An article from Online Conference on Networks and Communities, Department of Internet Studies, Curtin University of Technology. Contains helpful ideas and solutions parents can use to prevent and/or mitigate cyber bullying.



Social networking sites such as Facebook allow people to keep in touch with family and friends using the Internet. They can chat, leave posts (or messages), play games and share pictures. Facebook, in particular, has grown in popularity over recent years to a point where, according to (Facebook Press Room, 2010), over 400 million people worldwide are using it.

Facebook demographics, according to Corbett (2010), show that around 10% (or 40 million) Facebook users are teenage school children. Although there are risks for anyone using Facebook, the teenager is at the greatest risk. Teenagers are not experienced in the corrupt and dangerous world we live in, they don’t understand some of the risks involved, they don’t understand how powerful words can be and they can be easily led and succumb to peer pressure.

For the average teenager, Facebook is an extension of their school life, without being governed by the rules that exist at school. It’s like being in the schoolyard at recess or lunch with their friends but without the prying eyes of teachers.

However, there is one issue that exists in both the cyber-world and the real world – bullying. Bullying exists on Facebook just as it does in the school playground. While the issue is the same, the solution to the problem can differ greatly between the two different worlds.

This paper will explore the risks involved with cyber-bullying on Facebook, especially for teenagers, and argue that making correct decisions and taking certain precautions can reduce these risks. It will show how powerful effective communications with you child can be and it will offer a number of solutions that will eliminate the risk or at least reduce the risk to a level that will make your Facebook experience a safe one.

Facebook And Teenagers

I asked my teenage daughter what she used the Internet for before Facebook. Her reply was that it was boring. She used YouTube, messenger, email, music downloading and that’s about it. However, that has all changed. Now she is connected nearly every spare minute she has because of Facebook. Facebook offers so many tools in one package. It is a blog, a messaging tool, a photo repository, a gaming tool – it basically is an all in one communication package, which is not just available on the PC or Mac. The increase in the number of handheld devices like smartphones and the Ipod touch allow access to applications like Facebook from almost anywhere.

Facebook has an inbuilt messaging tool, which allows users to check who is online and send them a message. According to (Prompt Survey, 2009) “Facebook may be replacing email and text messaging as a more popular way to stay in touch with friends and family online”. This is not something that will happen over-night but if nearly all of your friends are online at any given time then it is much simpler to communicate via Facebook than using SMS or the phone. Add to this an impressive range of games and, for a teenager, Facebook seems to provide the perfect package.

Unfortunately, nothing in this world is perfect. Facebook has its issues, mostly minor, however with the potential to become both life threatening and life destroying if allowed to develop. These issues include health, privacy, and lack of face-to-face social interaction causing erosion of social skills as well as exposure to online predators. It can waste a lot of your time and interfere with schoolwork. However, the one issue that is causing the most concern amongst Facebook users is bullying or, as it is known in the online world, cyber-bullying.


Cyber-bullying can be described as an act of aggression toward someone, similar to traditional bullying, but done on-line. Cyber-bullying can range from spreading rumors about someone, on-line threats, harassment and negative comments, to posting and commenting on digital photos. The delivery method can vary from e-mails, instant messaging, web pages, blogs and chat rooms to social networking sites like Facebook.

Cyber-bullying can affect any age group but the most prevalent group is teenagers and this is starting to become a problem in schools. A recent article in the Adelaide Advertiser (Keller, C. & Hood, L., 2010) reported that “school counsellors are spending the beginning of each school week ‘cleaning up the carnage’ of cyber bullying generated on Facebook and by text messages each weekend”.

Bullying v’s Cyber-Bullying

Traditional bullying occurs face-to-face and is more than likely related to school problems. According to Olweus (1993) “a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself”.

Traditional bullying has been researched well in the past and Ybarra, Diener-West and Leaf (2007, 43) observe “victims of bullying at school report less positive relationships with classmates and those with multiple victimisations have poorer academic performance”. According to a separate study by Ybarra and Mitchell (2004, 321), bully victims, both the bully and the bullied are “more likely to experience academic challenge, problem alcohol and drug use, loneliness and poor peer relations”. The study also found that males are significantly more likely than females to bully and younger youths (early high school) report a higher frequency of bullying than older youths (late high school).

Cyber bullying, although sharing some of the traits of traditional bullying, has some noted differences. Ybarra and Mitchell (2004, 332) found that bullies are just as likely to be female as male and are more likely to be late high school age. Ybarra and Mitchell (2004, 328) also found that of the main contributing factors with cyber-bullying is a “poor caregiver-child emotional bond”. These youths were “more than two times a likely to engage in online harassment that youth with a strong emotional bond”. Ybarra et al. (2007, 43) also state “it is possible that youth who are harassed online experience school functioning problems that are parallel to those reported by youth bullied at school”. The study also there is an overlap between the two to the extent that 36% of people being bullied at school are also being bullied on-line and one in four reported aggressive offline contact from their harasser.

