Cyber-bullying is where someone bullies another person online (e.g. on a social networking site) or by sending emails or messages using a phone or computer.
Cyber-bullying can cause serious problems for everyone involved, and in some cases it can be a crime.
We recommend that you think very carefully before you say things about anyone else online or in an email or message.
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, phone 000.
For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.
If a person bullies someone by sending emails or messages or by saying or doing things online (e.g. on a social networking site) then it’s often called cyber-bullying.
Bullying is repeated behaviour which is done on purpose to make someone feel hurt, upset, scared or embarrassed.
Cyber-bullying can happen in lots of different ways. For example, it can include sending or posting nasty or embarrassing comments or photos, spreading rumours, making threats, excluding someone online, or pretending to be someone else to make them look bad.
In serious cases, cyber-bullying can be a crime.
We explain some of the main laws that could apply below. But please note, the law in this area is complicated and this is just a summary.
If you are worried about anything that you or someone else has sent or posted, you can contact us here.
There is a national law that makes it a crime to use a phone or the internet in a way that is menacing, harassing or offensive. To be considered a crime, the behaviour must be likely to have a serious effect on the person targeted.
Cyber-bullying may be a crime under this law if, for example, it involves frightening someone by threatening to harm them, bothering someone over and over again so that they feel afraid, or if messages, emails or posts make someone feel seriously angry or upset.
Cyber-bullying may be a crime under NSW law if it involves stalking or intimidating someone to purposely make them feel frightened.
Stalking is where a person keeps giving someone else unwanted attention, e.g. by contacting them or following them around. It includes contacting or approaching them using the internet or other technology.
Intimidation is where a person:
There is also a law in NSW which makes it a crime to assault, stalk, harass or intimidate any school student or member of staff on school grounds. This could apply to cyber-bullying that happens at school or to anyone from school.
Cyber-bullying may be a crime under national law if it involves using a phone or the internet to scare someone by threatening to kill or seriously harm them.
It may also be a crime under NSW law if it involves sending emails, messages or posts which threaten to kill or hurt someone or threaten to destroy or damage property, or if it involves publicly threatening or encouraging violence against someone because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status.
Cyber-bullying may be a crime if it tries to persuade someone to commit suicide.
Under national law, it is a crime to use a phone or the internet to send or post anything that encourages or helps someone to commit suicide. There is also a NSW law which makes it a crime to encourage or help someone commit suicide.
Cyber-bullying could be a crime if it involves sending or posting nude or sexual images of someone without their permission, or threatening to. This is called image-based abuse and it is a crime in NSW and is also against national law.
Depending on the circumstances, some other criminal laws may also apply to cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying may also breach some civil laws.
For example, it’s against anti-discrimination laws to publicly encourage hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards someone because of their race, transgender identity, homosexuality or HIV/AIDS status.
Cyber-bullying may also be considered defamation if the online posts or messages damage someone’s reputation because they say untrue things about them. See our page on Defamation for more information.
If you commit one of the crimes we have talked about above, the consequences can be very serious. You may be investigated and charged by the police, and if you are found guilty you could end up with a criminal record or even go to jail.
The maximum penalties for some of the offences are high (e.g. up to 3 years in jail for using a phone or the internet in a menacing or harassing way, 5 years in jail for stalking or intimidating someone, and up to 10 years in jail for sending emails or posts which threaten to kill or hurt someone).
If you have committed one or more of the crimes we’ve talked about and you are contacted by the police, we strongly recommend that you get legal advice straight away. You can contact us for help here.
The eSafety Commissioner can investigate serious cyber-bullying which targets someone under 18.
If someone makes a report about something you’ve said or done online and the Commissioner decides to act, then it can ask social media services to remove cyber-bullying material, work with everyone involved (including schools and parents) to help stop the cyber-bullying, and/or order you to remove the material, stop the cyber-bullying and/or apologise.
|We recommend that you think very carefully before you say anything about someone online or in an email or message.
If you are having issues with anyone, try not to react to them by email, text or social networking sites.
Remember, if something is posted online, it’s never private and it’s permanent – even after you delete it.
If someone cyber-bullies you, try not to retaliate by saying something hurtful back, especially online, as it might make the bullying worse or could be used against you.
Get legal advice. If you are worried that you have cyber-bullied someone, we recommend that you get legal advice straight away.
For free legal advice, you can contact us or one of these services:
If you are questioned by the police, in some circumstances you must give your correct name and address (e.g. if the police think an offence has been committed and that you can help them investigate it). Other than that, you have the right to remain silent, even if you have been arrested. Try to remain calm, and politely ask to get legal advice before you give them any other information. For more information see our page on My rights with police.
Removing the material. It’s usually best to remove any material you are worried about, especially if someone has asked you to take something down that you’ve said or posted about them or if you have been contacted by the eSafety Commissioner. We suggest you get legal advice or talk to a trusted adult, especially if you are planning to contact the person (e.g. to apologise).
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call the police on 000.
Get legal advice. If you are being cyber-bullied, there are things you can do to protect yourself. In serious cases you might be able to get an apprehended violence order (AVO),or take other legal action against the person.
Every situation is different, and a lawyer can help you understand your options.
For free legal advice, you can contact us or one of these services:
For more information on AVOs you can see our page on Restraining orders.
Talk to someone. Getting someone’s support can make you feel better and it’s important to know that you’re not alone. You can talk to a friend, your parents, or other trusted adult.
If you would rather talk to a trained counsellor, you can call one of the services listed below for free and private counselling support.
Report it to the police. If you think you are the victim of one of the crimes we’ve talked about above, you can report it to the police. But it’s a good idea to get legal advice first, especially if you’re worried about anything you’ve said or done or if your situation involves a nude or sexual image of a young person. You should contact the police immediately if someone is threatening you.
Collect evidence. It’s a good idea to collect evidence of the cyber-bullying if you decide to take further action (e.g. take screenshots or print messages, posts or emails). For help and more information see the eSafety Commissioner’s guides – How to collect evidence and Collecting information.
Stopping the cyber-bullying. If you want to take steps to get cyber-bullying material removed or to stop the cyber-bullying, you can:
If you are being cyber-bullied by someone at your school, you can speak to a teacher, the principal or the school counsellor so that the school can help you sort things out. For more information you can see our page on Bullying at School. If you are being cyber-bullied by someone at work, then you can see our page on Bullying in the workplace.
Report it to the eSafety Commissioner. If you are under 18 and the victim of serious cyber-bullying, you can make a report to the eSafety Commissioner. The Commissioner can work with you to help stop the cyberbullying and get the material removed.
For more information about how to make a report, including what information you need to include and what you need to do first, see the Cyberbullying complaints and Report cyberbullying sections of the eSafety Commissioner’s website. Note that the Commissioner can tell other people about your complaint, including the person responsible or the police, but (unless you are in danger) it will try to ask your permission first.
Take steps to stay safe online. There are steps you can take to stay safe online and to stop people contacting or bullying you, for example by blocking or unfriending people who upset you and keeping your privacy settings private. We recommend you check out the following resources to make sure you’ve done everything you can to protect yourself from online abuse of any kind.
If you know someone who is being cyber-bullied or you have seen cyber-bullying online, it is important that you don’t join in, forward or share material or comment on anything. This could get you into trouble, as well as making things worse for the person being bullied. It is best if you leave any conversations or group chats if people are being nasty about someone.
There are things you can do to help stop the bullying and to support the people involved. For more information see the Australian Human Rights Commission’s webpage on What you can do to stop bullies – Be a supportive bystander, or visit one of the websites below.
If you would like to talk to a trained counsellor, the following services offer free and private counselling support.
If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.Get help now