Cyber Bullying Is A Crime
The Commonwealth legislation governs online stalking and harassment behaviour. The crimes legislation amendment (telecommunications offences and other measures Act) – (No. 2) 2004 makes it a crime to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. The alleged individual could be found guilty under – 474.17 A (1) if:
- (a) Person uses a carriage service;
- (b) Does so in a way (whether by method of use or content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all circumstances;
- Menacing, harassing or offending;
- Penalty: Imprisonment of up to – 3 years.
- Social media has enhanced our ability to be connected and engaged, the technology sector is now the largest in the world.
- Australia is one of the most connected and engaged in the world and on average we own atleast 3 devices.
- While social media has fantastic benefits it has come at a devastating cost, with families, friends and most importantly victims who feel there is nowhere to turn to. Words do hurt and we’re reminded of the consequences of cyber bullying almost on a daily basis with reports that 1 in 8 Australians experience cyber bullying.
- Some Australians are showing signs of being addicted to their devices and for some there is now a dependency on Technology that is to be reachable and contactable all the time (techno stress – inability to disconnect).
- There are phenomenons such as FOMO (fear of missing out) and FONK (fear of not knowing) which has impacted on our ability to be connected to our social media platforms and devices.
- Cyber bullying is now the second most common form of bullying in Australia. Some behave with no responsibility while others are callous and ruthless.
- Cyber bullying is intergenerational and anyone can be a victim, whatever their age.
- Cyber bullies have the ability to target individuals 24/7, they can remain anonymous and significantly impact a large number of users and individuals instantly. Cyber bullies can intrude in places that were once regarded safe – our homes. Perpetrators, predators, paedophiles and groomers can influence and gain access to our most vulnerable.
- Victims of cyber bullying can feel powerless, lonely, upset, insecure, desperate and have feelings of refuge as there is no escape from the perpetrator who continues to harass, troll or stalk the victim.
- Everything posted online is stored even if deleted, every time a message is sent it’s saved by phone companies even after it’s deleted. Emails and private messages sent are stored by host providers of the platform. Chat conversations through companies like messenger and other social media applications are stored on servers. Every device that accesses the internet has its own Internet Protocol (IP) address that can be traced back to the user.
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse – users should consider their online actions as authorities are responding to inappropriate behaviour with heavy fines and prison terms.
Bullying is a crime in Victoria and the crimes amendment (bullying 2011 – section 21A) of the stalking provisions are now in effect. This amendment strengthens the existing stalking and harassment provisions of the Victorian Crimes Act 1958 and covers bullying/cyber bullying behaviours. Police now have the power to prosecute for stalking and serious bullying conduct. In other states stalking and harassment laws cover parts of the Victorian Act but there is no specific law that makes bullying a crime.
- As a certified provider of cyber safety programs Nationally we work closely with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner to ensure children and teenagers are empowered to deal with inappropriate on-line behaviour. Please visit https://www.esafety.gov.au
What Is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying is the deliberate use of social media platforms, information and communication technologies, new media technologies i.e. (email, phones, chatrooms, discussion groups, applications, instant messaging, blogs, video clips, cameras, hate websites/pages, blogs and gaming sites) to repeatedly harass, threaten, humiliate and victimise another with the intention to cause harm, reputation damage, discomfort and intimidation.
In 2015, Australia was ranked 3rd in the number of searches made on the topic of cyber bullying via Google.
Cyber bullying can include:
- Harassment – sending ongoing abusive, insulting or unwanted messages. Tormenting someone with hateful and hurtful text messages, emails, posts or instant messages that offend, humiliate or intimidate.
- Flaming/Trolling – disagreements online between 2 individuals using aggressive and or abusive language, gradually resulting in others joining in.
- Denigration – spreading lies, rumours or gossip about someone to damage their reputation or friendship.
- Impersonation – pretending to be someone else by posting and sending inappropriate material online i.e. saying things they wouldn’t normally say face to face.
- Outing And Trickery – placing someone else’s information online without their consent. Trickery is persuading someone into providing secrets or embarrassing information and then placing these online. This could be done through a fake website, profile or by editing someone’s own profile.
