in cyberbullying, they need to stress their disapproval and talk to their children about its damaging impact and consequences.
- Understanding of how important it is to lead by example and to have a positive and supportive relationship with their children.
- Established trust with their children, support in a non-judgemental and positive style.
- Encouragement to promote good social skills, in particular empathy, good moral reasoning, self-esteem and resilience of their children to reduce the risk of them becoming involved in cyberbullying.
- Active involvement of all stakeholders in creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom and positive relationships with their students.
- Training how to enable, assist and reinforce students in supporting targets of cyberbullying and how to work with students who cyberbully others.
- Ways to encourage students to report cyberbullying behaviour.
- Close teacher-student relationships to ensure a more positive class and school climate.
- Skills to notice and address conflicts and problematic situations between students.
- Opportunities to learn about the ways students use the Internet, while the students need to learn ways to solve social problems and develop social skills from teachers.
- A positive and supportive school culture developed through positive relationships they build among staff and students.
- Caring, supportive and authoritative school personnel that contribute to better relationships, positive classroom climate, and supportive school culture.
- Open, supportive and trustworthy atmosphere with clear guidelines about how the community is expected to behave and respond to cyberbullying.
- Knowledge and skills to effectively respond and give support to those who are cyberbullied; to effectively teach these skills to all stakeholders.
- Strategies to encourage help-seeking behaviours from students, staff and parents.
- Promotion of positive discipline models instead of punitive approaches.
- A school culture that does not tolerate cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is a real problem and it happens more often than we know or expect. Schools sometimes became aware of the problem but are poorly equipped to handle it. School staff might not know how to respond, what their competencies are and what is out of their area of expertise, how to respond to one-time incidents or how to develop a school-wide strategy if cyberbullying has escalated. Teacher and other school staff members often report that they would like to react, but do not know how and they feel powerless.
In this section, we will explore some basic guidelines and strategies for schools that wish to address specific cases of cyberbullying among students. Members of school staff will need to recognize the problem, explore it, plan, implement and evaluate an intervention or a strategy. The role of the multiplier in the intervention process is to be a facilitator, support person, and counselor. Multipliers cannot develop cyberbullying strategies and interventions for the school staff or instead of the school staff. They can, however, offer their knowledge and skills to help with the process. Most often, this will mean that they will help the school think and talk through the following steps:
- Recognizing incidents of cyberbullying
- Assessing incidents
- Reporting incidents
- Immediately responding to specific incidents
- Developing, implementing and evaluating a general strategy for dealing with cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is only one form of unacceptable behaviour that we might encounter among students. Schools often do not have a strategy or a procedure to deal specifically with cyberbullying; however, most schools have codes of conduct, policies for dealing with unacceptable behaviour or even counter-bullying policies. Cyberbullying should be dealt in the context of these policies.
Staff members usually become aware of cyberbullying through student reports, parent reports or by noticing problematic online activities or changes in student behavior. Awareness raising activities for school staff, especially information on how to recognize common signs that students might be victims of bullying and cyberbullying, can be very helpful.
The cyberbullying incident may take many forms and need different approaches. The first step is to think about the incident. Some of the key questions are:
- Impact: how extensive is the problem? How serious are the possible consequences?
- Location: where and when is the bullying happening? Cyberbullying is especially difficult to deal with because unlike “traditional” bullying it can happen anywhere and anytime.
- Duration: how long has the unacceptable behaviour been going on?
- Identity: does the person being bullied know who the bully or bullies might be? Cyberbullying can be especially challenging because the bully can be anonymous or the bullying can go viral and include many bullies and onlookers.
- Motivation: is there a motivation, a purpose behind the bullying? Is it possible the bully does not realize that his or her actions are cyberbullying? Does he or she come clean at an early stage and try to amend the damage that was caused?
- Evidence: what evidence is there of what happened?
- School context: how is the school involved? What can and cannot the school do? What is the school’s policy for dealing with such incidents?
Each case of suspected or alleged cyberbullying should receive an immediate response. If needed, a wider strategy should also be implemented.
