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Disturbing content

Just like in your offline life, when you’re online you might come across something you’d rather not see. It might be content that is upsetting, disturbing or offensive.

In short:

  • Online spaces should be safe for everyone, but you may sometimes come across disturbing content that makes you uncomfortable.
  • If you see content that makes you feel uneasy, or unsafe, you should consider reporting it so that it’s taken down. You can report content that you believe is harmful, dangerous, offensive or illegal to eSafety at any time. 
  • Your actions could protect you and others from seeing the content again.

 

Trigger warning: This page explicitly mentions illegal content, which includes sexual assault, murder and child abuse.

What is disturbing content?

Every now and then, you’ll encounter things you don’t want to see online. Someone might send you an image or a link to information that is disturbing. Learn more about Illegal and restricted content.

Everyone has different thresholds on what they find disturbing or unacceptable, but eSafety can direct a service or platform to remove:

Screen reader users: Select a button below to change content below it. You can skip to the expanded section directly by skipping to the heading.
Violent content

This can include images or stories of self-harm or actual harm.

Inappropriate content

This can include unwanted sexual images or posts promoting criminal behaviour.

Illegal content

This may show, describe, promote, or encourage violent crimes. This can include child sexual abuse, terrorist acts, murder, attempted murder, rape, or torture.

What do I do if I see disturbing content?

When you see disturbing content online, your fight, flight, freeze or fawn response might kick in. This response is the body’s natural reaction to stressful, frightening, or dangerous events. 

You may:

  • Fight: react immediately, by reporting the content straight away for example.
  • Flight: exit the app quickly and try to forget about what you saw.
  • Freeze: feel like you're unable to do anything but watch the content, even if you don't want to.
  • Fawn: try to justify seeing the disturbing content, or try to react as if it’s normal.

Each person responds differently and there’s no ‘correct’ reaction. All are valid, and you might cycle through one or two when it's happening.

However, most online platforms have community guidelines which do not allow disturbing content to circulate.

Learn how to report to different platforms via The eSafety Guide.

Audio

My favourite part about the internet is being able to stay connected to people who live far away – and seeing cute cats.

The internet should be a safe space for everyone and you should feel safe and respected there.

When something goes wrong online, it's important to speak up and get help, but it might not be obvious what you can report or how to get help. 

So let's take a look at what the reporting process at eSafety involves. 

First of all when something happens it's good to take screenshots.

If you don't feel comfortable gathering that evidence, you can ask someone you trust to gather it on your behalf.

Having this evidence can help you, especially if any links or information gets deleted in the future. 

If you can, you will also need to report the issue or problematic content to the app or site it is posted on. 

You can report a range of online harms to eSafety including the cyberbullying of minors under 18 to adult cyber abuse and image based abuse, which is sharing or threatening to share private and intimate images without consent. 

You can even report illegal and restricted content, the really disturbing stuff you might have stumbled across. 


When you click on the report abuse button on the eSafety website, you'll have all the info you need on what exactly you can report, how to collect evidence and all the key things you need to know before you can make a report. 

Once you start your report, depending on the form, it may ask you to write how you feeling so that eSafety can link you to the right support if you need it. 

Share what happened and where. Links and screenshots are handy to have and upload. 

And share who was involved. Can you identify the person who was targeting you or are they anonymous? 

It's also important to remember that eSafety will treat any report you make to them with respect and confidentiality. 

While sometimes they may have to talk to other people, the eSafety team will guard the information that you have provided and check in with you on what they can and can't share. 

Not all fields are mandatory. In some forms you can choose how much or how little you disclose, and you don't have to do it alone. 

You can ask someone to help you fill out the form or you can authorise someone else to do it for you.

eSafety can also make sure that you get priority access to the right support and counselling services. 

At the end of the day, eSafety's goal is simple: to make sure that you feel empowered, supported and safe online.

Ciri: How to report abuse online

Something has happened

Report to eSafety. If someone sends you a link to disturbing material, you can report it. Learn more about what to expect when reporting and how to collect evidence.

Report and block on the platform. The eSafety Guide has information about how to report content on different online platforms. Confidentially reporting content or a user to the platform before blocking them or their content can help keep the platform safe for others.

Check your privacy settings. It’s a good idea to check your privacy settings to help stop people sending you content you don’t want to see. Find out more about privacy settings in specific social media services, games and apps in The eSafety Guide.

Get help and support. A trusted adult can help if you’re struggling after seeing disturbing content. Talking to someone can make it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You can also get 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 and online chat available 9am to 1am AEST, every day.

More support services

Last updated: 18/10/2022