What is Cyberbullying behaviour?
Cyberbullying behaviour is
"the repeated, negative use of technology to intentionally hurt others e.g. posting unwanted pictures or messages, accessing another person’s account without permission, creating fake accounts to impersonate or harass someone and sharing other people’s private information online".
Cyberbullying behaviour can occur on:
- Social media sites, for example, Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok
- Instant messaging services on the internet, for example WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger
- Online forums, chat rooms and online message boards
- Gaming communities
Cyberbullying behaviour can consist of a variety of methods:
- Threats and intimidation
- Harassment and stalking
- Rejection and Exclusion
- Publicly posting or forwarding on personal information about the target
- Identity theft, hacking into social media accounts and impersonation (Internet Matters, 2021)
Statistics and the Impact of Cyberbullying Behaviour
This form of bullying behaviour is on the increase, with one in five young people aged 13-18 years old claiming to have experienced cyberbullying behaviour (Internet Matters, 2021).
Cyberbullying behaviour creates a permanent, publicly accessible record if it is not reported and removed. This can harm online reputations and negatively impact those involved in the future. For example, it might affect peoples’ employment prospects, should an employer search a potential employee’s profile online (Stopbullying,2021).
Experiencing cyberbullying can also have negative impacts on young people’s mental and physical health. Young people might find it extremely difficult to talk about their experiences. They might have issues with trusting others or feel embarrassed, anxious and/or depressed. Some young people might also have experienced financial loss as a result (Cybersmile Foundation, 2020).
A report published by The Children’s Society and Young Minds (2017) highlights that if young people experience bullying behaviour online and the accompanying psychological trauma, this increases the chances that a young person will go on to have poor social and health outcomes throughout their lives.
Catfishing is a term which involves creating fake profiles or providing fake pictures or fake information on social media networking sites, apps and online.
Catfishing is a common type of cyberbullying behaviour. It is often used by online predators to lure or trick people into starting online relationships.
Therefore, it is important for young people to be aware of how catfishing manifests and the signs to look out for which might indicate that they are being targeted (commonly referred to as ‘catfished’).
Why Do People Catfish?
There are a variety of reasons why someone might want to catfish others. Reasons include:
- To harass others.
- Due to their own feelings of insecurity. They may feel more comfortable using images of other people.
- Lack of confidence or not feeling happy with themselves.
- To hide their identity: For example, to extort money from their target or to troll others.
- Due to mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, where they might have low self-esteem and feel that they are ‘not good enough’.
- To seek revenge.
- Exploring sexual orientations: someone may feel confused or curious about their sexual orientation and create fake profiles without having to reveal their true identity to enable them to confidently explore their curiosity (Teen Vogue, 2020; The Cybersmile Foundation, 2020).
How common is Catfishing?
The majority of evidence in this area relates to adults in the area of dating or scamming. However, research which explored young people’s use of technology in their romantic relationships and love lives found that, of the 2135 participants interviewed, ‘6% of young people had met up with an online contact face-to-face and found they weren’t who they said they were.’ (Child Exploitation and Online Command (CEOP) and Brook, 2017, p18).
Tips and Guidance
The following useful tips and guidance can be used by educators and parents/carers to discuss cyberbullying behaviour, including catfishing, with young people.
1. Only add friends to your social media accounts and ask for links to their accounts and usernames and/or phone number from them directly.
2. If there is a particular concern/situation/you are not sure about, then ask a trusted adult/teacher for advice.
3. Look out for indications of fake profiles. These can include:
- No picture/photo on the profile.
- If you try to phone the person, they never answer.
- They do not have many/any followers or friends on their profile.
- They are using someone else’s photos, for example a celebrity, or another existing profile photos. You can do a reverse Google Image search to check whether the picture is real. If the picture is real, the picture will not appear on other sites apart from the person’s other social media profiles. Stolen photos will likely appear on multiple websites. You might see that the photos have a different name to the name of the person you are talking to.
