Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is when someone uses the internet to be mean to another person so they feel bad or upset.

In short:

  • Mocking people based on personal attributes, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or gender is never OK.
  • Screenshot content for evidence before blocking the page.
  • You can report cyberbullying to the platform, and then to eSafety if your report hasn’t been actioned in 48 hours.

The advice on this page is for young people under 18. Advice is also available for over 18s, who may be experiencing adult cyber abuse.

On this page:

What is cyberbullying?

It can be easy to misinterpret a comment or post, when you can’t see someone’s face or hear the tone of the person who posted it. In the same way, you might not have intended to hurt someone’s feelings, but what you thought was light-hearted banter, could be considered bullying to someone else. 

The way we talk online can also make it more difficult to know where to draw the line between banter and bullying.

Cyberbullying is when someone is using the internet to be mean to someone else so that they feel bad or upset. It can include posts, comments, texts, messages, chats, livestreams, memes, images, videos and emails.

Some examples of cyberbullying include:

  • hurtful or abusive messages 
  • creating fake accounts in someone’s name to trick or humiliate people  
  • spreading nasty rumours or lies about someone 
  • sharing photos of someone to make fun of them or humiliate them
  • making new accounts to attempt repeated contact after the person has already blocked you.

Cyberbullying is never OK.

If you’re being bullied online, remember that bullying behaviour is way more a reflection of the person who is being mean, than it is a reflection of you.

It’s also good to remember that you are not alone – you have people in your life who can support you – trusted adults, friends, siblings, teachers at your school and various free and anonymous support services.

Lachlan: How to deal with cyberbullying

How to keep banter light

Avoid getting too personal

Set some limits. Picking on someone’s appearance or aspects of their identity, like their gender, race, sexuality or religion, should not be material for funny banter. They might make fun of these things themselves, but it’s a good idea to avoid these topics altogether. Also, if this is someone you know really well, you probably already know some things that your friend is insecure about. If you're aware it is a sensitive subject, it’s best to not go there!

Saying ‘I was only joking’ after the fact, doesn’t help

Even if you really just mean it as a joke, it’s best to apologise if you made someone feel upset. Try not to argue about how you intended the joke to be taken. Doing this can often inflame the situation. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and remember, the best way to fix the situation is to apologise.

Say something to the person whose behaviour is hurting others

If you feel like someone is taking it too far in a group chat, maybe they’re just unaware of how they are making the other person feel. Consider calling it out or reaching out to them privately to let them know that their behaviour may be causing harm.

Support the person who is being targeted

If you see that someone is clearly not taking someone else’s banter as a joke, reach out to them and ask them if they are OK. Let them know that they can get help and support.

Learn more about How to be an upstander.

Something has happened

Ask them to stop. If you feel uncomfortable with the way someone is speaking to you, and you feel safe to do so, ask them to change their behaviour. It might not always work, but sometimes just letting them know they're upsetting you will make them reassess their actions.

Resist the urge to respond. Try not to respond to any hate targeted at you online – it usually just makes it worse. Often people will say hurtful things just to get a reaction and you don’t want to be associated with that, or give them any reason to get you in trouble as well. 

Screenshot, report and block on the platform. If they don’t change their behaviour, it’s time to set some hard boundaries. The eSafety Guide has information about how to do this on different online platforms. Screenshots help if you need to take further action at any stage, so think of it as ‘insurance’. Confidentially reporting them to the platform can help keep the platform safe for others. You should do this before blocking them. 

Remember: If the bullying material involves nudes, be aware that possessing or sharing such images of people under 18 may be a crime, even if the picture is of you, or you have just taken a screenshot for evidence purposes. For information about relevant laws in Australia, visit Youth Law Australia. You can also read our advice on what to do if your nudes have been shared.  

If the content is still up after 48 hours, make a report to eSafety. If you have trouble getting the content removed and you're under 18, you can report it to the cyberbullying team at eSafety. If you're over 18, you can make an adult cyber abuse report. Either way, we can work with you to try and have the hurtful content taken down and point you in the right direction to get help and support. Learn more about what to expect and how to make a report.

Get help and support. If the cyberbullying is really concerning you and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talk to a trusted adult. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, but talking to someone makes it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You can also get help from confidential counselling and support services.

Resist the knee-jerk response to say ‘No I’m not! I was only joking!’ Sometimes it’s better to step away from the computer or put your phone down for a couple of minutes before responding. Rather than jumping to defend your actions, be curious about why they might have said that.

Listen to how your words and actions make them feel. How they feel might be different from how you would feel in the same situation. Remember their feelings are valid, and they don’t need to justify why the content hurts them. They just need you to know that it has.

Remember that if you have done or said something mean, it does not make you a bad person. We are all learning and growing as people, and doing one bad thing does not make us a bad person. It is how we respond and learn from our mistakes that defines who we are. Recognise this moment as a chance for you to learn and grow.

Apologise for your words and actions. Avoid the phrase, ‘I am sorry that you feel that way’. Taking responsibility for your words and actions means apologising for what you have done. You could say something like, ‘I’m sorry I did that. It wasn’t my intention to make fun of you, or hurt you, but I can see that I have. I’ll take it down now.’

Remove any public content you have posted. If you have publicly posted something about the person, it’s important to delete it. This means that other people won’t be able to screenshot and share it, which can continue the bullying.

Learn from the situation. When joking around with people in the future, recognise that the threshold of harm can be different for everyone. Think twice before you hit send. 

Get help and support. It can be confronting and upsetting to be called a bully, especially if you didn’t mean to hurt someone. Reaching out and talking to a trusted adult can make it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You can also seek help from confidential counselling and support services.

Get support from confidential counselling and support services

Kids Helpline

5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Headspace

12 to 25 year olds. All issues. Phone counselling available 12pm to 8pm AEST, every day. Online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.

More support services