According to statistics, about 37% of children and teens between 12 and 17 years experienced cyberbullying at least once, with about 30% being targeted more than once. Worryingly, although about 60% of young people were witnesses to such incidents, most would not intervene.
Victims are significantly more likely to cause self-harm or commit suicide, and it is easy to assume this phenomenon is even more destructive when experienced repeatedly and over longer periods. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 children or teens would report the incident to an adult.
How to Deal with Cyberbullying via SMS or Phone Calls
Virtually any teenager or kids nowadays has a phone – this makes the latter a universal tool for bullying along with the more traditional landline phones. If exposed to incidents of cyberbullying, you should do the following:
- Call your telephone service provider. You could ask them to block a specific number but since such services might not be available, ask them to activate one of the available call blocking features. Next, follow some simple procedures to add or remove individual numbers to or from the blacklist, to review the existing blacklist, etc. Typically, dialing the symbols *60 on a landline phone activates call blocking on the device – listen to the pre-recorded instructions to perform the desired action. Mobile operators may also allow blocking individual numbers only from the device itself.
- Blacklist the phone number. This should be possible on virtually any modern smartphone and operating system. Even if the bully manages to send another few messages from a couple of other phone numbers, blocking all of them one by one would quickly discourage them since getting a new number every time requires effort and expenses. The default calling app on your device may also be capable of blocking unknown calls. If you run Android or iOS, you could also download free smartphone apps from the corresponding app market that allow call filtering with extended options including blocking unknown calls. Finally, you could also block a number by specifying it in your Google Voice account rather than on your device which makes the blacklist easily transferable to new devices.
- Change your phone number. This may prove rather inconvenient, but if this is the only way to get rid of annoying messages or calls, then go for it but then be careful who you share your new number with.
How to Deal with Cyberbullying via Messengers
According to statista.com, in March 2019 the top three messengers in the USA by the number of active monthly users were Facebook Messenger - roughly 109 million users, Snapchat - 49 million users, and WhatsApp - 25 million users. Below we show how to block users in each of them.
First, one should know that blocking a person on Facebook is different from blocking on Facebook Messenger so you might need to do both. In 2019, on a device running later versions of Android, this is done as shown below.
In the search box above, start typing the name of the contact until it appears or scroll down to the contact. Then long press on the contact until a menu appears as displayed below.
Click on the leftmost icon as indicated and a menu will appear from which the “Block” option should be selected. Choosing “Delete” instead of block deletes the contact along with the entire conversation history.
Blocking a contact in Snapchat is fairly similar in both Android and iOS. After signing up, swipe right, to open the Friends screen.
Long click on the contact and choose “More” from the drop-down menu.
Finally, block the contact or press Remove Friend.
One way to block a contact in WhatsApp on Android is by going to Settings->Account->Privacy-> Blocked Contacts (very similar to how this is done on iOS).
From here, contacts to be blocked can be selected and confirmed.
How to Deal with Cyberbullying via Social Media
One cannot contact Facebook directly but only through the in-built reporting tools. On Facebook, both blocking and reporting can be done by going to the respective profile and clicking on the three dots at the bottom right of the cover photo. Remember that unfriending the person is also an option.
While blocking just needs a simple confirmation, choosing to report someone opens a menu with multiple options as shown below. Bullies might be reported for posting inappropriate things but also for fake accounts or names as they often try to stay anonymous. Groups and pages can also be reported.
Note that you can also report a Facebook post or comment by clicking on the three dots to the right and choosing “Find Support or Report Post”. A menu opens as shown below. Corresponding choices should be made in this menu, typically, harassment or hate speech.
Instagram also allows reporting profiles, posts, and comments. Blocking and reporting a profile on Instagram can be done by navigating to it and clicking the three dots to the right, as shown below. Profiles and posts can be reported as either “spam” or “inappropriate”, while comments can be reported as either “spam or scam” or “abusive content”.
Instagram’s support email is no longer active but on the desktop version, one can report problems from the help center (help.instagram.com) as shown below.
The categories most relevant to bullying have been highlighted above. Next, one needs to follow step by step instructions and provide additional details.
