Cyber Bullying

Thank you for sending for a copy of our briefing sheet on cyber bullying. This short note:

  • Defines the term
  • Outlines the methods used by cyber bullies
  • Sets out the responsibilities of both employers and staff
  • Profiles the main pieces of criminal and civil law which can cover cyber bullying
  • Concludes with a short checklist for your arrangements to help combat cyber bullying

At the end of this note you will find a listing of all our training courses embracing this issue. These courses are provided on both a public open basis as well as being available for bespoke tailoring in your own work place environment.

What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is a tool of the bully and a vehicle used by the bully to target an individual. It is a description for using information communications technology as a means by which bullying behaviour is carried out. This might be sexism, homophobia, racism or other forms of abuse. Advances in technology provide the bully with new and often sophisticated tools with which to carry out their activities.

Methods of cyber bullying

Cyber bullying happens over the internet and mobile phones. It is harder to prevent because on the internet people can use different names in chat rooms, or send seemingly anonymous messages from temporary accounts. The most common methods of cyber bullying include:

  • Chat rooms, blogs and forums
  • Text messaging
  • Picture and video clip messaging
  • E-mail – new addresses can be set up in minutes
  • Social networking and personal websites
  • Instant Messenger
  • Webcams
  • Gaming Sites

Employers’ Responsibilities

The health, safety and welfare of staff is a statutory part of the “duty of care” for employers. All reasonable, practical and proportionate steps should be taken by employers to support staff experiencing cyber bullying. This includes robust anti bullying policies and procedures within a “Dignity at Work” framework. These arrangements should be firmly linked to policies dealing with the use and abuse of information communications technology. All these matters should be clearly conveyed to staff – existing and newly recruited – making it very clear what the contractual expectations are in all these areas, as well as the:-

  • Consequences for breaching these protocols
  • Support mechanisms in place for those who are experiencing cyber bullying

Employee Responsibilities

All staff have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect their personal data and information communications technology, including personal mobile phones, personal contact details and access to video or images on social networking sites.

The Legal Considerations

There is not a specific criminal offence called cyber bullying. However, cyber bullying can be a criminal offence under a range of different laws. These include:-

  • The Defamation Act
  • The Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • The Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003
  • Public Order Act 1986

And of course there are civil laws dealing with age, disability, race, religion & belief, sex, sexual orientation and transgender discrimination issues in both the work place and in service delivery. Such cases often centre on bullying, harassment and victimisation. And information communications technology has featured within such cases. The following two extracts convey powerfully the impact of cyber bullying on the individual:-

  • “Unauthorised digital images of me were posted on a social networking site. I was subjected to racist, sexual, personal and professional harassment. Nearly 600 people accessed my web page” – Female Professional
  • “I rang a customer with my mobile (a mistake) over a normal business matter. My mobile number was passed around and got into the hands of some teenagers who sent abusive messages.”– Male Sales Assistant.

Checklist

The following should be of assistance in helping to determine if your existing arrangements are reasonable, practical and proportionate.

  • Are your employment policies and procedures clear on the acceptable use of technology?
  • Have you provided training and information to staff on these arrangements?

Have you given advice to staff about the need to:-

  • Exercise care with the release of personal phone numbers
  • Refrain from using inappropriate sites during working time
  • Avoid posting personal information about themselves that they would not wish others to see
  • Keep passwords secret and protect access to the computer
  • Avoid retaliating to or personally engaging with cyber bullying incidents
  • Inform an appropriate manager or department of any cyber bullying incident at the earliest opportunity
  • Keep a record of all incidents – dates/times/witnesses and feelings experienced

This relatively new issue features within many of our training courses and especially those dealing with:-

  • Employment Law – Rights and Responsibilities
  • Dignity at Work
  • Disciplinary and Grievance
  • Equality Laws and Diversity Issues
  • Data Protection
  • Coping with Stress
  • Bullying at Work