Dealing with cyberbullying: top tips for schools. [The Guardian, by Martin Clemmit, November 2013].

Cyberbullying is like conventional bullying, but there are important differences due to it being carried out online. It can be conducted anonymously, can involve very large groups of people and because it is unconstrained by time or location, it can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because it is a relatively recent phenomenon, there is limited data on the subject. What evidence there is however would suggest it is a growing trend that affects a “large proportion” of young people, according to Martin Clemmit, risk consultant at Zurich Municipal.

“The Annual Cyberbullying Survey, undertaken by anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label, reveals seven in 10 respondents have been victims of cyberbullying, with 37% experiencing it on a highly frequent basis. With wide-spread use of mobile devices amongst young people opportunities to bully and be bullied are increasing,” says Clemmit.

So what can be done to help minimise the risk of cyberbullying? Here Clemmit offers some tips for students and schools on how to prevent it from happening, and how to deal with it effectively when it does.

What schools can do to prevent bullying

• There should be an active effort by schools to promote awareness of the penalties for cyberbullying.

• Reporting of it should also be made easy, and supplementary reporting mechanisms, such as pupil ambassadors, employed. Information should also be provided about external support agencies.

• New technologies are being developed all the time, and so a constant effort must be made to stay informed about young people’s use of technologies. As part of this, there should be an active effort to promote e-safety and digital literacy.

• Students should be reminded of the need to engage in responsible online behaviour in this context (for example: keeping their password secure, being cautious of new technologies such as wearable devices). Existing anti-bullying policies should be periodically reviewed and updated.

• Children and young people should be helped to understand what exactly constitutes bullying in its different forms, as well as its impact, through assemblies and workshops. They should be given tips on how to respond and informed of who they can turn to for help.

• For teachers, non-teaching staff, governors and parents there should be regular anti-bullying training. One person, such as a school governor, should take the lead in the development of anti-bullying measures.

Four things students can do to prevent bullying

1) Never give out personal details online, such as your real name, address, age or phone number. Even posting information about which school you attend can help the potential bully find out more.

2) In addition to making sure you don’t post your personal details online, make sure to keep your actual profile private, or at least ensure that only known friends can view it.

3) Make sure you are familiar with the security measures made available to you by the various social networks. Take particular care to ensure you understand how to block numbers and email addresses.

4) Be careful about even the most basic of information. Whilst the temptation may be to share everything about your life online, you should try and avoid putting anything there that could get twisted or used in a manipulative way.

Four things students can do when bullying happens

1) Talk to someone you can trust and tell them what has occurred.

2) Keep copies of any abusive texts, emails, messages that are received with a record of the date and time. Take screenshots or retain chat logs. With cyberbullying there is always a trail and keeping records can be very useful in helping to investigate the incident.

3) Try not to reply to any messages as it will often only encourage the bully. Equally, refrain from interjecting on somebody’s behalf, or get involved by commenting. Report it instead.

4) The block button is there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use it if you need to. If the abuse persists, and you have already informed the authorities, you may need to consider temporarily disabling your profile, or even removing it altogether.

By using these prevention strategies and techniques, schools can more confidently harness the positive powers of social media – as a learning tool in the classroom or for communicating with parents. Technologies and social media bring many benefits to schools and students which shouldn’t be ignored for fear of the risks.