The online world is a pretty amazing place. It’s so full of potential, connection and, of course, memes, but when you hear statistics like more than half of young Australians (53%) have experienced cyberbullying* it can be difficult to see all that potential and know where to start in tackling something like online hate.
How do we flex that empathy muscle and ensure everyone feels equipped with the right tools, and also empowered to stand up — particularly if there’s lots of tips and resources out there that might be contradictory, not super inspiring, or ignore that we all have different confidence levels, lived experiences and identities and other barriers to standing up. (cyber)bullying robs young people of their potential, so how do we shift this fact and have a positive impact?
This is where PROJECT ROCKIT can help. I’m lucky enough to be the Head of eLearning and Digital at an organisation that believes in a world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice, and that all young people are free to achieve their potential. We believe in putting young people at the centre, and when young people between 15 and 19 are shown to be most likely to experience online bullying, and that that age bracket is getting younger*, we know we need to provide tips and resources that will highlight how we can all play a part in shutting down online hate. To do this we run strength-based, high-impact (cyber)bullying and leadership workshops in schools (and online!) all over Australia that do just this — empower young people to flex the empathy muscle.
Back to the question I posed above though — how do we genuinely make a positive impact in providing the right resources, or even take the first step to have the conversation around (cyber)bullying. In keeping with the theme of GROK, I’ll offer that an answer that comes in two parts of an equation. Part A is providing someone with the hot tips to stay safe online — a cheat sheet, if you will, because it’s important to know that no one person has all the answers.
The online world is awesome! It’s there to encourage exploration, and as educators you’re helping young people master that exploration and navigation, but with anything there is risk involved. If answer isn’t to tell young people to turn a device off if something goes wrong, what are the right tools when you’re not even sure how to start that conversation with your students? Bullying is a social issue that plays out in a technological space, so we need tools that reflect this. We’ve included some of our Hot Tips below and recommend putting them up visually around your class, or providing your students with a Hot Tips cheat sheet — they might not need the tools right now, but it’s good to have at the ready when they might be in a sticky situation.
Our top tips for young people to stay safe online:
- Keep your Profile Private 🔒
You may want lots of people to view, ‘like’ and share your content but think of it this way: Would you print off a photo of you and your friends and show it to strangers on the street to see if they ‘like’ it? Probably not, that seems kinda weird. Having all your online content public is kinda the same thing. Sadly there are some real creeps out there who learn heaps of personal stuff just by looking at your profile — better to keep it private.
2. Write a Counter Comment 🔄
It’s hard to know what to say when you see bullying online. You might be scared to speak out directly, but you can still stand up for someone who needs help (“This is a really great photo Ali!”). When you post something positive about the person targeted this is called a ‘counter comment’ and it really helps to discourage the haters and support the person being targeted.
3. Report & Block Haters 🙅
If someone is being cruel to you online you always can report and block them (or add them to your block list on gaming platforms). Often people who bully just want to see you squirm and when they don’t get a reaction, they move on. If you’re worried they’ll keep saying bad stuff behind your back, get a mate to monitor the situation for you once they’re blocked.
4. Screenshot Abuse for Evidence 📱
It’s pretty normal to want to delete nasty stuff that’s been posted about you online, just make sure you get a screenshot first. If it keeps going or gets worse, you may need help and it’s good to have evidence to support you.
5. Don’t Accept Random Friend Requests + Follows ❌
We know that social media can seem like a popularity contest but it’s better not to accept friend requests from strangers. “If they don’t know you, they don’t owe you.” This means that people who haven’t met you or don’t see you offline may feel like they can get away with saying things that they’d never say to your face. The power to be anonymous can really go to a person’s head.
6. Ask for Dodgy Photos to be Removed 🤳
If someone posts a photo of you online that you don’t like, tell them to take it down immediately. They might not realise the photo offends you. This seems like a really logical first step, but sometimes people make things worse by retaliating and things get really out of hand.
7. Type “Dislike” on Hateful Content 👎
If you or someone you know is being bullied online, it’s better not to write a really long public response about why this is wrong. By writing an essay, your reaction might just be exactly what they’re looking for. It could cause them to retaliate further. Instead, it’s good to give a short response like “dislike,” which shows that you disapprove without adding fuel to the fire. It also encourages others to do the same.
8. Keep your Passcode Private 🕵️
Let’s be real, most of us know it’s wise not to share passcodes with friends, but often people tend to be too loose about sharing passcodes, like on your phone or tablet. If someone has access to your device, they don’t actually need any of your passcodes to get into your apps because you’re probably already signed in. The way we see it, not even your best mate should have access to your private messages, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and camera roll (think of the ugly selfies!).
Got all that? Awesome! Now we come to the second half of the equation. Part B of supporting a young person online is ways we can encourage them to support others who are experiencing (cyber)bullying —tips for helping them flex their empathy muscle.
Sometimes when we see something happen in person, or online, it’s the safer option for our personal risk to ignore it — walk away, or keep scrolling, and just leave it. Recommend to your students to follow up with the person who was in the middle of the situation; send them a message saying they saw what happened and it sucked, but they’re free if they want to talk and show support in a low-risk way. As mentioned above, simply commenting “Dislike” on a photo and having others Like it can also be a low-risk way to for students to also shut down online hate and show support.
At the end of the day, we all have the power and responsibility to make the online world a safe space. No matter if we do this in a big, or small way, our impact will be felt, and these tips are a starting point to empowering young people to support one another.
The above Hot Tips come from PROJECT ROCKIT Online, an Australian-first in wellbeing platforms for year 7–9 students. PROJECT ROCKIT content is designed by young people for young people, with strategies developed in collaboration with young people in our workshops. Our presenters live by the motto that we’d never never offer advice or strategies that we wouldn’t be confident using ourselves. If you’re looking for extra resources to stand up to hate online, check out this episode of PROJECT ROCKIT TV: (cyber)bullying: How do I challenge online hate?
- headspace Australia, June 2019
- ReachOut research, Sept 2018