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Column: 5 tips to deal with cyberbullying

Online harassment is a concern to young people and parents who aren’t familiar with certain technologies – but there are practical ways to deal with cyberbullying, writes Pat Forde.

Pat Forde

Earlier today, an action plan on bullying was launched by Ministers Ruairi Quinn and Frances Fitzgerald: the plan sets out 12 actions, which the Minister for Education and Skills and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said will help prevent and tackle bullying in primary and second level schools.

AS WE ARE all too keenly aware, bullying is an issue in many young people’s lives and a concern for parents all over Ireland. For many adults, too, the workplace can become a very inhospitable environment. Recession has brought with it many economic difficulties for families but, for others in some workplace environments, it had brought with it an acceptance of certain types of bullying behaviour that some vulnerable people have to endure.


Cyberbullying is a one of the primary concerns of parents and can be a little bit of a grey area for parents who are not familiar with the technology. I have worked with groups where cyber-bullying was an issue where it had been done both anonymously and openly. Social media sites such as Facebook are a reality in young people’s lives and as such parents should do what they can to learn some basic skills and safety information.

I was recently invited to Facebook’s European Headquarters to discuss internet safety and cyber-bullying. While this is a concern to many parents there are many existing safeguards that can be used to protect people online – we do not allow our kids to play on the street without teaching them to cross the road safely, similarly we should take some time to teach our kids how to enjoy a safe online life.

1. Is your child old enough to be on Facebook?

The minimum age for users is 13. If you are concerned that your child is using Facebook and they are not old enough, Facebook provides the utility for a parent or other family member to remove the profile of an underage user.

Screengrab shows how to report an underage user to Facebook

2. Reporting abuse

All parents give their kids and teens their contact phone number just in case they ever need to contact them. But do your kids know your email address – or the email address of an adult they can trust? Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, sometimes requires adult intervention to help resolve it.

Social reporting on Facebook is a way for users to quickly ask for help from someone they trust. If your teenager sees a post or photograph on Facebook that bothers them, or which might be harassing them or someone they know, there are a number of possible useful actions they can take. They have the option of reporting photos directly back to the person who uploaded it, which can be useful if something was put up with no harm or embarrassment intended.

For more concerning posts, an option is available to report directly to Facebook. Importantly, an option is also available to send a copy of the post to an adult they trust. This can be very useful for teens, as many cases of bullying can be very subtle so the option of sending a copy to someone you trust who can help is very positive. The person they ask for help does not need to be on Facebook – all they need is an email address.

Screengrab shows how to report a harassing photograph

Some advice given by Facebook to users feeling threatened

How to forward the image to someone you trust

3. Friends, Friends and even more Friends.

While working with teens and some adults it’s amazing to see the pride some have in the number of online friends they have on social media sites. While a positive social circle is really important for young people, a recurring issue I see with groups is the fact some young people are Facebook friends with those they wouldn’t bother with in real life – individuals they don’t get on with or, in some cases, people or groups who have bullied them or their friends.

Online, just as in the real world, we sometimes need to choose the friends we interact with. We don’t stop to chat with people on the street who we don’t like or get on with. Neither do most of us try to hear the comments everybody makes in a crowded room or in a busy schoolyard – yet online we are willing to do this.

In life we sometimes choose to avoid certain people for all types of different reasons; this is a tactic that can be useful online too.

4. Don’t tolerate bullying or abusive behaviour online

Everybody will acknowledge that bullying is wrong, yet many will still tolerate bullying behaviour they see once they are not the target. While some will stand up for the target, most will not because they are afraid or worried that they might become the new target for the bully or lose friends if they do.

Online, the power to unfriend or block people on Facebook is a very powerful tool. This can be done very discretely and privately. I have worked with groups where numbers of individual members unfriended a bullying individual thus removing their audience and their power, which has been very effective.

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Similarity, many concerns regarding cyberbullying surround the area of anonymous posts. While Facebook will take measures to remove fake profiles once a complaint is lodged, the real power lies within group tolerance. In many cases of cyberbullying abuse, the offenders are not afraid of any consequences among their peers. They are not afraid because what they are doing online is a symptom of behaviour that going on within their group –  for example, if they have been commenting on or insulting someone during the day, the behaviour was accepted and it is then done online.

5. Tagging and Timeline setting

“Tagging” allows users to tag others on their posts or photos so that information appears on their timeline. This is a really popular feature on Facebook  but one which can be a used to torment targets. Tag review allows users to edit settings to approve or dismiss tags, which means the post you are tagged on won’t appear on your timeline until you approve it.

Similarly, users can also change settings to review who can post on their timeline. This option is available through the Account Settings menu.

A complex issue

Bullying is a complex issue to deal with as there are many different aspects to it. While cyberbullying is a concern, in many cases it is a side effect of behaviour and tolerance within a group that already exists.

The information contained in this article will help users online but if you have any concerns regarding this or other forms of bullying, you can contact the author, Pat Forde, directly.

Further articles on other forms of bullying will be added in the coming weeks.

Pat Forde is a martial arts instructor who has trained with UK Anti Bullying Charity Kidscape to become one of Ireland’s leading anti-bullying figures. Pat says bullying is about power – and he trains individuals to rebalance this power. He has empowered many families, children, teenagers and schools from all over Ireland to deal with bullying by helping them build confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. Working in schools and workshops, he helps bullying targets and their families. Pat can be contacted at Munster Martial Arts or at patforde1@gmail.com.

About the author:

Pat Forde

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