A seminar was organised in Lisbon where, besides national and international experts, a panel of young people reflected on and discussed how to prevent cyberbullying situations, identified the most permissive digital platforms and the tools available to report such situations. They were also invited to share with the audience good practices to create a healthy online environment. Because we believe that a Better Internet is made with the active participation of young people, we share some of the conclusions of this debate.
What did the young people have to say about cyberbullying?
It is a form of systematic violence, from one person or several people over another person, using technologies, platforms and applications. It is an act like bullying without physical space; a deafening silence, in which no word is said, but the voice, the criticism, the threats do not come out of our head and which, in that space, we can't erase. Cyberbullying is something thoughtful and done of one's own free will. It is intentional and repeated.
Where does cyberbullying occur most often?
It frequently happens on direct messaging platforms, especially those that allow anonymity. When people can hide their identity, everything is easier. They do not filter what they say, nor do they think about the consequences, how it can affect the other. We must not forget that cyberbullying is not only words, it is also pictures, videos, materials that can be shared by countless people with the intention of hurting and humiliating.
However, we must not forget that online social media are fed by all of us. It is important to have our accounts private, and the industry should provide private profiles by default when we install the platforms on our devices. Society should put more pressure on industry to push online platforms to be more regulated. There is also a need to develop and make available educational content on specific subjects for users.
Besides industry, who can help fighting cyberbullying?
Parents, no doubt about it. For lack of knowledge, sometimes they deny the use of social networks. The exclusion of children from the use of platforms can be a factor in being bullied. We all need to have a positive attitude towards technology. And it should start at home, in our group of friends. Alike for parents and young people, it is important to cultivate an open communication, where everyone can learn – this means building a space of trust that allows the discussion of this kind of problems and the transmission of knowledge, in both directions.
Another aspect to highlight is the difference between theory and practice. Theoretically, in order to end the conflict, it is necessary to stop threats and criticism. In practice it is important to understand the consequences of cyberbullying on both the victim and the aggressor and to avoid recurrent behaviours and traumatic situations.
Successfully building a reflection of young people's needs and difficulties is a first step towards bridging the gap with those who have the responsibility to solve this issue.
What else could be done to combat cyberbullying?
More awareness sessions for all age groups are needed. These could be designed using non-formal peer-to-peer education, based on a debate triggered by videos or other resources. These sessions promote a safe environment and allow us to talk about all subjects with no filter. Communication is enhanced as we relate to each other. Age proximity helps in the discussion and the clarification of issues. By sharing experiences, it is easier to learn.
We should also develop critical thinking, to empower young people to know the benefits of using the internet, while also recognising the risks and the consequences that stem from unsafe online practices.
From a peer-to-peer perspective, what advice would you give?
To share, knowing that it's not easy. To share with someone you trust, parents, friends, teachers. The listener should have an attitude of empathy and openness towards the victim, so they feel confident and secure sharing the situation they are experiencing. And then assess whether the situation should be reported, and for that it is important to collect evidence, such as screen shots from the offensive messages and images. And last but not least, to know the availability of tools and mechanisms to deal with this reality and where we can report.
For more information about Safer Internet Day activities in Portugal, visit the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre's Safer Internet Day profile page.
Find out more information about the work of the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.