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3. Responding to Cyberbullying


3.2.1As with other forms of bullying the target of cyberbullying may be in need of emotional support. Key principles here include reassuring them that they have done the right thing by telling someone; recognising that it must have been difficult for them to deal with; and reiterating that no-one has a right to do that to them. Refer to any existing pastoral support/procedures for supporting those who have been bullied in the school, and refer them to helpful information and resources (see section 4 of the overarching anti-bullying guidance, Safe to Learn).

3.2.2 Taking steps to ensure the school adopts a culture that does not tolerate cyberbullying can help to make the target of cyberbullying feel safe (see section on ‘Preventing cyberbullying’).

Advice on online empowerment

3.2.3It is important to advise the person being bullied not to retaliate or return the message. Replying to messages, particularly in anger, is probably just what the bully wants, and by not replying the bully may think that the target did not receive or see the message, or that they were not bothered by it. Instead, the person should keep the evidence and take it to their parent or a member of staff (see section 3.3 on preserving evidence).

3.2.4 Advise the pupil to think about the information they have in the public domain and where they go online. It is important that pupils are careful about who they give their mobile phone number to, and that they consider whether they should stay members of chatrooms, for example, where people are treating them badly.

3.2.5 Advising the child to change their contact details, such as their Instant Messenger identity or mobile phone number, can be an effective way of stopping unwanted contact. However, it is important to be aware that some children may not want to do this, and will see this as a last resort for both practical and social reasons, and they may feel that they are being punished.

Try to contain the incident

3.2.6Some forms of cyberbullying involve the distribution of content or links to content, which can exacerbate, extend and prolong the bullying. There are advantages in trying to contain the ‘spread’ of this. If bullying content, e.g. embarrassing images, have been circulated, it is important to look at whether this content can be removed from the web. 

3.2.7 Some steps can be taken to try to stop it spreading:

  • The quickest and most effective route to getting inappropriate material taken down from the web will be to have the person who originally posted it remove it. If you know who the person responsible is, ensure that they understand why the material is hurtful and ask them to remove it (see section 3.3 for advice on preserving evidence).

Quote from a parent: “Thankfully my son’s school were very helpful, they identified the child who posted the video from another video he had posted, they have disciplined the other child and had him remove the video, in fact they took the matter very seriously and also had any users who had posted anything with reference to the school remove their videos so that was very reassuring.”

  • Contact the host (e.g. social networking site) to make a report to get the content taken down (see ‘When and how to contact the service provider’ below). The material posted may breach the service provider’s terms and conditions of use and can then be removed.
  • Confiscation of phones containing offending content / asking pupils to delete the content and say who they have sent it on to. School staff can confiscate a mobile phone as a disciplinary penalty, and have a legal defence in respect of this in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (s 94).  However, staff do not have a right to search through pupils’ mobile phones unless the school’s behaviour policy expressly provides for this and the pupil is reasonably suspected of involvement in an incident of cyberbullying which is of a sufficiently serious nature (see section on Education Law for more information).
  • Contact the police in cases of actual/suspected illegal content. The police will be able to determine what content is needed for evidential purposes, potentially allowing the remaining content to be deleted.

3.2.8 As previously stated, members of the school workforce, as well as pupils, have been bullied online, with insulting comments and material posted about them. This material should be dealt with seriously and incidents contained in the ways described above to ensure the well-being of staff.

Preventing recurrence (e.g. blocking or changing contact details)

3.2.9There are some steps that the person being bullied can take, depending on the service that the bully has used, which can allow users to manage who they share information with and also who can contact them. These features can help a person being bullied to stop further contact from the person harassing them. For example, blocking the person from their email or instant messenger buddy list will mean that they will not receive messages from that particular sender anymore.

3.2.10 Pupils or their parents should be advised to contact the service provider or host (i.e. the chatroom, the social network provider, or mobile operator) to inform them of what has happened, and get their advice on how to stop this happening again. The service provider may be able to block particular senders or callers (for landlines), or advise on how to change contact details, and potentially delete the accounts of those that are abusing the service. This following section outlines what each service provider can do and gives details on how to contact them.

When and how to contact the service provider   

Mobile phones

3.2.11All UK Mobile operators have nuisance call centres set up and/or procedures in place to deal with such instances. The responses may vary, but possibilities for the operator include changing the mobile number of the person being bullied so that the bully will not be able to continue to contact them without finding out their new number. It is not always possible for operators to bar particular numbers from contacting the phone of the person being bullied, although some phone handsets themselves do have this capability. Action can be taken against the bully's phone account (e.g. blocking their account), only with police involvement. 

