Cyberbullying Explained

What is cyberbullying?
According to Netsafe, there is a growing number of reports from and about young people, who experience a disproportionate amount of harm online compared to other age groups (Netsafe, 2023).

Cyberbullying (or online bullying) is when a person uses digital technology, like a mobile phone or a computer, in a way that intends to harm another person or group. This includes sending nasty messages or images over text or via direct message on social media, or by posting or publishing untrue or harmful content or images.  

Online bullying can take place in many forms including:  

  • Name calling.  

  • Repeated unwanted messages.

  • Spreading rumours or lies.

  • Fake accounts used to harass people.

  • Excluding people from social activities.

  • Sharing of embarrassing pictures or videos.

  • Creating fake profiles.

7 in 10 teens in NZ have experienced at least one type of unwanted digital communication in the past year (Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018).
19% of NZ teens experienced an unwanted digital communication that had a negative impact on their daily activities (Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018).
Nearly half of Māori (46%) have experienced harmful digital communications in the past year that include unwanted sexual advances, false allegations, racist remarks and online stalking (Netsafe, 2023).
Online bullying experienced by the rainbow community

Just like with other forms of bullying, rangatahi/young people who identify as takatāpui, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or other sexuality and gender diverse communities (LGBTQIA+) or are perceived to be part of the rainbow community, can experience higher rates of cyberbullying than students who are not.  

Online homophobic, biphobic and/or transphobic bullying can look like:  

  • Taking and sharing photos and videos of rainbow students without consent  

  • Taking and circulating online photos and videos of rainbow-focused bullying (either directly bullying or harming a person, or destruction of property, posters or flags)  

  • Outing people online. This can happen unintentionally when school staff include rainbow young people in posts supporting or addressing rainbow issues.  

“New Zealanders under the age of 30, those who are neurodiverse, LGBTQIA+ community members, those with long-term health issues and Auckland residents are more likely than average to have experienced hate speech in the last 12 months." (Netsafe, 2023).

Read the full Netsafe report here.

Below is some guidance to help keep you, and those you care about, safe from cyberbullying. Our friends at Netsafe have helped us with this advice, and we recommend reaching out to them if you are experiencing cyberbullying or other issues while online. Click here for more information about cyberbullying support.
What to do if you’re being cyberbullied

If you’re being cyberbullied, there are things you can do to keep yourself safe. Help is available to support you and you don't need to handle it on your own. 

You can: 

  • Talk to someone you trust. Tell a parent or whānau member what’s going on, or talk to someone you trust like a teacher, sports coach, friend, guidance counsellor or hoamahi/colleague. They can help you or reach out to others who can offer you support. 

  • Don't reply or respond to any nasty messages. We know these can be hard to ignore, but don't give the person the satisfaction of a reaction. 

  • Take photos or screenshots of the messages or content. Save them so you can easily show others. Find out how here

  • Report the content or message. Contact the social media platform or website where the bullying is happening. Ask someone to help you do this if you’re unsure how to. 

  • Block the person bullying you. Where you can, block the phone numbers or social media accounts that are sending you unwanted messages or content.  

  • Get some extra support. You can reach out to Netsafe for advice. They’ll ask questions to understand what’s been happening to you, talk about ways to stop the abuse and suggest other people you can talk to who may be able to help. 

There are helplines offering support and information when times are tough.  

You can contact 1737, Youthline or Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or there are other support services available. They are there to help you. 

If you’ve been cyberbullied, it’s understandable that you may be feeling really hurt, unsure of yourself and what to do to feel better. This article covers how you may be feeling and offers ideas to help you feel better while you are recovering from something hurtful that happened online.  
Standing up to cyberbullying

If you see someone being targeted online, you can be an upstander and report any nasty messages, false information, photos or fake accounts directly to the website or platform/app where it is happening. This can be done anonymously, so no one knows it was you.

There are things you can do to directly support the person being targeted. By being an upstander, you’re letting the person know they don't need to face this on their own.

