Working together to address cyberbullying - Education Matters Magazine
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Working together to address cyberbullying

eSafety

As students settle into the new school Term, teachers once again find themselves confronting a growing problem: cyberbullying. eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant is here to help.

Complaints to us about serious cyberbullying typically spike as classes begin and students resume face-to-face interaction. But the volume of complaints is also increasing sharply overall, with reports jumping almost 70 per cent over the last 12 months alone.

Protecting children and young people from this rising tide of online harm requires greater coordination, and that has prompted eSafety to set up a National Online Safety Education Council.

The Council brings together authorities and peak bodies representing schools in all sectors, both nationally and at the state and territory level. We need such broad collaboration to ensure our response to cyberbullying is effective and to encourage systemic change that boosts safety across the board.

We also need to fully understand cyberbullying as a behaviour; how it happens and the trauma it causes. It can take many forms but typically involves cruel name-calling, distributing offensive images or videos, creating impersonation accounts, threats of violence, or harassment.

The experience of being bullied online can feel claustrophobic, all-enveloping, and impossible to escape. Unlike physical bullying, where for most children the threat ends at the front door, cyberbullying follows the target into their home.

Recently, we issued our first End User Notices compelling recipients to remove serious cyberbullying material targeting another child. End User Notices are designed to send a clear message that cyberbullying is against the law and set out a framework for redressing the harm caused.

In one case the recipient’s school principal served the notice in the presence of their parents and teacher, explaining what it was and why they were receiving it. The school also arranged sessions with a school counsellor to ensure they understood the consequences and effects of cyberbullying.

Our approach in these, and other situations, is always to work in collaboration with schools, parents, and other support professionals wherever possible to ensure the best outcome for all children involved.

Through our complaints and investigations data, we see a strong connection between cyberbullying and what is happening in the school community. Schools, therefore, have a crucial role to play in detecting and correcting behaviours that spill over into online spaces and ensuring appropriate policies are in place.

A separate case reported to us recently involved humiliating online “student awards”. It demonstrates good practice within a school.

The school told us its year coordinator had spoken to the instigator, who did not acknowledge how problematic the material was, and was subsequently suspended. We talked about their approach and advised the school to report any ongoing behaviour, given the potential for it to amount to serious harassment.

Initially, the parent of the responsible child was strongly opposed to the school’s policies and actions. But the school held firm, insisting upon a three-way interview before the student. At the same time, students who had been targeted were supported by the school, helping avert potential for lasting harm.

We regularly work with schools to help resolve these kinds of issues, as well as engaging with educators more broadly. We have discussed enhancements to teacher professional learning, for example, and developed on-demand professional learning about management of critical online incidents.

Online safety education delivered through our Trusted eSafety Provider program continues to reach hundreds of thousands of students every year and our own webinars have reached many thousands more. Our eSafety Champions Network is designed so that each school has an eSafety point of contact: a teacher, a wellbeing professional or staff member who makes online safety a priority.

Cyberbullying is a difficult and growing problem but, working together across government, schools, households, and peer groups, we are finding ways to address it. In April last year, we also established eSafety’s Youth Council to focus on the challenges young people face online, advise eSafety on solutions and enable a youth voice to government.

And of course, we are continually updating our resources, information, and advice online at esafety.gov.au.

ABOUT JULIE INMAN GRANT 

Julie Inman Grant is Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. In this role, Julie leads the world’s first government regulatory agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online. As Commissioner, Julie plays an important global role as Chair of the Child Dignity Alliance’s Technical Working Group and as a Board Member of the WePROTECT Global Alliance. The Commissioner also serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety and on their XR Ecosystem Governance Steering Committee on Building and Defining the Metaverse. Under her leadership, eSafety has joined forces with the White House Gender Policy Council and Government of Denmark on the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Harassment and Abuse.

In 2021, Julie oversaw significant increases in the eSafety office’s budget, increased staffing levels and launched the global Safety by Design initiative. As Commissioner, she has led work to stand up novel and world-first regulatory regimes under the new Online Safety Act 2021, with implementation of a sweeping new set of reforms beginning on 23 January 2022. Commissioner Inman Grant was reappointed for a further 5-year term by the Australian Government in January 2022.

The Commissioner was recently named one of Australia’s most influential women by the Australian Financial Review and a leading Australian in Foreign Affairs by the Sydney Morning Herald.  In 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Apolitical appointed the Commissioner as one of the #Agile50, the world’s most influential leaders revolutionising government.

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