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When you think of bullying, some of the first images likely to come to mind are those of schoolyard fights and taunting, or perhaps even the theft of possessions and personal threats. However, with the prevalence of modern technology and access to online communication platforms such as social media, bullying in the 21st century can also take a different form.
Cyberbullying refers to the use of digital technology to repeatedly harass a person. Just like physical bullying or taunting, cyberbullying can be harmful and cause considerable distress to the victim. It can also be difficult to detect, sometimes making it hard to know when someone might need help.
Cyberbullying can take a variety of forms. As mentioned above, it can be a private conversation between bully and victim, held over a digital messaging platform, involving negative or abusive dialogue. However, it can also use the digital space as an arena for their attacks, such as posting hurtful messages or even embarrassing photos online where the bully's and victim's friends alike can also see.
Sometimes cyberbullying can be hidden behind subterfuge, with bullies using a fabricated social media profile to launch their cyber assaults. It can involve the spreading of harmful gossip or rumours online, or even the bully hacking into a person's social media account and masquerading as their victim.
According to research conducted by the University of New South Wales, one in five children aged 8-17 experience some form of cyberbullying, equating to some 50,000 children across Australia.
"As more children and young people use the internet and have access to smart phones, cyberbullying has become more prevalent," said Professor Ilan Katz from the Social Policy Research Centre. Professor Katz went on to share the research's findings, noting that the impact of cyberbullying could be even worse than so-called 'offline bullying'.
Bullying in any form, at any stage of life is never acceptable. It involves targeting a person with behaviour that is intended to hurt them, either physically or psychologically. Just because cyberbullying takes place online doesn't mean it is any less damaging.
What differentiates cyberbullying is the fact that digital devices such as computers or mobile phones mean a person can be contacted at any time of day, whether they are at home, school, or work. This allows cyberbullies the opportunity to harass their victims 24/7, giving them no respite from such despicable behaviour.
In addition, cyberbullying doesn't always occur in a vacuum - while instant messaging can allow it to take place in private, bullying that unfolds over social media platforms can potentially be witnessed by the victim's wider friend group.
If you feel you are receiving harassing or unpleasant messages, it is important to log out, close the messaging application, or even put your phone on silent. Responding to the messages, especially when you are upset, can potentially spur the bully on. If necessary, you can block or delete the person in question. You can also report hurtful content on some social media sites such as Facebook.
Remember to keep your personal details such as login and password information confidential, and ensure your privacy settings are sufficient for you not to be contacted by people you do not wish to talk to.
In addition to these measures, it is important to talk to someone about what is happening. Relationships Australia NSW offers a range of counselling services to help you decide on how to best move forward from such a situation. You can also seek support via Online Counselling, which allows individuals to consult with a counsellor over chat or Skype. You can call us on 1300 364 277.