Need help dealing with violent or distressing online content? Learn more

Bullying online

Bullying online, or ‘cyberbullying’, is when someone uses the internet to be mean to another person so they feel bad or upset. No one deserves to be bullied online.

In short:

  • Bullying that happens online can harm the mental and physical health of the person targeted.
  • It can happen in any kind of online communication, including posts, comments, texts, messages, chats, livestreams, memes, images, videos or emails.
  • Often bullying content can be removed by the site, game or app used to send it, if you report it to them. But if they don’t help, eSafety may be able to investigate and ask them to delete it.

What is bullying online?

Bullying online, or ‘cyberbullying’, is similar to offline bullying. Both happen when someone causes mental harm to another person who feels unable to stop it happening, which can also lead to physical suffering. 

Often cyberbullying is linked to bullying that’s happening offline – for example, a fight at school or in a friend group can spill over onto social media or messaging apps.  

Cyberbullying can be very harmful for a number of reasons:

  • It can happen at any time and follow the targeted person to any place where they have a digital device. 
  • If the bullying content has been shared on a public platform such as social media, it can be seen and spread by lots of people very quickly.
  • If the content is not removed, it can last online for years, affecting the reputation or ‘digital footprint’ of the person who is bullied.

Some examples of cyberbullying include:

  • sending hurtful or abusive messages 
  • spreading nasty rumours or lies about someone 
  • creating fake accounts in someone’s name to embarrass them or to cause drama by sending nasty messages to their friends  
  • sharing photos or videos of someone to make fun of them or humiliate them
  • trolling’ people (posting or commenting online to provoke an argument or emotional reaction)
  • threatening to hurt someone, or encouraging others to hurt them
  • making new accounts to try to keep contacting someone who has already blocked you
  • mocking or teasing someone because of personal attributes, like their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or how they look – this is sometimes known as ‘online hate
  • purposely making someone feel left out or ignored.

Why does bullying online happen?

Let’s face it: some people just like to cause drama – they think it makes them powerful or popular. But there are other reasons why they may bully someone online. For example:

  • they are hitting back at a person who was mean to them first
  • they are angry or upset, so they want others to feel bad too
  • they are trying to be funny, but the joke hurts another person’s feelings
  • they don’t think about the impact before sharing something that is likely to hurt or embarrass someone else.

If you upset someone online, it’s best to apologise and delete the content to stop the situation getting worse. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been accused of cyberbullying.

What should I do if I’m being bullied online?

No one should have to deal with cyberbullying, but knowing the most effective ways to stop it will help.

Don’t hit back

Resist the urge to hit back with your own mean or hurtful comments – it usually just makes the situation worse and could get you into trouble. Sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from the screen for a couple of minutes to calm down and work out what to do next. You can also use your in-app functions to ignore, hide or mute the other person’s posts or comments so you don’t keep seeing them. Remember that bullying usually makes the person doing it look bad, not you. Just because they say something mean about you doesn’t mean it’s true, so try not to let it get you down.

Tell someone you trust

You don’t have to cope with bullying on your own. You may feel like you should be able to handle it yourself but if you’re feeling a little out of your depth, talking it through with someone else may help. An adult you trust, like a family member or teacher, can give you a fresh point of view, as well as helping you decide what to do and how to deal with any impacts. Try to stay connected with your support person while you handle the situation – you could show them this webpage so they understand more about it and can help you. 

Think about asking them to stop

Sometimes people do things online without thinking about how others could be affected. This isn’t cool. You can try asking the person who is bullying you to stop and to delete what they sent, posted or shared – if you feel safe doing that. It might not always work, but letting them know they have upset or embarrassed you may make them rethink their actions. You could also send them a link to eSafety’s advice on what to do if you’ve cyberbullied someone, so they know how to help fix what they have done. 

If the person keeps bullying you – even after you’ve asked them to leave you alone – stop communicating with them and follow the next steps.


  1. Collect evidence

    Take screenshots or recordings of bullying content so you have proof. Also note the usernames and display names of people involved and keep URLs (web addresses), as well as message links (for Discord). You should also write down how long the bullying has been going on and whether you know the person responsible. Find out more about collecting evidence.


  2. Report harmful content

    Report the content to the social media site, game or app used to bully you. The eSafety Guide has reporting links for the ones that most people use. If they don’t help and you're under 18, you can report serious cyberbullying to eSafety. We can work with you to try to have the content removed and point you in the right direction to get further support. If you're 18 or older, you may be able to make an adult cyber abuse report.


  3. Prevent further contact

    Use your in-app functions to ignore, hide or mute the other person’s posts or comments so you don’t keep seeing them. The eSafety Guide tells you how. After reporting them, you can also block them through your account, or on your device, to take away their power to upset you further.


  4. Get more help

    Cyberbullying can make you feel bad. Lots of people say the harmful content makes them angry, sad, embarrassed, hurt, worried, scared or stressed. The harm may be felt for a short time or last a long time. How to look after yourself has tips on what you can do to feel better, like using the wellbeing resources on social networks and reminding yourself about positive things.

    If you feel you do not have anyone close you can talk to about how the cyberbullying is making you feel, you could contact Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) or another confidential counselling or support service. They have people who are ready to listen and help.