If staff member suspects or is told about a possible cyberbullying incident, there are some steps they can take to immediately respond to the incident.
||Cyberbullying over mobile phones:
- Ask the student to show you the phone.
- Record the content of the inappropriate message or image. Include names, phone numbers and other identifying information.
- If the message is spoken, make a transcript.
- Tell the student not to delete the communication for the moment.
- Go with the student to the principal (or the person in charge of cyber safety if the school has one).
||Cyberbullying on computers:
- Ask the student to show you the inappropriate content on the computer screen. If the material is disturbing for the student, use other methods to locate it, such as checking browsing history.
- Record the material, save it to a secure location. Copies should not be accessible to the public.
- Print the problematic material out and save a hard copy in a safe place.
- Inform the principal or the person responsible for cyber safety.
- Talk to the student. Take the student’s statement, especially if there are concerns about child protection issues. When talking to the student, follow standard procedures for interviewing students.
Students that are victims of cyberbullying may need different types of support:
- Emotional support and reassurance that reporting the incident was the right thing to do.
- Advice not to take revenge, but to keep the evidence and show it to parents or staff members.
- Advice on how to prevent further hurtful communication (change passwords, block numbers or senders change numbers, report offensive content etc.)
- Take action to remove the problematic material, if possible
- Discuss contacting the police if the content might be illegal.
Offer students what you can and help them find support in areas you are not able to help them. School counsellors are usually key staff members for organizing a support strategy and support network for the student.
The nature of investigation will depend on each specific case of cyberbullying. It might include:
- Reviewing available evidence
- Saving available evidence (printing, taking a picture, saving on a secure location etc.)
- Interviewing students (victims, bullies, bystanders)
- Trying to identify the bully
- Looking at the media and technologies used
Take note that in most European countries, school staff members do not have the authority to search students’ belongings, including their phones, tablets, and other devices. You may ask the students to show you the devices and the content, but you cannot make them do it.
If the incident has signs of a criminal offense, the school is mandated to report to authorities and should be careful not to interfere with police investigations.
Working with the cyberbully or bullies is just as important as working with the victims. The consequences should be determined on an individual basis and should be in accordance with the rules and procedures the school has in place. Working with the bully should have the intention to:
- Help the victim to feel safe again
- Make sure the bullying stops
- Hold the bully accountable
- Help the bully recognize the harm and consequences of their actions so that it is less likely for behaviour to be repeated
- Demonstrate that cyberbullying and any kind of bullying is unacceptable behaviour, that it will not be tolerated by the school, and that the school has effective ways of dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
A strategic approach to cyberbullying is not always needed. Usually, a general strategy to ensure a good school climate, a strategy to develop students’ social skills and/or a conflict resolution strategy might be enough to prevent most cases or at least the most serious cases of cyberbullying.
If the school detects one isolated incident of cyberbullying, it should deal with that specific incident, but it might not make sense for a school-wide strategic approach. However, if there are many incidents or if their impact is potentially harmful, the school should review its existing policies and if needed, develop new ones.
Some of the tools that the school might use are:
- Develop a communication strategy for relevant target groups.
- Develop educational activities and skill building activities for relevant target groups.
- Review existing policies and procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
- Develop a crisis response plan and procedures to deal with unexpected incidents.
- Examine the school culture and the hidden curriculum and messages.
- Engage in a strategic planning process and plan for organizational change.
The following case studies can be used as an exercise to help you think about common scenarios, connected to cyberbullying, that might happen in schools. In each case, a cyberbullying incident is summarized and a brief description of a context is given. Think or talk about how you might respond to such cases. Try to plan an immediate response as well as a school-wide strategic intervention if it is needed.
School context: High school in an urban setting, in the city centre. The student population is very diverse: some students come from middle-class families, some from a poor background and a few from wealthy families. The school has about a third of minority students. The school general climate is pleasant, students tend to like school and most of them have a group of friends in the school. Students often approach teachers with their problems. There have not been many cases of cyberbullying reported yet and very few cases of traditional bullying. The school has an anti-bullying policy and monthly bullying prevention assemblies for students.