- Asking you for money.
- Pretending to be a different age or gender than in reality.
- Creating a fake biography.
- Asking to meet up alone.
- Asking for inappropriate photos to be sent to them.
- They use only professionally taken photos on their profile.
- They can be ‘over the top’, giving unnecessary, lavish compliments.
4. It is recommended that you should only be online friends with people you know in real life, so that you know they are who they say that they are.
5. Ensure privacy settings are on their highest level.
6. Be familiar with the ‘Block’ functions and how to use them.
7. Know how to report accounts and posts to social media/gaming/ messenger platforms.
8. Be familiar with the ‘mute’ function on apps and how to use them.
9. Young people might play games against strangers online. It is important to stress to them not to reveal personal information and for them not to move to private online conversations.
CEOP and Brook (2017) also make additional suggestions for adults when talking to young people about ‘digital romance’:
- Be non-judgemental and understand the reality of ‘digital romance’
- Share knowledge and experience about both positive and negative relationships.
- Provide supportive relationships and spaces to think about the issues they face.
- Address LGBTQ+ experiences.
Anti-Bullying Ambassador Campaigning
If you are an educator and have Anti-Bullying Ambassadors in your school, you may wish to encourage them to raise awareness of cyberbullying behaviour and catfishing with the peers in the following ways:
- Running a poster competition.
- The Anti-Bullying Ambassador team could write a guide about how young people can recognise and protect themselves from being targets of cyberbullying behaviour and catfishing. A great way of publicising this is to post it on your school’s website/social media channels.
- Creating an activity sheet about the types of cyberbullying behaviour, including catfishing examples.
- Holding an assembly to raise awareness of cyberbullying behaviour and/or catfishing.
Having regular discussions with students about cyberbullying behaviour and catfishing will help them recognise these forms of bullying behaviour and help to protect them from harm.
For more helpful resources like this, explore our Resource Centre and Support Centre further.
Resources Suitable for Adults
Anti-Bullying Pro Webinar: (suitable for adults) Social Media and the Online World - How to tackle cyberbullying behaviour (Primary Focus)
Anti- Bullying Pro Webinar: (suitable for adults) Social Media and the Online World- How to tackle cyberbullying behaviour (Secondary Focus)
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for parents/carers): Exploring Identity Online For Parents/Carers
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for young people aged 14-18 years and adults) Exploring Identity Online For Educators (Lesson Plans)
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for adults) Webinar: Gaming, YouTube and Twitch How Cyberbullying Can Affect Your Students’ Game (Primary Focus)
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for adults) What To Do If You Are Worried About Screen Time
Resources suitable for young people
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for young people aged 7-18 and adults) Milestones For Young People And Tech
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for young people aged 11-18 and adults) Exploring Identity Online For Young People
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for young people aged 7-18 and adults ): Blocking & Reporting: A Step by Step Guide
Anti-Bullying Pro Website Resource: (suitable for young people aged 11 -18 years and adults) Social media and the online world (Secondary Focus)
Brook (Dec 2017) Press Release: Digital Romance.
Child Exploitation and Online Command (CEOP) and Brook (Dec 2017) Digital Romance: London: Child Exploitation and Online Command (CEOP) and Brook
Children's Society and Young Minds. (2017). Safety Net Report: Impact of Cyberbullying on Children's Mental Health. London: Children's Society and Young Minds.
Internet Matters. (2021). Learn about it. Retrieved from Internet Matters: https://www.internetmatters.org/issues/cyberbullying/learn-about-it/#what_is_cyberbullying
Stop Bullying UK. (2021). What Is Cyberbullying. Retrieved from Stop Bullying : https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it
Teen Vogue. (2020, January). 9 Signs You're Being Catfished. Retrieved from Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/signs-youre-being-catfished
The Cybersmile Foundation. (2020). Catfishing. Retrieved from The Cybersmile Foundation: https://www.cybersmile.org/what-we-do/advice-help/catfishing