- Cyber bullying can be a crime.
- If you're being cyber bullied, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Did you know that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all ban cyber bullying? Or that cyber bullying can be illegal? If you have been bullied online, have seen bullying online or are worried that you may have bullied someone else online and you don’t know what to do next, you can get free, confidential legal advice from Lawmail.
Bullying is behaviour that:
- targets a certain person or group of people;
- embarrasses, threatens or intimidates the person being bullied.
Cyber bullying is bullying carried out online or through mobile phones.
This could include using SMS, email or social networking sites to harass or abuse someone.
Cyber bullying can be a crime under either South Australian or national law when it involves:
- Using the internet or a phone in a threatening, harassing or offensive way
- Stalking (including messaging someone to harm or scare them)
- Accessing internet accounts without permission
- Defamation (spreading lies to intentionally hurt someone’s reputation)
It is a crime to use a phone or the internet in to threaten, harass or seriously offend somebody . A message or post could be considered offensive if it is likely to cause serious anger, outrage, humiliation or disgust. The maximum penalty is 3 years in jail .Real life examples:
In 2010, a 20 year old guy in QLD sent threats and hate-filled texts and Facebook messages to his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. He was found guilty of using phone and internet services in a menacing, harassing or offensive way and placed on probation with an order to attend counselling.
In 2011, a teenager in NSW made a Facebook page called “All ___ Police Are Corrupt”, which included the names of several local police officers. He was charged with harassing and offensive use of the internet .
It is a crime to intentionally frighten someone by threatening to hurt them. This can be through your phone, text message, emails or online posts. Threatening to kill someone carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. .
It is also a crime in South Australia to make (or encourage others to make) threats of physical harm to a person because of their race,. Real life examples:
In 2006, a teenager in NSW threatened to kill two of his teachers and a girl at his school on his MySpace page. He was charged with making threats.
In 2009, a guy in WA posted a video on YouTube that showed him making threatening comments towards people of a particular ethnic and religious background. He was charged under racial hate laws.
Stalking is when someone gets repeated attention that intimidates or frightens them. Stalking can include making unwanted phone calls, emails, text messages and messages on Facebook/Twitter etc. Stalking is a crime in South Australia if you call, message or otherwise bother somebody twice or more with the intent to harm, harass or scare them. The maximum penalty is 3 years in jail (but can be higher if the person uses a weapon or breaks a court order).
Real life example
In 2009, a guy in VIC copied pictures from a girl’s profile and posted them on adult websites, along with her name and contact details. He was found guilty of stalking and sentenced to jail.
In 2011, a teenager in WA who had befriended an American girl on Facebook began sending her threatening messages and unwanted gifts. He was arrested for stalking.
It is a crime under state and national law to log into a person’s online accounts without permission . The maximum penalty is 2 years in jail .
It is a crime in South Australia to publish untrue information about someone in order to cause them serious harm . The maximum penalty is 3 years in jail .
Real life example:
In 2009, a teenager in SA made a harassing Facebook page about a local police officer. He was found guilty of defamation and placed on a two year good behaviour bond.
It is a crime under both South Australian and national law to cyber bully someone in a way that intentionally encourages or causes them to kill themselves . The maximum penalty is life imprisonmentfourteen years. \The maximum penalty is fourteen years imprisonment where suicide was committed.
What can happen…
Cyber bullies can also get in trouble with internet or mobile phone service providers, websites, schools and non-criminal courts.
Most websites have ways of checking what’s being posted. Users can flag and report any nasty contents to the website administrator. Websites can remove things in your account which they find inappropriate.
Most websites and phone companies have Terms and Conditions which control what users are allowed to do. Cyber bullying can break these rules.
Websites may give warnings or remove inappropriate content themselves. They may even delete a user’s account if they discover cyber bullying.
Phone companies can suspend or cancel a person’s phone number and phone contract if they use it to repeatedly harass others through calling or texting.
In more serious cases, the website or phone company may report illegal behaviour to the police.
All schools in South Australia should have anti-bullying plans in place to deal with bullying and cyber bullying. Schools are responsible for making sure students know what their anti-bullying plan is and teachers are responsible for making sure the plan is followed.
