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Cyberbullying hit the headlines earlier this year with news that Northern Territory teenager Amy “Dolly” Everett died by suicide due to alleged cyberbullying. In the wake of this tragic death, Professor of Cyber Security at Deakin University, Matthew Warren, offers advice on how to handle cyberbullying before it reaches crisis point.
We can take steps to prevent cyberbullying, but the fact is that bullying will always exist. The best way to manage cyber bullying is to understand it and arm ourselves, with a plan for when it happens.
Prof. Warren says it’s important to understand that cyberbullying is a form of bullying. ‘Bullying’s always occurred, it’s just cyberbullying is an extension of that in terms of the new technology platforms,’ Prof. Warren explains. ‘Because of the internet and the speed of connectivity, it has a greater impact in real time.’
Helping children to handle cyberbullying can be hard if you aren’t familiar with the technology kids are using. Prof. Warren says a great tool for parents is a guide to cyberbullying just released by the Federal Government’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
To help children and teens deal with cyberbullying, you need to know it’s happening. Prof. Warren says to keep an eye on their activity and behaviour. ‘It’s really trying to recognise change in behaviour, trying to recognise their reaction to things that they may have read on their mobile devices.’
Staying on top of a child’s activity can be problematic if they’re using a messaging app, Prof. Warren warns. ‘Part of the issue is many of the apps, particularly the messaging apps, have particular passwords and features that make chat secret or hard to detect, so from a parent’s perspective it’s much harder to police the child’s use of those apps.’
When it comes to teenagers, the challenge is to balance their freer access with your need to remain aware of their activity. ‘You would give them more responsibility to use technology and the internet but still want to support them and make them aware of what is or isn’t appropriate,’ he says.
'Because of the internet and the speed of connectivity, [cyberbullying] has a greater impact in real time.'
Professor Matthew Warren,
If cyberbullying does happen, Prof. Warren advises to stay calm. ‘Don’t panic when someone is being bullied. Remain calm for the child.’ The same applies for adult bullying victims. Your first reaction may be to respond to the bully. Instead, Prof. Warren says to be practical and gather evidence.
‘Try to listen and collect information about what’s happened. Collect any information that can be used forensically, whether it’s screenshots of the cyberbullying or messages on the phone, collect that evidence.’
He says to support the victim by taking over their social media account. ‘Taking over the child’s Facebook pages or monitoring what’s happening on their instant app is helping to mitigate it.’ For adult victims, having a friend manage their account for a while can ease the burden.
If you think someone’s safety is at risk, alert the police immediately.
Reporting cyberbullying is crucial and can help, Prof. Warren says. ‘Alert cyberbullying to the social media service providers and report it to the eSafety Commissioner. They’ll step in to assist.’
‘Providers like Facebook, like Twitter, are now taking cyberbullying much more seriously and step in quickly when problems occur. They’re becoming more and more proactive to deal with situations.’
He warns that messaging apps can be trickier to report. ‘The issue is when you have message apps like WhatsApp and WeChat, it’s not so public. It’s a bit harder to ascertain what’s happened and harder for intervention to happen.’
If cyberbullying persists and you feel a child or adult is reaching crisis point, Prof. Warren encourages people to ask for help. ‘Really reach out to the eSafety Commissioner, reach out to the police. The work of the eSafety Commissioner is to raise issues with the police force across Australia. Police are now more reactive and more understanding of it,’ Prof. Warren says.
The authority of the police can get quicker action. ‘In many cases it does need reaching out to authority to deal with the situation because they have a greater impact when it comes to dealing with groups like Facebook rather than individuals.’
Now you are armed with information on dealing with and preventing cyberbullying, check out how cyber safe you really are – take the quiz!
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