When does #CyberBullying cross the line into criminal activity?

Anyone who still repeats that old ditty, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” has never experienced the targeted cruelty of a cyber-bully. Words do affect people and often in extremely severe ways. Not everyone can ‘brush it off’ and move on, and they shouldn’t have to.

Cyber bullying can take many forms. However, there are seven forms that are the most common.

cyber bullying causes sleepless nights and moreHarassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages, or being explicitly offensive on multiplayer gaming sites.

Denigration: Distributing information about another that is derogatory and untrue through posting it on a web page or social media platform, sending it to others through email or instant messaging, or posting or sending digitally altered photos of someone.

Flaming: Online “fighting” using electronic messages with angry, vulgar language to cause reactions and distress.

Impersonation: Breaking into an email or social networking account and using that person’s online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others. Making up of fake profiles on social network sites, apps and online are common place and it can be really difficult to get them closed down.

Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information, or tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information and forwarding it to others

Exclusion: A common form of social bullying. Intentionally leaving someone out of a group such as group messages, online apps, gaming sites and other online engagement.

Cyber Stalking: Repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm or which are highly intimidating. Engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety (depending on the content of the message, it may be illegal)

Illegal or potentially criminal activity.

Threatening behaviour

Anyone who makes threats to another individual on the internet could be committing a criminal offence. It’s against the law in the UK to use the phone system, which includes the internet, to cause alarm or distress. It could also be against the 1997 Harassment Act. If threats are made then it’s essential children are encouraged to confide in their parents, or someone they trust so that they can make a complaint to the police. Evidence of the threats can be captured by using the “print screen” button, screenshot function or a snipping tool to take a snapshot of the computer, tablet or mobile phone screen and then saving it somewhere safe.

Blackmail and grooming

Complaints from young people that new “friends” online have tried to pressure them into taking their clothes off and filming or taking images of themselves are now common. This bullying behaviour often included threats that a parent will be told embarrassing things if they don’t take par and comply or they will send the images to everyone they know if they do not do it.
This is an offence called “grooming” in the UK and people who have been found guilty of “grooming” have been jailed. Remember: everyone you meet on the internet is a stranger and you need to keep personal things personal to you, don’t share your secrets with other people and if anyone asks you to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable then don’t do it.

Sexting images – child pornography, revenge porn.

We often hear of people in relationships trying to persuade their partner to send inappropriate or naked images of themselves to prove they love them or want to be with them. It is against the law to take, send or redistribute pictures of anyone under the age of 18 and could be classed as child pornography. Similar laws apply to publishing naked or inappropriate images of former partners, boyfriends and girlfriends often called “revenge porn”.
Twitter have recently included in their threats and abuse guidelines the following statement “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.” Revenge Porn is now considered to be a criminal offence in England and Wales and perpetrators can be met with a 2 year jail sentence if found guilty of the crime.

Hate Crime

In UK freedom of speech has been challenged online recently through increased vigilance and direct intervention by a number of police constabularies in the UK including The Metroplitan Police and Police Scotland. In many cases these interventions include investigations about Tweets containing threats, racism or religiously motivated ‘hate’ crime.

Police Officers and the CPS have agreed a common definition of hate crime: “Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.”

When a person believes that they have been the victim of hate crime they can report it to their local police force. Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but those that do become hate crimes. Some may perceive this as the beginning of thought crime! All police forces would want you to report crimes and they take all reports of ‘hate incidents’ very seriously. If they consider it to be a hate crime, the police will take it even more seriously. In the realm of social media hate crime can consist of hate mail including email (under the Malicious Communications Act 1988) and causing harassment, alarm or distress (under the Public Order Act 1988).

Remember you are responsible for your childrens activity online. Every time you or your children visit a website or make a posting, your internet service provider, Sky, BT, Virgin etc. are obliged to keep an electronic note of your activity. Even if you create an anonymous email address like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo, you and your activity can still be traced.

All people are entitled to live their lives free from bullying and harassment and it takes awareness and targeted education to protect children online.

Common cyber threats to be aware of

Phishing: bogus emails asking for security information and personal details
Webcam manager: where criminals takeover your webcam
File hijacker: where criminals hijack files and hold them to ransom
Keylogging: where criminals record what you type on your keyboard
Screenshot manager: allows criminals take screenshots of your computer screen
Ad clicker: allows a criminal to direct a victim’s computer to click a specific link

The National cyber crime unit (NCCU) is the part of the National Crime Agency that helps fight cyber crime in the UK. CEOP is dedicated to eradicating the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. As a command of the National Crime Agency they work with child protection partners across the UK to identify the main threats to children in this area.

For further information about the work of CEOP please visit:

If you are a professional that works with children and young people you shouldn’t miss our conference in Nottingham. Experts from around the UK will be speaking and telling us about their recent initiatives and research, highlighting effective practice in helping to keep young people safe from harm in the online world. You will learn a lot from workshop sessions and be able to fortify your organisations efforts to tackle cyber bullying.