Case summary: Sara, age 14, has reported being cyberbullied to the school counsellor. She had sent some ‘dirty’ photos to her 15-year-old boyfriend through Snapchat. He has shown the photos to his friends and now the boys are making fun of her. They are calling her names as she walks by them in the hallway. She has also received 13 Snapchat messages requesting naked pictures of her. The principal and the teachers have not reacted yet but plan to discuss the incident during the teachers’ conference next month. None of the other students have been approached about the incident so far.
Initial investigation: When Sara reported the incident, the school counsellor took notes of her statement. Since Snapchat deletes shared content after it has been viewed, no record of either the photo or the messages exists.
In general, students in the school are very skilled in using social media. Almost everyone has a cell phone and most of the students use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Viber and Whatsapp. They use social media for fun, to send photos, videos, to express themselves. Teachers are mostly familiar with social media platforms, more than half of them also have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profile, some are also using Whatsapp.
School context: High school in a small town. Most students come from upper middle class families and live in suburban areas. The local communities are close-knit, most students, parents and teachers know each other by name.
Case summary: One case of cyber bullying has happened so far: exclusion of a boy Tom, age 15. His peers were calling him names and making fun of him through Facebook. Tom was also bullied in person: two boys hit him in the stomach and threatened to do it again if he told anyone. One of the teachers has seen that incident (in person) and after asking the boy, Tom told her that he was also bullied through social media, mainly Facebook. After that, the homeroom teachers talked with the bullies: three older students aged 18. They denied that they did anything bad or wrong; they didn’t see it as hurtful, just as innocent jokes. They promised not to do it again.
But the question remains – do they really understand the harm cyber bullying can cause?
Initial investigation: After this incident, teachers wanted to know more about how students use social media. One of the teachers mentored a student research group which wrote a research paper on the topic: they did a survey among all students and found that students know and love to use social media, mainly Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Viber, and Whatsapp. They use the applications and platforms to stay in touch with friends abroad or from other cities, to talk in groups, to send photos and videos to each other. Teachers mainly use and know only Facebook, less than half of teachers have their own profile social media sites.
School context: Primary school in an urban setting.
Case summary: Tina (age 10) mentioned during one of her random conversation with her teacher that some unknown ‘boy’ was inviting her to meet up with him. They started talking through Facebook (he ‘added her as a friend’ and she responded, even though she does not know him in person). At first, he was nice and friendly, but after some time he started asking her to send him photos of her and pushing her to meet up in person. The teacher asked if her parents know and she said that “Of course not”, they don’t talk about that at home, her parents do not know/use social media, and therefore they cannot understand the situation. She does not think of the situation as problematic, she is just a little bit annoyed with that boy and not sure if she wants to meet up with him in real life.
Initial investigation: Social media and technology is popular in the school. Some teachers are very fond of Social media and use it daily. One of the teachers (Geography professor) made a survey and realized that more than 80 % of students are using social media. They use mostly FB, Instagram, Whatsapp, Snapchat. Teachers also started an official FB and Twitter profile of the school one year ago and are posting interesting photos, motivational quotes, videos, events on the wall. The profiles have cca. 500 followers. Most students have computers or tablets at home, about half of them have cell phones. Most students know about Social media and apps like Snapchat, Viber, Whatsapp, and about half of the students use them and have social media profiles. Teachers and students are “friends” on social media.
