This module is a resource for lecturers
The use of ICT by children around the world has been steadily increasing, with children of younger ages having access to and using various forms of digital technology and the Internet (UNODC, 2015; Duggan et al., 2015; Global Kids Online, 2016). While ICT provides children with the ability to communicate with others, access and share information, and form relationships, it also puts children's safety at risk and exposes them to cybercrimes, such as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying involves children's use of ICT "to annoy, humiliate, alarm, insult or otherwise attack" other children (Maras, 2016, p. 254). Therefore, in contrast to cyberstalking and cyberharassment, children are both the perpetrators and victims of this cybercrime. As discussed in Module 2 on General Types of Cybercrime, the limitation of the use of the term to incidents involving children as both the perpetrators and victims of this cybercrime is not universal (UNODC, 2015). For example, in Australia and New Zealand, cyberbullying can involve adults.
Youths that have experienced cyberbullying have engaged in self-harm, such as cutting, attempted suicide, and committed suicide. In 2013, a Canadian teenager from Halifax, Nova Scotia, committed suicide following the relentless cyberbullying and bullying she endured from classmates and others after an image of her being sexually assaulted during a gang-rape was circulated within her school and hometown, among other areas (Newton, 2013). Similarly, in 2015, a California teenager committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted and images of the assault were distributed among her peer network. This young woman was subjected to harassment and humiliation as the photos of the assault went viral, leading her to take her own life eight days later (Flynn and Henry, 2018). In 2018, a 14-year-old Australian girl also committed suicide after she was tormented by cyberbullies online (O'Brien, 2018).
Adults and children have willingly posted images and/or videos of themselves on social media and video sharing platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Vine with the hashtag (#roastme), inviting others to post insults about them (Kent, 2017). In some instances, the goals of the "roast" is to bombard the victims with abusive online comments, images, videos, among other things, until the victims cannot take any more abuse and engage in the desired reaction (e.g., crying, self-harm, etc.) of those who roasted them (Clarke-Billings, 2016). This follows in the wake of "celebrity roastings" which are televised and involve deliberate humiliation of high-profile, generally US celebrities, usually who have been involved in some form of public disgrace (e.g., Charlie Sheen, David Hasselhoff, and Roseanne Barr).
Children who engage in cyberbullying utilize text messages, emails, websites, blogs, polls, social media posts, instant messages, and gaming and virtual reality sites, to humiliate, denigrate, harass, insult, spread false information, gossip or rumours, threaten, and/or isolate, exclude and marginalize other children. Like cyberstalking and cyberharassment, there are two types of cyberbullying: direct cyberbullying (i.e., cyberbully attacks victim) and cyberbullying by proxy (i.e., others wittingly or unwittingly assist the cyberbullying of the victim) (Maras, 2014). The cyberbully and/or others that assist the cyberbully may make the victim's personal information, such as home address and phone number, available to others (a form of doxing). This information can be used to further victimize the target. The posting of the victim's address may also lead to in-person harassment, bullying, and stalking, and may lead to physical harm of the victim. A victim's username, password and other credentials may also be posted. The publication of the victim's online credentials may enable others to steal the victim's personal information, images, videos, documents, and other items contained in their accounts. These credentials may also be used to impersonate the victim and engage in activities (e.g., posting offensive and abusive comments to others or posting something that would humiliate the victim - e.g., a naked photo or a video of the victim awkwardly dancing) that provoke negative responses from others (e.g., abusive comments and ridiculing of victim).
Bystanders play an essential role in cyberbullying; they either wittingly or unwittingly assist the bully by liking, reposting, re-tweeting, or otherwise supporting the cyberbullying, defending the victim, or not taking any action. Bystanders may be reluctant to intervene due to a social dilemma, where decisions are based on self-interest rather than the interest of the group or collective, even when the utility of engaging in the collective interest is higher than the utility of engaging in self-interest. A study has shown that this lack of action to benefit the collective is due to a lack of trust and confidence that others will also act in the interest of the collective and join the person in this endeavour (Kohm, 2015).
Often, the implementation of cyberbullying laws is reactive - they are implemented after the suicide of a child from cyberbullying. This was observed in Italy, where Law No. 71 of 29 May 2017, was passed following the suicide of a victim who jumped from the third floor of a building because of the relentless and pervasive cyberbullying she experienced from multiple perpetrators (Reuters, 2017). Nevertheless, countries are required to protect children, and this mandate along with the protection of the rights of children are enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of a Child. Article 37(a) of this Convention holds that "[n]o child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child held that "non-physical forms of punishment…are…[considered] cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child" ( CRC/C/GC/8). Cyberbullying, thus, clearly violates the Convention on the Rights of a Child. Cyberbullying violates other rights as well, such as children's right to non-discrimination (Article 2), freedom expression (Article 13), and privacy (Article 16), to name a few.
While some countries have national cyberbullying laws (e.g., Japan's Act on the Promotion of Preventive Measures for Bullying of 2013 and Italy's Law No. 71 of 29 May 2017), educational institutions are primarily viewed as responsible for protecting the well-being of students, which includes protection from bullying (and by way of extension, cyberbullying) and responding to incidents that threaten the safety and well-being of children. Nationals laws, like Sweden's Education Act of 2010 (Law 2010: 800 Education Act) and the United Kingdom's Children's Act of 1989, delineate these responsibilities. In the United Kingdom, schools must have clear policies that prioritize children's safety and well-being, and protection, prevention, and response measures to threats to children's safety and well-being (such as cyberbullying).