You can:

  • Ask if they’re okay and let them know you’re there for them.

  • Recommend that they don't reply or respond to any messages or contact the person bullying them. Let them know it’s okay to block the person.

  • If you feel safe to do so, let the person or people doing the bullying know their behaviour is not okay.

  • Take photos or screenshots of the messages and save them so they can be reported or shown to others. Find out how here.

  • Encourage the person being bullied to report any nasty messages or upsetting images to the social media site where it’s happening.

  • Support them to get help and stay safe. Recommend they contact Netsafe for advice on how to stop the abuse. Offer to go with them to talk to others who can support them during this time, like a parent or other whānau, a teacher or a counsellor.

Supporting your child if they’re being cyberbullied

If your child tells you they are being bullied online or if you’ve seen or heard about texts, direct messages, posts or comments that you think may be upsetting them, it’s best to ask your child in a non-confronting way. 

You can support your child by: 

  • Staying composed. Let your child know it’s okay to talk about what’s going on. Listen to them. Try to respond calmly and let your child you’re there to help and support them. 

  • Taking a deep breath and evaluating the situation. Before you take any action, it’s important to understand what’s going on, how long it’s been happening (if it’s a one-off or if it’s been going on for a while) and who’s involved. This will help you with your response. 

  • Understanding how it is affecting your child. Let them know it’s okay to be upset, and that you understand how they must be feeling.  

  • Not taking away their technology. Taking away your child’s device can alienate them from their most important support network – their peers. 

  • Encouraging them to use the features available on most social networking sites, like blocking and unfriending people and reporting content, if necessary. It’s a good idea to show them how to update privacy settings on social media – if you’re not sure how, visit the safety centres of the social media platforms they use. 

  • Working out a plan together. Contact Netsafe if you need help about what you can do. There’s also more information available here

Online self-care

There can be many positive aspects to being online and using social media. It’s a great way to stay connected with friends and whānau, to interact with others from around the world who share similar interests, and to join causes or raise awareness about things that matter to you. 

But there are also downsides to being online. If social media is not used properly or excessively, it can affect your mood, self-esteem, body image, mental health and sleep as well as distract you from schoolwork, your job or other connections or commitments. 

Below are some tips for self-care while online: 

  • Unfollow or unfriend accounts that make you unhappy, lead to negative comparisons with your own life or make you feel bad about yourself. Likewise, if the content is toxic, triggering or hurtful to yourself or others. 

  • Talk about how you feel when something bad has happened to you online. Share how you are feeling with a whānau member or friend you trust or connect with someone through a helpline. It may not be easy to start the conversation, but talking about what you’re thinking and feeling really helps. 

  • Take a break. Scrolling your social feeds may leave you feeling tired, stressed, isolated, anxious or irritated. Following disturbing or emotionally demanding topics may also leave you feeling drained. Turn off notifications, set time limits on apps and have time away from your screen. You could catch up with friends, spend time with whānau or do something you enjoy outdoors.  

  • Find a way to let go of the hurt. It’s understandable to feel hurt, upset or angry when you are being bullied online, so it’s important to rebuild your confidence. You could try finishing the sentence “I feel......because.......”. Write as many different sentences as you can think of, then screw up the bits of paper and throw them away. You could also keep a diary or draw to help make sense of how you are feeling. 

  • If something’s made you angry online, try not respond back in anger. Instead, try to do something positive like blocking or reporting the person or unfollowing the page.  

  • Avoid using your phone before bed, as this could be affecting your sleep and overall wellbeing. 

  • Try not to compare yourself and your life to others' highlight reels. Remember, people are not the version they show on social media; beauty filters and editing can give unrealistic expectations. 

  • Don’t ignore cyberbullying. Block the person or site, report the abuse to the platform and talk to someone you trust about it.  

  • Follow accounts that make you feel good, bring you joy, give you hope or inspire you. 

  • And remember, your difference is a strength. Be your authentic self. Don't let anyone make you feel like you need to be someone else. 

Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora
Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!
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