But this means that 64% of youths that are harassed online are not being harassed at school. Ybarra et al. (2007, 48) went on to say that “the Internet and other new technologies may have increased the chances for harassment for youth who might otherwise not be targeted”.

Psychology.wikia (Cyber-Bullying. n.d.) also adds “cyber bullies do not have to be larger and stronger than their victims, as had been the case in traditional bullying. Instead of a victim being several years younger and/or drastically weaker than his bully, victim and cyber bully alike can be just about anyone imaginable”.

This sets the platform for almost anyone to become a cyber bully however not everyone has the aggressive nature that defines a cyber bully.

On-line Aggression

Communications on the Internet can be anonymous. So in some cases there is no way of knowing whom you are speaking with. According to a study on youth engaging in online harassment by Ybarra & Mitchell (2004, 320) “this has multiple implications, including the lack of non-verbal cues used to determine the emotional sentiment of what is being said, as well as the lack of traditional information we use to stereotype one another”. The study acknowledges that the Internet has broken down some barriers and connected people who would normally not have been as communicative but those that “feel constrained by social expectations in traditional communication are freed from these constraints in online conversations where the user cannot be seen nor the impact of his or her words on the other person can be experienced”. The study found that youth who would not act aggressively in the traditional bullying scenario might feel less constrained on-line. The “anonymity associated with online interactions may strip away many aspects of socially accepted roles, leading the Internet to act as a potential equaliser for aggressive acts”. This anonymity that exists on the Internet becomes even more appealing to bullies because their intimidation is difficult to trace.

Another key aspect in the effectiveness of cyber-bullying is how quickly information posted can reach a large audience. This information, whether it is posts to a social networking site or e-mails, can reach its audience much faster than traditional bullying methods, potentially causing more damage to the victims.

Effects Of Cyber-Bullying

Cyber-bullying affects different people in different ways. Wylie (n.d.) explains the effects cyber-bullying can have on a child:

“There’s no doubt cyber bullying can be devastating. For instance, some bullies harass their targets with a barrage of instant messages, like ‘Everyone hates you,’ or ‘You are a loser.’ Other cyber bullies create web sites that mock or humiliate other kids, such as setting up online polls with themes like: ‘Vote for the ten ugliest girls in school’. Cyber bullies can also impersonate their target, for example, posting fake online ads soliciting dates on their behalf. Or hacking into the victim’s email account and sending hateful messages to their friends”.

According to a study by Ybarra, Mitchell, Wolnak and Finkelhor (2006, 1176) which examined characteristics and associated distress related to Internet harassment, the majority of targets were not upset by bullying incidents and these incidents tended to be isolated episodes between peers, however 39% reported resulting emotional stress. The study recommended early identification and provision of support. Some of the main effects of cyber bullying include low self-esteem, poor school results, depression, anxiety, health issues and suicide.

Facebook – The Solutions

While there are no magic solutions to combat cyber-bullying and other threats while using Facebook it can be argued that by following some basic rules you can reduce any risks that exist.

One of the main components of social networking sites is the public display of connections. Not only does this list of friends allow someone to access links to friends profiles and then to friends of friends profiles it is also seen, especially by the teenage demographic, as something of a status symbol – the more friends you have obviously the more popular you are – at least in the eyes of your peers. So friends are added that probably shouldn’t be and these friends, in most cases, tend to never be removed.

Only add people that you know well and that you want to be friends with. Once a friendship is over or a relationship has ended remove the person. An example of how controlling your friends’ list will reduce your risks on Facebook was reported recently by the UK Daily Mail (Jealous Lover, 2010). The report stated “a Facebook stalker was jailed for at least 22 years today for killing his ex-girlfriend after seeing her on social networking site with another man. He got on a plane and flew 4,000 miles from Trinidad to England to challenge her”. While this is an extreme case it can be argued that keeping your friends list on Facebook accurate and up to date is an important way to avoid possible unwanted encounters.

There are a number of steps parents can take to help combat cyber-bullying. It can be argued that these steps will reduce the chances of cyber-bullying if implemented correctly. One of the suggested ways to check what your children are up to on Facebook is to become ‘friends’ with them and some schools are promoting this behavior to help manage the alarming rise in cyber bullying. The role that is proposed for parents is to firstly learn how to use Facebook. Then they are encouraged to become a friend of their child so they can monitor their posts on Facebook. Some parents are already friends with their children, not for the purpose of checking up on them but out of mutual friendship.