Different schools may have different ways of dealing with cyber bullying, but it should always be taken seriously. Students who bully other students (or teachers) can be suspended and in some cases expelled.
The school may also call the police if they think a crime has been committed.
Real life example:
In 2011, group of young people in NSW created a “Root-Rater” page on Facebook. The page asked Facebook users from local schools to send in information about the people they had sex with, including descriptions of their bodies and scores for their sexual performance.
The page then posted this information for all its friends to see. The page was taken down, but local schools threatened to expel students who were involved, and NSW Police said that “Root-Rater” and other gossip pages could lead to criminal charges for students who participated.
When cyber bullying involves unwelcome sexual advances, sexual threats or discriminatory comments from a person at work or school, complaints can be made to the SA Equal Opportunity Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission. A comment may be discriminatory if it makes fun of someone because of their race , sexuality , gender identity , disability, etc.
When cyber bullying involves making comments or posting pictures which damages someone’s reputation, cyber bullies can be sued by the victim for defamation or other claims.
Real life example:
In 2008, a court in Victoria ordered a guy to pay his ex-girlfriend $40,000 to compensate for the suffering he caused when he threatened to release sex tapes of her. She had sued him for invading her privacy, breaching her trust and intentionally causing her emotional distress.
If you ever want to talk to anyone about anything that’s bothering you, you can contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
- Keep calm - If you are having issues with your friends or someone else, whether it be at school or in other places, try not to react to them via email, text or social networking sites. It’s easy to say something hurtful when you’re feeling angry or upset, but if it’s written down or posted online, it’s permanent. Nothing online is ever private, even after you delete it!
- Talk to someone -If someone writes something or posts a photo that upsets you, scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to a friend, your parents or another trusted adult. You don’t have to deal with hurt feelings or embarrassment on your own. The sooner you tell someone, the sooner something can be done about it and you can feel safe.
- Record evidence - Take screenshots or print off any bullying messages or posts. Record the times and dates of any harassing phone calls.
- Ask the person to delete it - If someone has posted something offensive about you, often the easiest thing to do is to ask them to delete it. You can tell them that their actions could be a crime. If they refuse to delete it, you can send a Lawmail. The Lawmail team can write a notice explaining the laws and letting them know that you will consider going to the police if they don’t take it down.
- Report it to your phone company - If you’re getting upsetting calls or texts, you can make a complaint to the phone company. The phone company may be able to trace the caller/sender and send them a warning letter. If the bad behaviour doesn’t stop after repeated warning letters, the offender’s phone number could be suspended or cancelled. For more info, contact your phone company (for example, Telstra, Optus or Vodafone).
- Block the bully - Most websites let you block problem users from contacting you, see the ACMA’s guide to social media.There are also apps available for some phones that let you block calls and texts from certain people. Contact your phone company for more info.
- Talk to your teacher, school counsellor or principal -Most schools have anti-bullying guidelines that cover cyber bullying. If the person who is bullying you is a student at your school, then your school may be able to help you work things out.
- Apply for a protection order - If someone is using your personal information to stalk, intimidate, harass or threaten you, you may be able to apply to the court for an intervention order to keep them from contacting you again. For more information, send a Lawmail, contact the Children’s and Youth Law Centre of South Australia, or visit your local Community Legal Centre.
- Contact a free legal service in your area about legal action - You may also have a claim to sue someone who harms you or your reputation by posting or sharing offensive material about you. For more information, send a Lawmail or contact your local Community Legal Centre.
- Report it to the police - If you believe you are the victim of one of the crimes explained above, you can report it to the police. If your situation involves a nude or sexual image of a young person, it’s a good idea to get some free legal advice before going to the police. You can send us a Lawmail, contact the Children’s and Youth Law Centre of South Australia or visit your local Community Legal Centre. If someone is threatening or scaring you, please contact the police immediately.
Think carefully before posting or sending. Remember that online actions have real-life consequences, and that anything you say can be saved and shared with others.
If you have pretended to be someone else online, it is usually best to:
- apologise and take down any offensive material as soon as possible and
- talk to a trusted adult or send a Lawmail.
If the police get involved, you should contact the Youth Legal Service as soon as possible for free legal advice on 1300 366 424.
This page was last updated 17 July 2015.