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It’s time to take cyberbullying seriously to halt its spread

Emily Browne, Atif Khan
Vodafone Enterprise Cyber Security

With the rapid increase of social networking sites, online activity and messaging apps, cyberbullying is also on the rise. Bullying has morphed into something that is quickly getting out of control. While traditional bullying, when at school, can be stopped on the playground or in the classroom, cyberbullying continues outside of school hours for children and often continues into adult life and even the workplace. There is no easy escape.

Most people do associate this type of behaviour/crime with children (and while it’s not a crime in its own right, it can be an offence under several different acts). But it doesn’t stop there; adults can be cyberbullies (and victims) too. The real problem is much larger and it can affect anyone who is online. The internet enables freedom of speech but it is equally an enabler for malicious activities - whether this is on a forum or via more frequently a social media platform, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to name a few. Who would have thought that simply connecting people online would open the doors to expressions and activities such as flaming, catfishing, stalking, verbal assault, trolling…?

Businesses of any size can suffer from these activities too, both in terms of their employees and customers carrying out these activities outside of work, or on the internal social messaging platforms. This is detrimental to the business. It damages brand reputation, reduces productivity in teams and could even lead to the loss of talented people for an organisation.

Victimization of people online has received an ever-increasing level of scrutiny, particularly after a series of high-profile suicides of teenagers who were reportedly bullied on various social networks. People are left feeling very isolated, full of self-doubt and completely lost.

In order to fight cyberbullying effectively, we need to change the culture in which it happens. The most important shift here starts with helping both children and adults understand that what may seem like “just a joke” can have a powerful effect on someone else or even a whole organisation. As cyberbullying has become a widespread epidemic, what can we do to protect ourselves and our children? What do we need to look out for, to better support those who fall victim and are too scared to speak out?

There are a few simple, sensible steps – starting with education:

Step 1: Be aware of what children are doing online

Be active participants in your child’s journey on the internet, enjoy it with them, ask questions to help you to better understand what they like (and don’t like) about what they do online.  

Step 2:  Ensure the correct safeguards are in place

When your children do use the internet unaccompanied, make sure you have set up safeguards. Based on their age consider blocking certain web content and moderate and monitor usage on all devices - yes even their mobile phones!

Step 3: Talk about the impact of certain apps 

Some communications and social networking apps, such as WhatsApp and Instagram can unfortunately become essential tools in the cyberbullies’ arsenal and it helps to talk this through in terms of how and when they are used. 

Step 4: Organisations should have support functions and run awareness campaigns

Steps 1 to 3 can also be adapted and applied to the staff of your business. Staff should be able to anonymously report any issues they are facing in the workplace and feel confident that the issue will be resolved by their employers. For example, here at Vodafone we have our own internal helpline, making sure employees have 24/7 support.

We are also proud to produce 2 million copies of Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine every year. It is one publication which aims to provide you with the latest expert advice, so you can help your children develop the life skills and knowledge they need to use the online world safely and with confidence.

We are also running the Digital Life Skills campaign which is an internal initiative being taken out to schools and across our different markets. It is a series of quizzes and takeaway materials to help children understand the dangers of the internet and to educate both teachers and parents of these risks. Everyone can help play their part to stop cyberbullying in its tracks.

There are also some other great resources which can provide further practical advice:

Cyber security is a key concern for organisations of all sizes. Protecting devices, networks, data and apps is an essential component of doing business. Vodafone provides security products and services to businesses of all sizes, helping you secure your business anywhere because we are everywhere. We are trusted by organisations globally, including utilities, financial institutions and government agencies. For more cyber security, insights, you can find us on LinkedIn.

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