However some children will not be too happy with this idea and are unlikely to want their parents checking on what they are up to. Regardless, with the introduction of Facebook groups your child can have a friends list that will exclude you, so while you may think you know what is happening on Facebook, in reality you are not seeing most of it. However if you do have your child’s confidence you can take an inactive role so as not to invade their privacy and this will give you a chance to check posts regularly to keep an eye on what’s happening as well as checking on things like the appropriateness of their profile picture. Rather than get your children offside it is important to work on developing a trusting relationship with your child. Talk to your child and tell them to think about the possible consequences of their comments on Facebook. If you think comments could be offensive then don’t send them. Also don’t be afraid to remove a post at any time if you think you’ve made a mistake by posting it.

Probably the most important way to reduce your risks on Facebook is to get your settings right. Some advice from Miller (2010) is to

“limit where your children post personal information. Be careful who can access contact information or details about your children’s interests, habits or employment to reduce their exposure to bullies that they do not know. This may limit their risk of becoming a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if they are victimised”.

Facebook has three levels of security: friends, friends of friends and everyone. Ensure most settings are set to a minimum level ‘friends only’. Facebook (Facebook Privacy, 2010) provides suggestions for correct settings and it’s a good idea to sit down with your child to ensure these settings are correct.

You can report bad behavior on Facebook. Anything you deem inappropriate from posts to images you can ‘report’ by clicking on the supplied link. You can also block specific people from viewing your profile. The Facebook site (Facebook Press Room, 2010) offers the following information for dealing with harassment:

“Cyber bullies often seek a reaction from the people they harass. When they fail to get one, they often give up gradually. Rather than responding to a bully via Inbox, a Wall post, or Facebook Chat, you can use the ‘Block’ or ‘Report’ functions to resolve the issue safely. Remember, only confirmed friends can post to your Wall or send you a message through Chat. If you are receiving posts and Chat messages you don’t like, you should consider removing the sender from your friends list. Please note that you should also contact the authorities if you ever feel threatened by something you see on the site”.

Facebook – If You Suspect Cyber-Bullying

Some signs that your child may be being cyber-bullied, according to Wylie (n.d.) are a drop in grades, poor sleeping habits, increased irritability, and an increased amount of time spent online, especially if it coincides with one of the other signs. She also notes that confirming that there is an issue is half the battle because “kids often go into stealth mode”.

Miller (2010) offers some advice for combating cyber-bullying. She notes that

“sometimes girls hold back from telling adults about cyber-bullying because they fear they will be banned from using the Internet. Rather than making threats, keep the lines of communication open and establish trust. If you suspect your daughter might be a victim, don’t ignore it. Ask her sensitively about your concerns”.

Parents should also report any suspected cases of cyber-bullying to the child’s school.

A US based website called Stay Safe Online (Cyber Bullying And Harassment, n.d.), works with a number of government and well known Internet sites to promote cyber security awareness. It suggests the following three important steps for combating cyber-bullying: (1) avoid escalating the situation, (2) document cyber bullying and (3) report cyber bullying to the appropriate authorities.


In the end you need to remember what Facebook is there for. It’s a real name based site that is supposed to connect people. This type of social networking model is always going to have some risks involved, especially in the area of cyber bullying, however, as this paper has argued, following some basic rules can reduce these risks.

As adults we need to support our children. It’s important to keep the communications channels open and make sure you never ignore bullying. More importantly you need to be able to put yourself in the best position to recognise bullying whether it’s happening in the schoolyard, through text messaging or on the Internet.


Corbett, P. (2010). Facebook demographics and Statistics report 2010 – 145% Growth in 1 Year. Retrieved April 4, 2010 from

Cyber-bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2010 from

Cyber Bullying and Harassment. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2010 from

Facebook Press Room – statistics. (2010). Retrieved April 4, 2010 from

Facebook privacy (2010). Retrieved March 18, 2010 from

Jealous lover flew 4,000 miles to stab ex-girlfriend to death after seeing her on Facebook with another man. (2010). Retrieved March 30, 2010 from

Keller, C. & Hood, L. (2010). Protect your kids – become cyber cops. Retrieved March 30, 2010 from

Miller, D. (2010). The Darker Side of Facebook: Cyber-Bullying. Retrieved March 10, 2010 from

Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Prompt survey finds Facebook more popular than email or SMS to keep in touch with friends and family. (2009). Retrieved March 26, 2010 from

Wylie, M. (n.d.). Online Family Safety – Eight ways to handle cyber-bullies. Retrieved March 30, 2010 from

Ybarra, M., Diener-West, M. & Leaf, P. (2007). Examining the Overlap in Internet harassment and school bullying: Implications for school Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Health 41, 42 – 50.

Ybarra, M., & Mitchell, K. (2004).Youth engaging in online harassment: Associations with caregiver-child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence 27, 319-336.

Ybarra, M., Mitchell, K., Wolak, J. & Finkelhor, D. (2006). Examining Characteristics and Associated Distress Related to Internet Harassment: Findings From the Second Youth Internet Safety Survey. Pediatrics 118, 1169-1177.