Reach Out to Responsible Entities in School, College, or University or the Police
Unresolved and serious incidents involving bullies should be reported to the responsible people from the corresponding educational institutions. This is important also because cyberbullying is often closely related to in-person bullying. By reporting such incidents, one addresses the aggressor’s behavior and might impact the situation not only for himself or herself but also for all of this aggressor’s victims, both present targets and potential future targets.
Importantly, if there are serious threats or actions involved (such as threats of physical harm or murder, stalking, grave blackmailing, sexual harassment), then contact the police right away. If this is done, take care that you have clear evidence to prove your case. Again, don’t think about such cases as isolated incidents – the truth is the aggressor may always recidivate if he or she is not stopped in time. Given the low rate of reporting by teens and children, as mentioned above, doing this becomes almost a moral duty.
Below are some additional pieces of advice that might prove helpful when confronting cyberbullying:
- Inform the bully that you’ll report any new messages or communication attempts and then stop responding altogether – oftentimes, it is enough to stop bullying, as the bully does not get any emotional “reward” anymore.
- Do not engage in bullying behavior yourself – your report would only be credible and efficient if there is a clear distinction between the victim and the bully. Calling names or answering with threats to threats might look to the corresponding authorities like a quarrel rather than bullying, regardless of who started first.
- Take screenshots of the bullying messages you receive along with the sender’s identifying information (call number) and store these images safely. These screenshots could be useful in proving the case to the telephony operator, to the social media support team, to school, college, or university authorities, or even to the police.
- Change the privacy settings in your online accounts so that only friends or close friends can see your posts or write messages to you. Limiting the accessibility of your account to the public is effective against ongoing cyberbullying but also as a preventive measure.
- Search for support – this may include talking to friends, parents, adults, teachers, but also to professionals, for instance, psychologists or volunteers working with bullying victims. If you are suffering from destructive emotions and contemplate self-injury, calling the National Suicide Prevention Line is a must – it is very useful to hear from people who witness situations like yours frequently and can offer a valuable perspective over such issues.
- Reach out to organizations specializing in fighting cyberbullying – run an online search to identify the most popular or accessible option. Teens Against Bullying, Stop Bullying, Stop Cyberbullying are just a few such organizations. There might also be the option to report cyberbullying incidents online on specialized governmental websites.
Below we tried to assemble a step-by-step checklist to follow if being subject to cyberbullying:
- Analyze the received message, call, post to understand whether the identity of the user can be determined. Check whether the phone number is anonymous, private, or visible, whether the associated online account contains identifying information, etc.
- Take screenshots or photos of corresponding messages, posts, or accounts from which they originate, or even audio recordings of the calls and any other form of evidence that could prove helpful in reporting the case, especially if it aggravates. Store all this evidence safely, preferably, not on your phone.
- Ask the bully to stop and inform him, her, or them that subsequent actions would be reported to the social media platform, school or college authorities, law enforcement. Store screenshots or recordings of this warning as well. After this, stop all communication. This approach should be more effective if the bully’s identity is known.
- Alternatively, especially if there is no info about the bully’s identity, block or blacklist the offensive account or phone number. In case, anonymous accounts or numbers are used, block these as well by adjusting the privacy settings in messengers or social media platforms or by activating call-blocking or call-filtering features.
- Report the case to school/ college/ university authorities and concerned people. This one could be especially helpful when individual or collective cyberbullying is performed either by directly contacting the victim or through posts via social media platforms. A pending threat of being expelled from the academic institution can do wonders in terms of disciplining even an army of bullies, provided their identity is known.
- If cyberbullying gets really serious, for instance, in the case of life-threats, threats with violence, stalking, especially by people who seem dangerous, report the incident to the police. They have more resources and advanced technological means to solve such cases, for instance, for determining the bully’s identity.
- During the incident and after it, get support and assistance from friends, family, but also from people and organizations specialized in fighting this phenomenon and in supporting its victims.
Following these steps allows to respond effectively and prevent or minimize the damage inflicted by the bully. Also note that if you ever witness such cases, your intervention can make a difference, especially considering that so many cases remain undisclosed and many victims suffer in silence.