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What is cyberbullying all about?

cyberbullyingPeople everywhere use new technology to keep in touch with friends, organise social events, share photos and have fun. Mobile phones, emails, web sites, blogs, online games, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and other networking sites can be a positive and fun tool to learn, express yourself and keep in touch.

Recently it seems there has been more sad news than happy news about technology and how it can be used to hurt other people. You may have heard news reports about the impacts of cyberbullying and you may even have experienced cyberbullying yourself. From what young people are telling us at Kids Helpline, it is an ongoing issue.

Bullying vs other types of conflict

It's important to remember that not all fighting or arguing is bullying. It is normal to have times when you have conflict and arguments with people. So, it is important to learn how to deal with conflict. Bullying is different to having an argument or a fight.

There are four things that can help you identify bullying over a normal argument between friends. Bullying is targeted and persistent behaviour that is intended to:

  • demean
  • intimidate
  • embarrass, or
  • harass

Bullying also involves:

  • An imbalance of power - for example a group ganging up on an individual or someone much more confident picking on someone who is less confident
  • Repeatedly picking on someone over the phone, email, website or online forum (for example, sending messages to the same person over and over)[1]

So, how is ‘cyberbullying’ different to bullying?

Basically, cyberbullying is an extension of bullying that goes on at school but the person doing the bullying uses new technology such as websites, text messages, social networking sites and emails to embarrass, demean, harass, intimidate, or threaten other people.

What young people have been saying to Kids Helpline about cyberbullying

Our counsellors have responded to lots of children and young people who are dealing with a range of different ‘cyberbullying’ related issues. We hear reports of cyberbullying that can range from situations such as arguments between friends that get out of control, to groups of young people deliberately targeting other young people[2].

At Kids Helpline, we recently conducted a survey about cyberbullying to help us understand how this issue affects young people. Here are some of the things they told us:

‘I was paranoid that people read what they were saying about me and that people judged me because of it’

‘I still feel scared and like I can't trust people like there going to turn on me... it is very hard for me to make friends even to this day even though it was over five years ago.’

Our survey also asked young people to let us know ‘what advice would you give a friend who is being cyber bullied?’ Here are some responses:

‘Don't be afraid of telling, it is the best thing you can do!’

‘Don't try and get even’

‘Blocking is your best friend!’

‘Don't take what they say to heart... there will always be people that love and care for you and they are the ones who really matter.’

Why is cyberbullying so hurtful and why do people do it?

It seems like cyberbullying is so hurtful because of the way that people can be bullied in front of all of their friends. They often can't get away from it because the messages come through on their mobile phone, to their email account or to their social networking site like MySpace.

There are lots of reasons that young people bully others. Sometimes it's about trying to become popular, or to intimidate or make someone afraid of them. Sometimes it's a reaction to being bullied themselves or because they are jealous of the person they are bullying.

What can you do if you're being cyber bullied?

The ways to deal with a problem of bullying, whether it's at school or on the internet is always different depending on the situation that you find yourself in. It may also depend on who is doing the bullying and how it started. It is important to keep in mind that dealing with bullying is about finding a solution that works for you. Sometimes it can be really hard to reach out for help or tell someone because you are concerned that people won't understand, know what to do or that it will make the situation worse.

There are important things that can be helpful to remember if you are being cyber bullied:

  • It is NOT your fault
  • There is help available (teachers, parents and counsellors can all be helpful people to talk with about your situation)
  • You can block the bullies from sending you messages or emails or stay off line for a while
  • You can get help from the police and take legal action if needed
  • It can help to keep copies of abusive messages that are sent to you because they can be used later as evidence

Useful things to remember when communicating online (to help sort out/avoid some conflict!)

When communicating by text it is important to remember that the people who read it don't get to hear your tone of voice or see your facial expressions. This can lead to potential confusion and can then result in conflict. Sometimes you may even be perceived as a bully.

Sometimes school conflict can become a bigger problem and people can start to bully other people over something that initially started as an argument. To help with this, we've included some tips to avoid fights and disputes that are occurring online:

  • Remember that things can be misinterpreted. If you have a reaction to something someone has said in an email or online you might want to think about whether replying online is the most effective way to communicate with them
  • Be mindful of the people that you involve in an argument. Have a think about whether you need to bring them in and be careful using the 'reply all' function
  • If you are posting photos or videos of your friends be aware they might feel embarrassed so make sure you check with them first
  • Avoid using sarcasm in texts - people often can't tell when it's being used

Reaching out for help is really important...and should not be seen as weakness

If you are having issues with anything that has been mentioned it is really helpful to talk to someone you trust. Research tells us that most young people do not perceive bullying as being ‘cool’ and would help out their friends if they knew what was going on. Our survey showed that most of the young people who told someone about being bullied (particularly a friend and/or adult), found it was helpful for them.

How can Kids Helpline help?

Kids Helpline counselling can be a great way to get your head straight before you start to work out what to do. Often the first step we take in working with someone who is being bullied (or cyber bullied) is to really get to know and understand the situation that the young person finds themselves in. Research tells us that most teenagers are quite aware of how to stay safe online and what options are available to prevent cyberbullying. Our experience tells us that when young people are being bullied it can bring up strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, guilt and hopelessness. Often the victims do not believe that anything will help. Our counsellors can help you work through these emotions and get some control back in your life.

Some helpful links:

If you want to talk to someone about cyberbullying, you can call Kids Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 55 1800 or use our web or email counselling services.


  1. 1. Campbell, Marilyn A. (2007) Cyber bullying and young people: Treatment principles not simplistic advice.
  2. 2. Kids Helpline. (2009). Cyberbullying: Experiences, impacts and interventions as described by Australian young people. Unpublished research report. Brisbane, Queensland: Megan Price.

Updated: 18 July 2011