Introducing a school policy on cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is when an individual or group of people use technology, such as the internet, mobile/cell phones and email, to bully, threaten or embarrass their victim. Recent research shows that cyberbullying is on the rise and that many parents are concerned about its impact. A 2011 survey of 1,000 parents of teenagers aged 13-17 by the American Osteopathic Association revealed that 1 in 6 parents knew their child had been a victim of a cyberbully.  Cyberbullying can take place 24/7. Incidents can take place both at home and at school, intruding into places that were previously regarded as safe.

So what exactly are the main features of cyberbullying and how can schools introduce an effective policy to deal with it?

Features of cyberbullying

 There are lots of different forms that cyberbullying can take. Here are some examples:

  •  Social networking sites -  posting insulting messages on an individuals social network account or abusing personal information about them.
  • Mobile/Cell phone – leaving or texting threatening or abusive messages or photos.
  • Chat rooms – sending instant messages direct to the victim or encouraging others to bully an individual.
  • Email – sending messages to the victim or to a group of people to encourage them to take part in bullying.
  • Cyberbullying is different to other forms of bullying in that it can reach a very large audience.
  • Cyberbullying does not necessarily rely on traditional power imbalances - a cyberbully may not be older or physically stronger than their victim.

 What are the effects of cyberbullying?

  • Cyberbullying can leave its victims feeling extremely distressed and vulnerable. It is not always easy to stop cyberbullying or to work out where it is coming from – anyone can buy a mobile phone or have access to the internet.
  • If a pupil is being bullied they may be afraid to come to school or take place in school activities. They may fall behind in their school work or use drink and drugs.
  • Cyberbullying can turn into in person bullying

 Why is it important for schools to introduce a cyberbullying policy?

 Cyberbullying can take place both inside and outside school. It is important that schools have a policy on cyberbullying and that it is cross referenced to existing school policies on bullying and harassment.

 The following key points should be  built into a school cyberbullying policy and communicated to staff and students.

  • All school staff and management should be given information and understand what cyberbullying is and how to prevent and respond to it. It is also important to understand any legal issues that may relate to cyberbullying incidents.
  • It is important that school policy on cyberbullying sets out clear disciplinary procedures to follow for cyberbullying and specifies whom incidents of cyberbullying should be reported to.
  • The acceptable use of ICT equipment should be communicated to students and set out within the appropriate behaviour agreements. Students should be aware of the potential sanctions for inappropriate use.
  • Students should be made aware that they should not respond to abusive emails or text messages etc and that they should always tell an adult as soon as possible.
  • Schools should try to monitor all e-communications used on the school site or as part of school activities off site.
  • It is important that schools have student consent in advance to monitor use of the internet and school email system. Advance consent should also be obtained for searching the contents of a mobile phone if a member of staff reasonable suspects that it has been used for bullying.
  • Schools should regularly review their cyberbullying policy and guidance to make sure that it effectively supports students.
  • All incidents of cyberbullying must be reported. Students should have a clear understanding of the process for reporting incidents of cyberbullying.
  • A nominated person must be responsible for overseeing and managing the recording and investigation of cyberbullying incidents. They will also be responsible for where necessary contacting the police and other outside agencies.

 Responding to cyberbullying incidents

  • It is important that school staff report any incidents of cyberbullying to the nominated person as soon as possible.
  • Schools should keep a record of cyberbullying abuse – this could mean keeping an email, voice mail or instant message. Screen prints of messages should be taken along with the time date and address of the site.
  • Most cyberbullying incidents are best dealt with through the school disciplinary policy.Where a potential criminal offence has been identified it should be dealt with through the police.
  • If an incident involves the posting of upsetting information about another person on a social network site appropriate action must be taken. The person nominated for dealing with cyberbullying should speak to the perpetrator and explain why the material is offensive and ask that it be removed.
  • If the person responsible cannot  be identified or will not take it down the school should contact the website host to try to remove the content.
  • Some service providers will only deal with complaints lodged by the person concerned and not by a third-party. In these cases the person being bullied will need to be supported to contact their service provider directly.