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10 Best Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying Online
Bullying is a problem that many of us have encountered at some point, and it’s one that affects all parts of society and reaches from the school to the workplace. It has moved far beyond in-person interactions, too, especially as we all spend more of our time online on social media, workplace apps, and message boards.
More time spent online increases our exposure to cyberbullying, which is the act of bullying another person online. Thankfully, most social media platforms and forums include built-in ways to protect yourself as well as rules that help minimize the risk of bad behaviour by others. But even if they don’t, you still have options, including contacting law enforcement.
In this article, we’ll cover the 10 best ways to protect yourself from cyberbullies:
- Manage privacy settings online
- Protect your passwords
- Keep clear records
- Don’t respond or retaliate
- Block cyberbullies via user settings
- Report cyberbullying to site admins
- Stay safe online
- Ask when you think a friend might need help
- Remember you aren’t alone
- Contact law enforcement if you feel threatened
Note: If you’re in a bad situation and need help now, scroll to the bottom of this article for ways to find help immediately.
Bullying and cyberbullying in Canada
Unfortunately, both bullying and cyberbullying are common. Based on the official statistics, it’s almost certain that you or someone you know has dealt with one or both.
Here are some statistics from the Canadian government’s Institute of Gender and Health:
- 1 in 3 Canadian students report recent bullying
- Between 30% and 38% of all adults report experience with bullying
- 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victimized by bullying
- Non-heterosexual youth are 3 times as likely to be discriminated against than their heterosexual classmates
- 40% of Canadian workers report bullying on a weekly basis
- Cyberbullying is statistically more likely to affect girls than boys
- 73% of victims reported being bullied online or in text
According to the Red Cross, which works on cyberbullying awareness and prevention, cyberbullying is a form of bullying that uses “electronic media to threaten, embarrass, intimidate, or exclude someone, or to damage their reputation (e.g., sending threatening text messages).”
The effects of cyberbullying vary. Victims may not feel safe or feel welcome in certain situations, while long-term subjects of targeted harassment may even feel driven to commit suicide. The question of how to prevent cyberbullying is difficult to answer, but you can prepare yourself and your loved ones by knowing your options and learning how to be responsible online, particularly with your personal information.
Here are 10 of the best ways to prevent cyberbullying online.
1. Manage privacy settings online
One of the top ways to minimize the risk of online harassment is to adjust your privacy settings. Most social media platforms provide some degree of control over how your profile appears, such as whether or not your photos are public and the visibility of your posts. While a more private profile means restricted access to other users, it makes it much easier to know your network.
Major platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook provide a number of ways to shut down cyberbullies without provoking them or engaging further. You can make your profile private and even filter out certain followers to prevent them from seeing particular posts. This is a great way to avoid confrontations without dramatically altering the appearance of your profile.
2. Protect your passwords
While most situations don’t escalate to this point, cyberbullies and harassers can use your personal information and passwords against you. This is just another reason why it’s important to take basic precautions to protect your passwords, especially if you spend a lot of time online.
Password managers are an easy and manageable way to store your passwords securely, but they’re exposed to many of the same risks as individual logins. One of the best ways to manage a large number of passwords is on paper. Add an extra layer of security by using your notes for hints instead of whole passwords, and remember to use unrelated passwords for different logins.
3. Keep clear records
If you are wondering how to tackle cyberbullying, one of the most important steps you can take is to maintain clear records. You want to have every resource possible to deal with a harasser if and when the need arises.
Take screenshots and record audio and video when necessary. Each item is a vital piece of documentation. When you have detailed records, it’s easier to explain your situation to others and identify the responsible party. This in turn makes it easier for you to pursue real consequences, whether it’s with school officials or law enforcement.
4. Don’t respond or retaliate
Escalating a situation on your own is never the safest solution to cyberbullying. Even a simple response risks drawing you and your harasser deeper into a negative situation.
That’s why we encourage you to use some of the other tactics on this list, instead of responding. Casual negativity can be easy to diffuse, but it’s not always as simple as making a joke or laughing things off. Keep reading for more non-confrontational ways to reduce your risk and exposure to cyberbullying.
