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I’ve been called out

If you’ve been called a bully, it might be because something you’ve done has hurt someone else’s feelings.

In short:

  • To be called out means that someone says your words or actions were wrong or harmful.
  • Everybody makes mistakes and doing one bad thing does not make you a bad person. There are steps you can take to make things better, like apologising and deleting the content.

What does it mean to be 'called out'?

If you are ‘called out’ it means someone says your words or actions were wrong or harmful. It can feel like a personal attack, especially if that person was mean to you first, but before you respond it’s a good idea to stop and ask yourself why they criticised you.
When we’re online, it can be difficult to realise what we’re doing is upsetting someone until it’s too late, because we don’t get hints from their body language. For example, someone who’s accused of being a bully may have thought they were just making a joke and didn’t realise they were hurting someone’s feelings. Or sometimes we’re less careful about other people’s feelings online because we’re not facing them in person. For example, a person may make fun of someone else to get laughs, but then feel bad about it afterwards.

How we react to being called out can be a make-or-break moment. Sometimes, the knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘No I’m not a bully! I was only joking!’ or ‘But you were mean first’, especially if we’ve been called out in front of others. But if we’ve hurt someone online – on purpose or by accident – it’s best to listen to what they have to say, delete the content and apologise. And yes, it’s a good idea to do that even if they were mean first, because someone has to stop the drama.

What should I do if I’ve been called out?

Stop and reflect – don’t hit back

Sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from the screen for a couple of minutes instead of jumping to defend yourself. This can give you the chance to calm down if being called out upset or embarrassed you, and to think about things from the other person’s point of view. Keep the criticism in perspective – often the person who called you out doesn’t think you’re a bad person, just that you’ve done one thing that was not good. 

Remember that it’s not about you. It’s about how the other person feels, and they don’t have to justify why they are upset. Even if you think they’ve called you out unfairly, this is your opportunity to stop things getting worse. You can use your settings to ignore, hide or mute the other person’s posts and comments until things calm down. The eSafety Guide tells you how.

Delete the content

Delete what you posted and any mean comments that have been added. Ask others to delete it, stop sharing it and stop commenting too. If you set up a fake account in someone else’s name, delete it and tell other people why it’s gone. If you are unable to stop the spread of the harmful content, report it to the site, game or app that you used to post it so they can take it down. The eSafety Guide tells you how. 


Take responsibility for your words or actions by apologising. You could say something like, ‘I’m sorry my post embarrassed you. I’ve deleted it.’ Don’t wreck the apology by making it sound like the other person is weak or by blaming them for taking things the wrong way – keep the focus on what you said or did. 

Be open to talking it out

Remember, if someone says you’ve hurt them or someone else, they are opening up and ‘calling you in’ to a conversation for change. Often, this takes courage, and they may feel anxious reaching out to you. How you respond can either make the situation explode into a bigger drama or can heal the hurt in a meaningful way.

Learn from the experience

Being called out may be an opportunity to learn and grow. For example, if an online joke about someone went wrong and that blew up into a bigger problem, you would know to do things differently in future. Remember:

  • the line between joking about someone and being mean isn’t always clear online
  • different people have had different experiences that make them react in different ways and feel hurt by different things to you
  • it’s a good idea to think carefully about how a comment or image might be interpreted before you hit send or share – you could even check with the person first to make sure they’re OK with it 
  • it's important to listen to someone if they say your words or actions were harmful to them
  • deleting the content and apologising can stop the situation becoming worse.

Ask for help

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 friend, family member or someone else you trust can make it easier to decide what to do and deal with the impact. You could also contact Kids Helpline (for 5 to 25 year-olds) or another confidential counselling or support service – they have people who are ready to listen and help.

Something has happened

Resist saying, ‘No I’m not! I was only joking!’ Rather than jumping to defend your actions, be curious about why they might have said that.

Listen to how your words and actions made them feel. How they feel might be different from how you would feel in the same situation.

Delete the harmful content. Delete what you posted or shared about the other person, so others don’t see it or spread it. 

Apologise for what you said or did. Saying sorry shows you understand how the other person feels. Remember that if you have done or said something mean, it doesn’t make you a bad person. The important thing is to try not to make the same mistake again.

Learn from the experience. Remember to think first about the possible impact of what you say and do online and in person.

Ask for help. Talking with someone you trust about what happened can make things easier.

Last updated: 04/12/2023