Protection from online bullying and harassment

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Most people set up an account on a social media site like Facebook or Twitter so that they can share what is happening in their lives and interact with friends and family online.

It is important to take care when choosing security settings when you set up your social media account. These will specify exactly who can see your updates. This is important as you need to be aware of who can see what you are sharing. You are in charge of this and can change who can see your updates at any point.

Protecting yourself and your family

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While such sites allow you to stay in touch with loved ones, there is always a risk that you will come across people who will abuse the privilege of having access to your updates. Sadly, the internet makes it easy for people to annoy, insult, pester or spy on others, resulting in an increase of these kinds of behaviours.

The perpetrators are sometimes the same people who would harass someone offline (in 'real life'), but there are also people who 'hide' behind their computer, thinking that it makes them invisible to the people they are harassing.

Victims can be of any age, male or female, from any social or ethnic background and live anywhere.

There are a number of different words and phrases used to describe kinds of online abuse. Such terms can sometimes be confusing, so here's a guide to what they mean.

If you're concerned about someone else's online behaviour there's some helpful advice and contacts at the end of this guide.

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying can occur online only, or as part of more general bullying.

Social media essentials

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Bullies can be either known to you or anonymous - depending on the channels they use. Like bullies in 'real life', they can sometimes persuade or bully other people into joining in with the abuse.

You may become a victim of cyber bullying because you have said or done something unpopular, or that challenged the bully's beliefs. They may be jealous of you.

They may dislike your religion, your skin colour, the way you live your life or the fact that you may be overweight, underweight or have a physical or mental disability. Sometimes the abuse can be completely random.

Whatever the case, cyber bullying can cause anything from an uncomfortable feeling to great distress.

Cyber stalking

Cyber stalking is persistent unwanted contact from another person. Cyber stalkers can be either strangers or people you know. Often, celebrities become victims of cyber stalkers who become obsessed with them, but it can happen to anyone.

There are many different motives for cyber stalking. Sometimes people who stalk are ex-partners or people who rightly or wrongly feel that they've been unfairly treated by their target.

Stalkers may seek information about you by snooping online to find out about your relationships, where you work, live or socialise, or where you're likely to be at a particular time.

The more determined they become, the more likely they are to move from one online channel to another and intrude on all aspects of your digital life, so you could be stalked on social networking or dating sites, in chat rooms over email or text, or by hacking in to (or 'taking over') your blog.

Cyber stalking can be a part of 'real life' stalking, or confined to the internet. Stalking became a named offence in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012.


The term trolling has gained several meanings over the last few years.

It can mean deliberately upsetting, shocking or winding-up either certain individuals, specific groups of people - or a more general audience. Offence is generally caused by having extreme views or seemingly just for the sake of it. This could include racist, religious or homophobic abuse.

A fairly common example of trolling aimed at an individual would be if you set up a Facebook page for a dear friend or family member who had passed away, and somebody posted an insulting or obscene comment about them, which they obviously could not defend. This is designed to be upsetting and disrespectful.

There are some similarities between trolling and cyber bullying.


Creeping means following what is going on in someone's life online, for example following their updates and pictures, but for the wrong reasons.

Creeping can be carried out by people who want to follow what you are doing for either sinister or 'creepy' reasons, so there is a similarity to cyber stalking.

This is quite different from friends and family, who regard you with affection, looking at your account to keep up to date with what you're up to. This behaviour is a normal and healthy aspect of social media sites.

Getting help

If you believe that you are the victim of someone's online activity that is abusive or malicious, there are a number of places you can go to for help.

I'm being cyber bullied, what can I do?
  • Gather and document as much evidence as you can.
  • Seek help and support from relevant organisations, for example the Bullying UK helpline on 0808 800 2222, or via their email support service on the Family Lives website.
  • If you are being bullied online (or offline) by someone at work, report the problem to your HR department or line manager, or if at school or college report it to your teacher or tutor.
  • Most social networking sites have a means of reporting such issues, for example Facebook, click here. Twitter has also introduced an in-Tweet 'Report Abuse' button across all app platforms and its website.
I'm being cyber stalked, what can I do?
  • Gather and document as much evidence as you can.
  • Report the stalking to the police.
  • Find out more about how cyber stalkers work by visiting Get Safe Online.
  • Seek help and support from relevant organisations, for example the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300, or email
  • As with cyber bullying you can report bad behaviour on most social networks including Twitter and Facebook.
I'm feeling upset about relentless trolling directed at me, someone close to me or someone else who can't defend themselves. What can I do?
  • If you think the trolling is libellous or threatening, you can report it to the police.
  • As with cyber bullying you can report bad behaviour on most social networks including Twitter and Facebook.
I think that someone is creeping my social media account

It is important to distinguish between people having good and bad motives for viewing your updates. If someone can see your posts and you don't want them to, you should look at adjusting your security settings or reviewing your friends or followers list accordingly.

If the creeping behaviour spills over into harassment or stalking, you can report the person to the social network or, if it is serious, contact the police.

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