Alex Kohn
27 June 2012

Cyber Bullying – safety in numbers

Alex Kohn

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Cyber bullying was again recently front page news.

On 20 June 2012 the Sydney Morning Herald ran a prominent article titled “Safety in numbers the key to beating cyber bullying” reporting on recent findings by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that there are commonly bystanders to cyber bullying who do not act appropriately.

It is easy for other students to get caught up in the flow when one student starts to bully another. However, if another student intervenes to assist the bullied student and provide support, as well as report the matter to the school, steps can be taken promptly and effectively to minimise the risk of harm.

The AHRC has launched a national campaign to encourage young people to support their friends targeted by cyber bullying. Prominent media personality, Ruby Rose from MTV, was herself bullied as a student and is an ambassador for the campaign.

The campaign is focused about taking positive action when it is known that someone is being cyber bullied. AHRC spokesperson Dr Helen Szoke said:

Bystanders are crucial to dealing with cyber bullying. Taking positive action to support those who are being bullied leads to less social and mental health problems as well as an increased sense safety at schools.

The AHRC BackMeUp campaign is based on research by some of Australia’s foremost bullying experts. Research on bullying has found that most bullying incidents occur in front of bystanders, the majority of whom either feel powerless to act or actually encourage the bullying.

The central focus of the BackMeUp campaign is a video competition through Facebook where teenagers are encouraged to make a video about how they could help someone who is being cyber bullied.

The BackMeUp campaign is a welcome focus on one of the primary problems of cyber bullying, namely the feeling of social isolation.

If young people are encouraged to stick up for their friends against bullying, that is likely to minimise the feeling of despair and other emotional consequences suffered by victims of bullying and empower them to take positive steps to avoid ongoing problems.

It is important to remember the duty of care and criminal implications of cyber bullying which I touched upon in my previous blogs.

Some strategies to counter cyber bullying which may assist educational institutions include:

  • Educating students in social media issues.
  • Having a holistic approach involving teachers, students, parents and others in the school community so that all stakeholders are aware of the issues and address them in a coherent manner.
  • Spending time implementing policies to reinforce positive behaviour.
  • Those in leadership positions keeping up to date with technological changes and patterns in online student behaviour so that any changes in the way that students attempt to bully one another can be effectively countered.

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