Several countries across the globe have already developed seemingly effective cyberbullying laws. The strictest cyberbullying laws in the world are reported to be those found in Canada where under the Education Act individuals who engage in cyberbullying face suspension from school, and repeat offenders may also face expulsion from school and possible jail time. In United Kingdom, cyberbullying could result in six months or more in prison and a fine under the Malicious Communications Act. Certain states of the USA are also considered to have strict legislation with legal consequences ranging from monetary fines, charges of misdemeanour or imprisonment; whereas other US states have looser or no specific cyberbullying laws. Effective legislature is also reported to be in place in the Philippines and Australia.2
In Europe, most countries do not have specific cyberbullying laws, but there are a number of existing laws that can be applied in cases of cyberbullying. Some countries have specific measures for certain online behaviours (for example, cyber stalking is illegal in Poland). International law covers some of the problematic areas: Convention on Cybercrime and European Data Protection Legislation is now being applied to issues of cyberbullying, online harassment and identity theft. The European Commission has also formed agreements with 17 of the world’s leading social networks, including Facebook and MySpace, to stop online abuse and to better protect young people online.3
Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon. A need for anti-cyberbullying legislation is being recognized in many countries as cyberbullying can have serious consequences for individuals and communities. Many countries are beginning to recognize the emotional and physical harm that can result from cyberbullying and are designing protective measures and policies.2
Most legal definitions describe cyberbullying as:
- Actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.
- Use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person.
- Use of Internet service and mobile technologies such as web pages and discussion groups as well as instant messaging or text messaging with the intention of harming another person.
Because the use of mobile and online communications has grown so rapidly and the crime is relatively new, many jurisdictions are deliberating over cyberbullying laws. However, if an online activity has indications or elements of a criminal act, existing laws should be considered, for example criminal law (assault, threats, harassment, protection of minors), civil law (defamation, data protection, consent), and in some cases regulations in special areas are also applicable (education, family, employment, human rights, data protection).
Cyberbullying is a serious problem, but not always illegal.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem and potentially extremely harmful. But in fact, a very small part of cyberbullying can be considered illegal activity. Most such behaviours are unacceptable behaviours that can and should be dealt with in the context of family and school environments.
However, at times cyberbullying incidents can have signs of criminal activity. We might believe there is a real threat to the target or the line toward harassment can be crossed. In such cases, local police departments or attorneys can be consulted to determine if the case should be reported to authorities.
It is important to realize that even if cyberbullying behaviours are not considered criminal acts, civil lawsuits may still be filed to determine the damage resulting from cyberbullying.
When designing policies and actions to fight cyberbullying, the applicable legislature should be considered. Specifically, school staff, youth workers, and parents should be aware which actions need to be reported to authorities.
In some cyberbullying cases, it may be advisable to inform the local police department or consult an attorney. Very few cases of cyberbullying are being reported to the police, and even fewer are found to have characteristics of criminal acts and are investigated, eve fewer are persecuted. However, it might be better to err on the side of caution.
In most European countries, professionals working with children are required to report to authorities if they suspect a child is being abused, in danger or if there is a criminal act being planned. This is called ‘mandated reporting’. Often, schools and organizations have procedures and rules in place for such situations. It is advisable to review such rules and consider how they might be applicable to cyberbullying.
‘Mandated reporting’ is when professionals working with children are required to report to authorities if they suspect a child is being abused, in danger or if there is a criminal act being planned.
It might be difficult to assess if an incident or behaviour needs to be reported to authorities, especially in the context of cyberbullying. Some questions to consider are: Was the child physically or psychologically harmed in the incident? Does the incident pose a future threat to the wellbeing of the child? Would a reasonable, impartial person believe that there is a serious threat? Is there anyone that can be consulted? Often police officers specializing in child protection or cyber-crime are happy to help you discern if the case should be reported, or a national agency dealing with cyber safety might be able to provide some insight.
Lack of awareness about reporting cyberbullying can be detected in many settings. For example, a study of national-level guidelines for cyberbullying prevention and intervention in 27 European countries1 found that whereas the importance of maintaining privacy and the need for reporting procedures were mentioned in around 50% of the guidelines, only about one-third included references to reporting incidents to the Police.
Even though not all cases of cyberbullying can be considered criminal acts and although not every case needs to be reported to the police, cyberbullying should be reported to the platforms used to carry out the abuse.
Social media tend to take reports of cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse very seriously. In most cases, the site will take down the offending content and sometimes ban the bully from using the site. They also have resources to track activities, restore deleted content and identify the bully, although this information might not be available unless specifically requested by authorities.