3.2.12 Details of how to contact the phone operators:

  • O2: 08705214000 or [email protected]
  • Vodafone: call customer services on 191 from a Vodafone phone or on any other phone call 08700700191 for Pay Monthly customers or on 08700776655 for Pay As You Go customers.
  • 3: call 333 from a 3 phone, or 08707 330 333.
  • Orange: call 450 on an Orange phone or 07973 100450 for Pay As You Go customers; call 150 from an Orange phone or 07973 100150 for Pay Monthly customers.
  • T-Mobile: call customer services on 150 from your T-Mobile phone or on 0845 412 5000 from a landline, or email using the 'how to contact us' section of the T-Mobile website at

Social networking sites (e.g. Bebo, MySpace, Piczo)

3.2.13It is normally possible to block / ignore particular users on social networking sites, which should mean the user can stop receiving unwanted comments. Users can do this from within the site.

3.2.14 Many social network providers also enable users to pre-moderate any comments left on their profile before they are visible by others. This can help a user prevent unwanted or hurtful comments appearing on their profile for all to see. The user can also set their profile to ‘Private’, so that only those authorised by the user are able to access and see their profile.

3.2.15 It is good practice for social network providers to make reporting incidents of cyberbullying easy, and thus have clear, accessible and prominent reporting features20. Many of these reporting features will be within the profiles themselves, so they are 'handy' for the user.  If social networking sites do receive reports about cyberbullying, they will investigate and can remove content that is illegal or breaks their terms and conditions in other ways. They may issue conduct warnings and they can delete the accounts of those that have broken these rules. It is also good practice for social network providers to make clear to the users what the terms and conditions are for using the service, outlining what is inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, as well as providing prominent safety information so that users know how to use the service safely and responsibly.

3.2.16Contacts of some social network providers:

  • Bebo: reports can be made by clicking on a ‘Report Abuse’ link located below the user’s profile photo (top left hand corner of screen) on every Bebo profile page. Bebo users can also report specific media content (i.e. photos, videos, widgets) to the Bebo customer services team by clicking on a ‘Report Abuse’ link located below the content they wish to report. Users have the option to report suspicious online activity directly to the police by clicking the 'Report Abuse' link and then clicking the 'File Police Report' button.
  • MySpace: reports can be made via the ‘Contact MySpace’ link, which is accessible at the bottom of the MySpace homepage (, and at the bottom of every page within the MySpace site.
  • Piczo: reports can be made within the service (there is a ‘Report Bad Content’ button at the top of every member page). At the bottom of the home page and on the ‘Contact Us’ page there is a link to a ‘Report Abuse’ page. The ‘Report Abuse’ page can be found at

Instant Messenger (IM) (e.g. Windows Live Messenger or MSN Messenger)

3.2.17It is possible to block users21, or change Instant Messenger IDs so the bully is not able to contact their target any more. Most providers will have information on their website about how to do this. In addition, the Instant Messenger provider can investigate and shut down any accounts that have been misused and clearly break their terms of service. The best evidence for the service provider is archived or recorded conversations, and most IM providers allow the user to record all messages22.

3.2.18 It is also good practice for Instant Messenger providers to have visible and easy-to-access reporting features on their service (see the Home Office good practice guidance for Instant Messenger providers23).

3.2.19 Contacts of some IM providers:

  • MSN: when in Windows Live Messenger, clicking the ‘Help’ tab will bring up a range of options, including ‘Report Abuse’ and there is also an online feedback form at to report on a range of products including MSN Messenger.
  • Yahoo!: when in Yahoo! Messenger, clicking the ‘Help’ Tab will bring up a range of options, including ‘Report Abuse’.

E-mail providers (e.g. hotmail and GMail)

3.2.20It is possible to block particular senders24, and if the bullying persists an alternative is for the person being bullied to change their email addresses. The email provider will have information on their website about how to create a new account.

3.2.21 Contacts of some email providers:

Video-hosting sites

3.2.22It is possible to get content taken down from video-hosting sites, though the content will need to be illegal or have broken the terms of service of the site in other ways. On YouTube, perhaps the most well-known of such sites, it is possible to report content to the site provider as inappropriate. In order to do this, you will need to create an account (this is free) and log in, and then you will have the option to ‘flag content as inappropriate’. The option to flag the content is under the video content itself.

3.2.23 YouTube provides information on what is considered inappropriate in its terms of service, see section 5C.

Chatrooms, individual website owners / forums, message board hosts

3.2.24Most chatrooms should offer the user the option of blocking or ignoring particular users. Some services may be moderated, and the moderators will warn users posting abusive comments or take down content that breaks their terms of use. It is good practice for chat providers to have a clear and prominent reporting mechanism to enable the user to contact the service provider25.  Users that abuse the service can have their account deleted. 

Case study: One young person was befriended by another player on a gaming site, who initially wanted to trade game items and was friendly. When the young person declined the trade, the other player became nasty and started threatening and swearing. The young person took a ‘Print Screen’ copy of the abusive text and blocked the other player to prevent any further contact. They also reported the players name and conduct to the game site administrator.