- Exclusion – deliberately excluding someone from an online group or excluding them from activities because they have not participated in an online activity.
- Cyber‐stalking – following someone through cyberspace and repeatedly harassing or denigrating them which may raise significant fear in the individual. Moving with them to different sites or applications and posting threatening messages.
- Sexting – sending or posting messages, videos or photos of sexual nature. It’s illegal to post pictures or images of another without their consent and or if the individual is under 18 years of age.
- Pornography – possession and manufacturing of pornographic images and videos of an individual under the age of 18 is illegal and is covered by State and Commonwealth Laws.
Signs of Cyber Bullying
Cyber victims may feel anxious and isolated during the initial stages of cyber bullying. Early detection is important for prevention and harm minimisation, including the health and well-being of the individual.
Cyber bullying victims could show signs of cyber bullying by:
- Keeping to themselves and no longer engaging with their usual friends.
- Changes in sudden behavior i.e. become angry, intense and negative while using or after.
- Secretive – minimises screen, hides device or deletes messages immediately.
- Irritated, loses interest, enjoyment in online activities, anxious, hesitant/guilty about going on line – (receives an abundance of messages).
- Decreased appetite, health problems, addiction and nightmares.
- Depressed, no care or attention about their on-line behavior.
- Self-esteem issues – children with low confidence could be prone to behaving inappropriately online as they don’t care of the repercussions.
- Uses hostile language that advocates and incites violence or aggression towards the perpetrator.
- Is making comment about planning/preparing to commit online or off-line inappropriate behaviour.
- Inappropriate on-line behaviour rarely occurs in front of adults – telling your child to stop may not work. Open discussion by to determine the issue and finding an appropriate response is recommended.
- Block the bully and ask them to stop making comment.
- Don’t open and resist the temptation to respond, retaliate or reply to messages if cyber bullies don’t receive a response they are likely to give up.
- If you do respond – an assertive approach is recommended – “Can I please ask you stop, remove the ….. I don’t appreciate the message” etc.
- Do not send, post or show offensive and inappropriate content, messages, pictures, or videos about others online.
- It is illegal for a minor (under the age of 18) to post explicit photos of themselves on-line.
- Permission should be sought prior to posting any photo of another individual online.
- Maintain a record of harassing messages/replies, as evidence and report to appropriate authorities i.e. teacher, parent, adult, employer, manager, internet service provider (ISP), Police, Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (users under 18) or talk to a trusted friend.
- Think before posting personal information, name, address, phone number, details of family/friends and personal photographs or videos.
- Do not agree to meet individual’s offline who you don’t know personally.
- Be aware that strangers can download, store, share/forward your personal information to others, which has the potential to create more avenues for cyber bullying, harassment, stalking and intimidation.
- Do not open spam messages, click on prize offers, hyperlinks and popups that offer free or discounted items as there could be viruses or Trojans.
- Seek their opinion and knowledge.
- Have the game or application road tested by a trusted adult.
- If the threatening/harassing behaviour is occurring at school, talk to your teacher, welfare coordinator or your principal. If outside school hours, speak to your parents, a trusted adult, Police or contact the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.
- We recommend using parental controls or inbuilt computer security features (available at Bully Zero).
- If the behaviour is a workplace bullying issue and is occurring outside normal work hours, contact your employer or Police.
- Have open-ended conversations to learn about their child’s on-line life. Mentor your child about responsible social media usage and allow guided interactions and open dialogue. Practice scenarios to develop assertiveness strategies and help your child identify teachers, friends and others that could assist.
- Ensure your child is legally permitted to hold an account and or engage with certain social networking sites, platforms, applications and games.
- Ensure you and your child read the licence agreement and activate privacy settings as (default settings may not be safe).
- Set clear boundaries, house rules and time limits i.e. device free dinner time (phone check policy – random checks).
- Talk to your child, ask what platforms they’re using, who their friends are and advise then to never befriend anyone online they don’t know. They should add or accept user they know or have some commonality with.
- Be involved, positive and interested in your child’s hobbies, friendships on and off-line.
- Develop your social media skills and join your child’s preferred network or applications i.e. Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram).