5. Block cyberbullies via user settings
When a situation does escalate and you want to address the problem quickly, blocking is an easy option on social media. In most cases, you can easily block a bully with a few clicks after visiting their profile. This is helpful whether you’re concerned about how to prevent cyberbullying from strangers or even bullying by contacts in your closer circle.
The process is simple on most platforms, which is great because it’s basically the same on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Simply click the three-dot icon on the user’s profile page and select Block. If the cyberbullying includes sending harassing texts to your mobile phone, you’ll follow relatively similar steps to block their number(s).
6. Report cyberbullying to site admins
Harassment doesn’t always fit neatly into site guidelines, but cyberbullies do sometimes overstep the bounds of standard user agreements. When that happens, you can compile your documentation and report the user to site admins. Afterwards, simply block the harasser or adjust your privacy settings to make sure you feel safe on that platform.
Unfortunately, not every platform offers the same protections. If you don’t see a way to flag abuse, see if there’s a “contact us” page to report the abuse.
7. Stay safe online
Protecting yourself and being careful online is one of the best ways to protect yourself from a variety of threats. If something or someone feels unusual or unsafe, you should consider stepping back. Even if there is no specific aggressor, your first instinct about an unfamiliar situation is often right.
Staying safe online will mean different things to different users, but if you spend a lot of time socializing online or you explore a variety of topics and communities, try to cultivate good judgment and avoid anything that appears even remotely negative or volatile. Be especially careful with your personal information and what you display online.
8. Ask when you think a friend may need help
It can be easy to miss the signs of cyberbullying or assume that someone is coping well on their own. That isn’t always true, though, and there are many ways to help a friend in need.
You can start by expressing your solidarity and support, which is often a huge help by itself. But when the need arises, encourage your friend to use the platform’s reporting tools. You can also remind them that it only takes a minute or two to alert a site admin or moderator of the abuse, which may result in a ban of the offending user.
This is another instance where having clear records of the offending actions is incredibly helpful.
9. Remember that you aren’t alone
If you aren’t sure how to handle a situation, ask your friends or parents for input. When cyberbullying overlaps with school and your educational needs, consult with any available guidance counselors at your school. They may have more direct ways to act, or they may have access to help for cyberbullying victims.
If your kids are facing this issue, you may be wondering what parents can do to prevent cyberbullying. First, stay calm and be supportive. Keeping communication open makes it easier to stay up to date on what your children are doing online and where they’re vulnerable. Try to give clear guidance and share cyberbullying tips, then be prepared to intervene if things get out of hand.
10. Contact law enforcement if you feel threatened
When a situation gets out of control or you feel like you’re in danger, it may be time to involve law enforcement. Some situations can be resolved closer to home or the point of contact, such as by school officials, moderators, or site admins. Others are different, however, and threats of violence or sustained harassment should never be ignored.
For more information about when to contact police and the legal nature of harassment, you can refer to the Department of Justice’s Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors on Criminal Harassment.
Canadian non-profit MediaSmarts also provides a helpful outline of how Canadian law handles harassment, with a province-by-province breakdown.
Repeated negative behaviour is the foundation of criminal harassment, and a bully found to have crossed the line does face a variety of potential repercussions – including up to 10 years imprisonment.
Online anti-bullying resources in Canada
If you want to learn more about how to stop cyberbullying or help to prevent yourself or your loved ones from becoming victims of online abuse, here are some useful resources to consider:
- Public Safety Canada has a comprehensive list of online resources related to cyberbullying
- Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) is a 24/7 resource that provides professional counselling and information whenever you need it
- Cyberbullying info for parents helps parents understand the signs to watch for when it comes to cyberbullying, including what to do if your child is the one doing the bullying
- Cyberbullying info for teens explains what to do if you or a friend is being cyberbullied, or if they’re the ones doing it themselves
Figuring out how to prevent cyberbullying is no easy task, but you can potentially stay ahead of it by being informed about what to look for and where to turn. One of the most important ways to prevent cyberbullying is building awareness and staying aware while online. And if the problem is persistent, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, remember to watch out for opportunities where you can make a difference for someone else.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.