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What is cyber-bullying?

Upset girl at laptop
Cyber-bullying is a fast growing phenomenon and can be an extension of bullying in school or can be carried out by complete strangers. We look into its various forms and how you can tackle it.

According the Anti-Bullying Alliance, ‘Cyber-bullying is an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.'

Cyber-bullying is on the rise. According to new figures from internet security company McAfee in conjunction with the Anti-Bullying Alliance:


  • Two-fifths (38%) of parents think that their child may have been bullied online
  • A third (33%) of parents think their child may be a cyber-bully themselves
  • Over half (53%) of children often go online without any parental supervision
  • Nearly one in five (16%) of children have experienced mean or cruel behaviour online
  • A quarter (22%) of children have witnessed the cyber-bullying of a classmate or friend

What are the forms of cyber-bullying?

Research commissioned by the Anti-Bullying Alliance indicates that there are seven categories of cyber-bullying to be aware of:

  • Text message bullying - bullies reach their victims by sending them unpleasant and unwelcome text messages
  • Picture/Video clip bullying via mobile phones - bullies take embarrassing films or images of the victims and send them to friends. Alternatively, ‘Happy slapping' involves filming physical abuse and sharing it with friends
  • Phone call bullying via mobile phones - usually involves prank calls from disguised or hidden numbers, or stealing the victim's phone and making calls or messages to other people, pretending to be the phone owner
  • Email bullying - similar to bullying via text messaging, the victim will usually receive unwelcome emails from bullies pretending to be someone else
  • Chat room bullying - not unlike the type of thing you get in the playground, bullies will respond abusively or encourage others to turn on the victim in a web-based chat room
  • Instant message bullying - again, a form of web-based bullying where children and young people are sent unpleasant messages as they conduct real-time conversations online
  • Bullying via websites - this can include abusive web logs (blogs), whole websites dedicated to embarrassing the victim, as well as online personal polling sites. Social networking sites have also increased the scope for cyber bullying.

Cyber-bullying terms parents need to know

Internet Matters have produced a glossary of cyber-bullying terms to help parents.

Catfishing is stealing someone’s profile or setting up a fake profile to lure people into starting online relationships.

Cyberstalking is sending repeated and frequent messages that include real threats of physical harm.

Dissing is sending or posting information that’s intended to damage someone’s reputation

Flaming is sending angry, abusive online messages to intentionally provoke someone into starting an argument.

Fraping means logging into someone else’s account, impersonating them or posting inappropriate content in their name.

Griefing is abusing and angering people through online gaming.

Roasting means ganging up on an individual online and sending offensive abuse.

A faceless bully

Those who take part in online bullying often use a group of friends to target their victims by asking them to add a comment to a photo on a blog, or asking them to forward it onto another group of friends. Sometimes, these people don't even realise they're actually bullying someone and get caught up in cyber-bullying simply by not thinking about the consequences of what they are doing.

However the impact on the lives of young people can be considerable and in some cases tragic. Unlike the type of bullying that goes on in the street or at school, escaping cyber-bullying can be very difficult – messages can be sent 24 hours a day, everyday of the week, anonymously. So it can even be tough for those on the receiving end to avoid it in the safety of their own home.

Deal with it

The Anti-Bullying Alliance has these top tips for dealing with cyber-bullying:

  • Keep evidence of cyber bullying by saving messages and MSN conversations.
  • Don’t reply. Tell your child to never retaliate but instead if they’ve been sent a nasty message to bock the bully and report it to an adult they can trust.
  • Report it officially. Most websites and mobile phone operators have a place where you can report abuse.
  • Remind your child to always respect others. Be careful what you say and what you send. Messages and images can be made public and could stay online forever.
  • Get your child to protect their online accounts and mobile phone with a password – and ensure they don’t share it with anyone.

For more advice on how to deal with cyber-bullying read our parents' action plan.

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