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What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that’s done through the use of technology – for example, using social media or text messages to hurt, harass or embarrass someone.

If you’re experiencing cyberbullying, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, it’s really common, with the eSafety Commissioner reporting that almost one in two young Australians have had a negative online experience in the last six months. Read on to find out what cyberbullying looks like, and what are its effects.


What does cyberbullying look like?

There are many different types of cyberbullying, but the most common ones are:

  • someone sending you mean, threatening or hurtful messages (via text, email, or social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat), whether you know them or not
  • people sharing photos, videos or personal information about you with others without your permission, to try to embarrass or hurt you
  • people spreading rumours or lies about you via social networking sites or text messages
  • people trying to stop you from communicating with others or excluding you from group chats
  • people stealing your passwords or logging into your accounts and changing the information there
  • people setting up fake profiles pretending to be you, or posting messages or status updates from your accounts
  • people interacting with you with a fake account and tricking you into believing that they are someone else.

Why is cyberbullying so hard to deal with?

Cyberbullying can be hard to deal with for a number of reasons.

  • A lot of people can view or take part in it.
  • The content (photos, texts, videos) can be easily shared with others.
  • It is often done in secret, with the bully hiding who they are by creating fake profiles or names, or sending anonymous messages.
  • It’s difficult to remove, because it’s shared online so it can be recorded and saved in different places.
  • It’s hard for the person being bullied to escape it if they use technology often – for example, for school, work or socialising.
  • The content may also be easy to find by using a search engine or search function on a social media site.

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can make you feel:

  • guilty – as if it’s your fault
  • hopeless and stuck when there’s nothing you can do about it or no way to stop it
  • embarrassed, like you don’t fit in
  • depressed and rejected by your friends and other groups of people
  • unsafe and afraid and scared to go to school
  • stressed-out from wondering what to do and why this is happening to you.

How can you deal with cyberbullying?

What to do right now

If you feel like you’re being cyberbullied, it can be an upsetting and distressing experience. The first step is to not respond or take action when you’re angry or hurt. An angry or embarrassed response is often what the person doing the cyberbullying is after. Mute your notifications or turn off your phone/computer and step away so you have some time and space to think clearly.

Talk to an adult you trust

If you need some support or are unsure about what to do, talk to an adult you trust. This could be a:

  • parent, older sibling or other family member
  • teacher, school counsellor or sports coach
  • community or religious leader
  • friend
  • workmate.

You could show them this article to help explain what’s going on for you and what options there are for dealing with the cyberbullying. Check out our 5 steps for talking to someone about bullying.

If you need cyberbullying material removed or want to report it

If there are any photos, videos or comments that are being used to harm you, the fastest way to get material removed is to report it. Most social media sites, games and apps have quick ways to report content, usually through settings, help, or by tapping or clicking the ‘...’ on individual posts/comments. If you’re having trouble finding how to report cyberbullying on your app, check out the eSafety guide.

If the app, site or game hasn’t helped you within 48 hours, and the cyberbullying is causing serious harm to your physical or mental health, eSafety can step in and ask the administrator to remove the harmful content.

Whether you’re reporting the cyberbullying or are still deciding what you want to do, it’s a good idea to take screenshots of what’s happened, in case you need it for evidence.

What to do if you feel unsafe

If you feel unsafe – for example, someone is threatening you or your family – call the police on 000 to get help.

If you’re not at risk of harm but you want to chat with someone and get support immediately, call or text a 24/7 helpline such as:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline, for anyone aged 5–25 – 1800 55 1800
  • 13YARN, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – 13 92 76.

How to stay safe online

Have a look at your privacy settings and online safety to decrease the chances of your being cyberbullied in the future. While this is easier said than done if it’s your peers doing it to you, the following steps can help to minimise the effects of cyberbullying.

  • Set your accounts and personal details to private and only accept friend requests from people you know in real life.
  • Don’t share private information with anyone you don’t know and trust. This includes your name, password, address, social media names, phone number, school, and photos of yourself, your friends and your family.
  • Don’t respond to messages when you’re angry or hurt. If you feel like you’re being harassed, step away and talk to a trusted adult.
  • If someone starts harassing you on social media, report, block or unfriend them.

Learn more about what you can do to deal with cyberbullying.

Look after yourself

Throughout all this, look after yourself. Navigating social circles and school or work can be tough enough, let alone if you’re experiencing cyberbullying. Make sure to look after yourself and take small steps to help you feel less stressed. Learn how to look after yourself here.


What are the laws around cyberbullying?

In Australia, there are laws against bullying and cyberbullying. This is why, if you are being cyberbullied, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. For people aged over 18, Australia’s online safety laws classify cyberbullying as ‘severely abusive online content that was sent, posted or shared with the likely intention of harming the person targeted, and the content must be menacing, harassing or offensive’.

For those under 18, it’s classified as content sent to you, or posted or shared about you, that is likely to harm your physical or mental health because it is seriously:

  • threatening – for example, when someone says they are going to hurt you or tells others to hurt you
  • intimidating – for example, when you stop doing something because someone makes you feel scared
  • harassing – for example, when someone keeps sending you messages, posts or comments about you even though you don’t want them to
  • humiliating – for example, when someone embarasses or makes fun of you.

For more information on Australia’s cyberbullying laws, check out the eSafety Commissioner.

If you need more support in order to understand the laws and how they relate to what you’re experiencing, contact Lawstuff. They provide free legal information and support to young people under 25.


How to help others being cyberbullied

If someone you know is being cyberbullied, you can support them to get help. You could:

  • reach out to them and let them know that what’s happening to them isn’t okay
  • let them know that you’re there to support them
  • encourage them to talk to a trusted adult
  • encourage them to report the cyberbullying material, or to block the person doing the cyberbullying.

You can show them this article so that they can better understand what their options are for dealing with the cyberbullying.


Are you cyberbullying others?

Many people have done something online that they thought was funny or harmless, but it may have felt very different to the other person. If not all parties involved are laughing, then it may count as bullying.

If you think you might have done something that counts as cyberbullying, don’t panic. Maybe you:

  • didn’t realise it at the time
  • thought it was harmless
  • got carried away with the joke
  • were experiencing cyberbullying yourself and were doing things to get back at the other person.

The important thing now is to stop, apologise to the other person and make sure you don’t do it again. Learn more here about what bullying behaviour is and what you can do about it.

Here are 4 things everyone needs to stop doing online.

What can I do now?