- Understand the social media platforms they are using i.e. how to create a status, upload content, check in services and privacy (basic social networking functions) and ensure you road test websites, applications or games your child is downloading (free games include advertising and some innocent games simulate gambling and desensitise children to the gaming format).
- Be familiar with the acronyms children and teenagers use. See the most common acronym used by teens here.
- Suggest that your child make their personal information private and not share personal information with strangers.
- Educate and teach your child about online safety, their responsibilities, potential risks and ask your child to stop, look and think before posting or sharing any content that could be inappropriate.
- Explain they must gain permission from their friends or family before posting pictures, videos or any other content that does not involve them directly.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about peer pressure and how they should not be persuaded to post inappropriate content, i.e. photos, videos or personal information.
- Consider parental controls, filtering software and effective strategies to respond to inappropriate online behaviour are available. The Foundation has partners offering software that can respond to specific needs of parents and users.
How to prevent Cyber Bullying?
Work With A Trusted Adult:
If constant online use is having a negative impact on your wellbeing or that of your friends and family, then this may be a sign for a break. Apply time limits to internet usage, excessive amounts of social media engagement can distract the user from the ability to self-regulate feelings. It could interfere with development of empathy, social and problem-solving skills (typically obtained by exploring unstructured play and interacting with friends). It’s important to have direct face-to-face interaction.
There is no suggested time limit however should excessive usage affect sleep, self-esteem or cause stress, the Foundation suggests a break from social media, balance is key.
Parents could install a filter that not only records the amount of time used but can automatically disconnects the service temporarily once a set limit has been reached. The Foundation has reliable evidence based software to respond and address such issue.
Report Cyber Bullying – Be The Upstander
Cyber bullying affects 1 in 8 Australians and it’s our responsibility to stop and prevent it. Cyber bullying behaviour can stop in under 10 seconds if the bystander intervenes and takes assertive action by being the upstander. Never allow the bully to get away with thinking that no one will help.
Doing nothing sends a clear message that the poor behaviour is acceptable, be part of the solution rather than wait for someone else. Step in, stand up, report and inform the cyber bully that their behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Role of Police
If the bullying behaviour is causing serious distress, harm, harassment, stalking, violence, humiliation or threats to harm, then contact with Police should be made. Police will establish if an offence has been committed, investigate further and take relevant action under state or Commonwealth law.
In Victoria, serious bullying is a crime protected by the Crimes Legislative Amendment Act 2004. In other states stalking and harassment laws also exist to protect the Victims. If an offence is committed, it’s the duty of police to investigate and determine the best response for dealing with perpetrators utilising formalised procedures and processes.
Each case is dealt on its merits and the underlying philosophy of Police in Australia is based on harm minimisation, in particular, where children are involved. They are committed to providing undivided support to ensure the welfare, safety and well-being of children, including both victim and offender is protected and maintained.
Police will take action where there is evidence of bullying, stalking and harassment.
The Commonwealth legislation governs online stalking and harassment behaviour. The crimes legislation amendment (telecommunications offences and other measures Act) – (No. 2) 2004 makes it a crime to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.
Role of Parents
No parent would willingly leave their child aged 6 in a library, in a swimming pool, shopping centre or local park without monitoring them?
Social media is a playground, but it’s digital and more difficult to control. Having open communication about online activities and usage including the monitoring of internet usage i.e. applications, games and internet platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, Facetime, Skype, Tumblr, YouTube) is fundamental in understanding the child’s social media world. Youngsters are digital natives and this is their world, it’s not about quantity but quality. Children should be taught good online habits to be responsible digital citizens.
Parents should help maintain their child’s social health, well-being and prevent harmful on-line behaviours. Parents should acknowledge symptoms and raise concerns with their child’s school, contact the Foundation: (03) 9094 3718 or the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner: 1800 880 176 – www.esafety.gov.au.
What Can Parents Do?
Anything published online in a public domain is no longer private. Information including photos can be exploited and used inappropriately. Technology in the wrong hands can be a weapon of mass destruction. We suggest caution and a pro-active approach, confiscation of devices is not a solution, we suggest open and honest communication to promote responsible usage.
The Foundation offers cyber safety workshops and seminars to educate students, teachers and parents about cyber safety, please call (03) 9094 3718.