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What is cyber-bullying?

Cyber-bullying is any behaviour, using digital technologies, that could reasonably be considered humiliating, intimidating, threatening or demeaning to a person, or group of people, and which creates a risk to health and safety. Examples may include harassment via mobile phone, social media, or e-mail, or setting up an offensive personal website or blog.[i] While cyber-bullying typically involves an accumulation of instances of objectionable behaviour, single instances of online abuse and harassment may constitute cyber-bullying.

Not every adverse comment or complaint using digital technologies is unreasonable or is an instance of cyber-bullying. Clients and other members of the public have a right to express their views or make a complaint online about agencies in the same way as they can in person or in writing. The problem arises when complaints are in the form of inappropriate online behaviour directed at APS employees.[ii]

Cyber-bullying can be difficult to deal with because it is distinct from other kinds of bullying in several key ways. In particular:

  • it allows a potentially global audience to view or participate
  • it is often anonymous, making it hard to hold perpetrators to account
  • it can take place at any time of the day, seven days a week
  • it has a degree of permanence, as information put online can be difficult to remove and may be recorded and archived
  • it may be difficult to escape from, given the pervasiveness of the need to be always 'connected'
  • content can be duplicated easily and is often searchable.[iii]

2.1 Examples of cyber-bullying

Examples of inappropriate online conduct that may be directed at APS employees include:

  • using offensive language (including terms inappropriately targeting specific groups or individuals)
  • personal attacks that embarrass, humiliate, discredit, or portray the target in a negative light
  • spamming (i.e. sending multiple successive and irrelevant emails or posts designed to aggravate or which cause nuisance)
  • cyber-stalking—for example, using the internet to find, identify, and arrange to meet a person whom one intends to victimise; or sending multiple emails to annoy, embarrass, intimidate, or threaten a person[iv]
  • conducting online polls about employees—for example, about their level of competence—for the purpose of belittling them
  • posting personal information about employees, including personal details (phone number, name, address, vehicle details, etc.) so they can be targeted via other avenues
  • posting inappropriate content or links to disreputable websites
  • publishing embarrassing or altered photos or videos of APS employees without their permission
  • inappropriate and unreasonable use of online enquiry forms to convey abusive or offensive remarks to or about APS employees
  • creating fake social networking profiles of APS employees.

[i] National Centre Against Bullying website. See Bullying Advice Centre.

[ii] The 2011-12 State of the Service Report acknowledges very few APS employees (1%) reported being subjected to cyber-bullying in the past 12 months as a result of their APS work. For the few APS employees who reporting being cyber-bullied, other APS employees were most commonly cited as being responsible (50% of incidents), followed by members of the general public (29%), and then clients, customers, and stakeholders (23%).

[iii] Australian Human Rights Commission website. See Cyberbullying, Human rights and bystanders.

[iv] Edith Cowan University. 2009. Review of Existing Australian and International Cyber-Safety Research, Child Health Promotion Research Centre, page 31.