We live more and more of our lives online, and online bullying (sometimes called cyberbullying) is unfortunately one of the side effects. If you’re being targeted by a bully online, this guide will help you recognise what’s happening, respond, and seek help.
What is online bullying?
Online bullying is, well, bullying that happens online. It’s using social media, YouTube, text messages, or any other form of digital technology to tease, humiliate, threaten, or draw unwanted attention to another person. It can happen in tons of different forms, from public posts to private messages. Here are some examples:
- Publicly sharing your personal information, like your address, phone number, or your real name if you haven’t been using it - this is also called ‘doxxing’
- Comments on public posts that are cruel or are intended to attract other bullies
- Private messages that are harassing, mocking, or cruel
- Impersonating you on a social media platform
- Creating an account or group for the purpose of harassing or talking about you
- Screencapping your posts or images to mock them
- Teasing, harassing, or mocking you in the voice or chat feature of an online or video game
- Following you to different social media platforms to continue commenting there
- Signing you up for unwanted email lists or accounts
Online bullying is super common. A recent survey found that over 60% of young people had been sent nasty DMs, and 47% said they’d gotten upsetting comments on their profile pictures at some point. This is just a partial list of ways it can happen. If someone is using the internet or digital technologies to treat you in a way you don’t like, it may well be a case of online bullying. A good test: if someone doesn’t mean any harm and you ask them to stop doing something that upsets you, they probably will! A bully, on the other hand, won’t.
The most important thing about online bullying - and any form of bullying - is that if it’s happening to you, it’s not your fault. People become bullies for all kinds of reasons, and even though they’ll often try to convince you that it’s because of something you did, or who you are, that just isn’t true. No one deserves to be bullied.
What to do
First of all, remember that you’re not overreacting. If someone has sent a message or made a comment that upsets you, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking action - especially if it happens more than once. You don’t have to wait until things get really bad before you ‘deserve’ help - in fact, it’s better to stop bullying before it escalates, if you can.
Online bullying is complicated, and there’s lots of different advice for the best way to proceed if you’re a victim, but here are some simple tips:
Keep a record
Take screencaps of any hurtful messages, photos, videos or comments you receive… but make sure to save them somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at them. Bullies will often try to erase the evidence of what they’ve said, and if you end up needing to officially report someone, it’ll be useful to have evidence of what was happening.
Block and report
Most social networks allow you to block and report people that are harassing or bullying you. If you’re making a report, the app may ask for evidence, which is when your screenshots come in handy.
Blocking, however, is even more important. It’s tempting to try and engage with the bully, or keep an eye on what they’re up to, but cutting off their access to you is sometimes the simplest way to make the bullying stop. One you’ve blocked them, think about putting your accounts on private, at least temporarily, to keep them from logging out to look at your profile.
Talk to someone you trust
Speaking to your parents, a trusted adult, or someone at school or college about what's going on can be really useful, even just to help you feel like you’re not going through this alone. Your teachers in particular will be able to give you advice about reporting the bullying, or can direct you to someone within the school who will know what to do, especially if the bullies are your fellow students.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that schools sometimes don’t really know what to do when the bullies aren’t their students, and some schools still struggle with how to handle bullying that happens online rather than on school grounds. This can be really frustrating, and if you’re in that situation, it’s time to focus on the steps above: block, report, and lock down your social media accounts to try and cut off the bully’s access to you.
Bullying wears down your self esteem. It can make you feel like you have no friends, or like something’s wrong with you… which is why it’s so important to reach out to the people in your life who do care about you. Whether they’re parents, teachers, family members, or other friends, if you’re being bullied, build up your support network so you can have reminders that you’re loved and you really do matter, no matter what the bully tries to make you think about yourself.
Tell the police if it’s serious
In the UK and many other countries, harassment and threatening behaviour is illegal. That means that cyberbullying is often illegal as well. While approaching the police may seem like a drastic step, if bullying has pushed you to think about harming yourself (check out this guide, if that is the case), or has made you afraid for your safety, the police may be able to take actions to stop it when your school or the social media platform can’t. It’ll be especially important in this case to have solid evidence, so make sure you take screencaps and save messages if you can.
Every country takes different legal approaches to the question of online bullying. If you think you need to get legal help, google ‘online bullying laws’ to learn more about resources in your region.
Good stuff from elsewhere
The Mix online support services (UK-based)
What to do if you're being bullied on social media