    You can find more eSafety advice about how to report cyberbullying of someone under 18, what eSafety does next and answers to other common questions. If you are 18 or older, you may find our information about adult cyber abuse helpful.

    If someone is threatening to share nudes or other intimate images of you, or has already done it, that’s ‘image-based abuse’ (sometimes called ‘revenge porn’). You can find out how to deal with it here:

Audio

I believe social media websites should have a duty of care to protect its users.

Especially when cyberbullying is so much easier to do behind the screen than face-to-face.

So, what's cyberbullying?

It can range from someone at school posting indirect but aggressive comments about you or someone setting up a fake or embarrassing account in your name.

It's behavior that's consistent, persistent and designed to humiliate you and anyone can cyberbully you – from a friend to a stranger. 

No matter the form it takes, cyberbullying is never okay.

If you feel comfortable enough, you can try asking the person to take their comments down. 

If the cyberbullying misrepresents you or your opinion, you can try saying, 'Hey, this is unfair' before explaining your reasons why.

If the bullying gets worse, this is usually a sign that things aren't going to get better without outside help.

Often cyberbullies like a fight, especially from behind the screen. If this happens, it's time to screenshot, report and block. 

The websites you're on are also responsible for your welfare, which means that any cyberbullying should be reported to them first to address. 

If nothing changes, eSafety can also step in.

Report it to eSafety and they'll do their best to help you out.

So my final word of advice is to stay positive, and the cyberbullying itself reflects the cyberbully not you and it's okay to seek help.

Lachlan: How to deal with cyberbullying

How can I help someone who is being bullied online?

Whether you’re directly involved or not, it’s always best to keep calm if you can, so you can think clearly. 

You may choose to be an ‘upstander’ – someone who helps others instead of being a ‘bystander’ who just watches as bad things happen. These are some ways to be an upstander online. 

Reach out to the person being bullied

Send a message to the person being bullied. Ask if they’re OK and offer your support. Whether they’re your friend, or someone you only kind of know, a few words of support can go a long way. Avoid phrases that might make them feel worse, like ‘You must be so embarrassed’ or ‘I would want to die if I were you’. 

Let the person being targeted know they can report online bullying to the social media service, game or app where it happened. You could show them this webpage, so they know more about their options.

Say something to the person who’s bullying others

If you feel like someone is taking things too far online, consider reaching out to them privately to let them know that their behaviour may be causing harm. Maybe they’re just unaware of how they are making the other person feel.

But when someone is clearly bullying another person, consider standing up to them if you feel confident and safe. Make it clear that what they're doing is not cool. It could be as simple as posting a comment that says ‘This is not OK’.  

Learn more about how to help

How to be an upstander has more tips for helping to create a positive culture online.

 

Real stories

Something has happened

Don’t hit back. It will just make things worse.

Tell someone you trust. Talking with someone else can make it easier to decide what to do and how to deal with the impact. 

Think about asking them to stop. You can try asking the person who is spreading the rumours to stop and to delete what they posted or shared – if you feel safe doing that.

Collect evidence, report and prevent further contact if things are seriously bad. Collect evidence so you have proof – this can include screenshots or recordings of what was posted or shared. Then you can report and block the other person in-app. You can find how to do this on common social media sites, games and apps in The eSafety Guide. If you don’t hear back from the service or platform, you can ask eSafety for help to remove serious cyberbullying content (for under 18s) or adult cyber abuse (for 18+).

Get more help. You can always speak to someone at the free Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) or find another counselling and support service that’s right for you. 

Collect evidence. This can include usernames and screenshots of fake accounts, any fake posts or comments made using your name, and any messages other people have received from the fake account. 

Log yourself out of all devices and reset your password or passphrase immediately if they have used your real account. Logging out will log everyone out too, including the person who has access to your account. Once you do this, you can log in on a trusted device, change your password and delete any hurtful or embarrassing posts, comments or messages. It’s also a good idea to post an explanation about what happened.

Report it. If someone has got into your real account or set up a fake account and pretended to be you, you can report it to the site, game or app where it happened. Often the service or platform can remove the content or fake account and may even suspend or delete the account of the person who did it. If they don’t help, you can report the problem to eSafety and we will try to help to remove serious cyberbullying content (for under 18s) or adult cyber abuse (for 18+).

Get more help. Talking with Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) or another confidential counselling or support service may make it easier to deal with the impact.

Reach out to your sport organisation for support. If the meme came from a member of your club, there may be actions they can take as part of sport policies.

Collect evidence, report and prevent further contact if things are seriously bad. Collect evidence so you have proof – this can include screenshots or recordings of what was posted or shared. Then you can report and block the other person in-app. You can find how to do this on common social media sites, games and apps in The eSafety Guide. If you don’t hear back from the service or platform, you can ask eSafety for help to remove serious cyberbullying content (for under 18s) or adult cyber abuse (for 18+).

Get more help. You don’t need to deal with this on your own. See our advice on how to manage the impacts of cyberbullying or adult cyber abuse. There's also more advice in our Sports hub on how to deal with online safety issues at your sport. You can always speak to someone at the free Kids Helpline (for young people up to age 25) or find another counselling and support service that’s right for you. 

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 and online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.

More support services

Last updated: 26/02/2024