Cyber-bullying or stalking occurs when someone engages in offensive, menacing or harassing behaviour through the use of technology. It can happen to people at any age, anytime, and often anonymously.

Examples of cyber-bullying include:

  • posting hurtful messages, images or videos online
  • repeatedly sending unwanted messages online
  • sending abusive texts and emails
  • excluding or intimidating others online
  • creating fake social networking profiles or websites that are hurtful
  • nasty online gossip and chat, and
  • any other form of digital communication which is discriminatory, intimidating, intended to cause hurt or make someone fear for their safety.

Just like bullying in the offline world, not all online bullying is criminal. There are Australian laws which apply to serious online harassment and online bullying behaviour. Under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) it is an offence to use the internet, social media or a telephone to menace, harass or cause offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is three years imprisonment or a fine of more than $30,000.

There are also stalking offences in each state and territory. Stalking involves a persistent course of conduct by a person against a victim, which intends to make them feel fearful, uncomfortable, offended or harassed. This conduct may occur online (for example, by email or on social networking sites) or via text message. Stalking offences carry heavy maximum penalties. Consult your local police website for further information or contact 131 444 (or if you are in Victoria contact your local station).

As children and young people are often online, it can be hard for them to escape cyber-bullying. Youth do not often tell their parents in fear that it will make the situation worse, or out of fear they will lose Internet access. Ongoing communication between parents and children is important to prevent and stop cyber-bullying. You may wish to consider more information about the support services available for children and cyber victims more generally.

You can report serious cyber-bullying or stalking behaviour to the ACORN if the conduct is intended to make you (or the victim you are reporting on behalf of) feel fearful, uncomfortable, offended or harassed. If you are being physically stalked or are concerned for your safety, you should report to your local police immediately.

Case study

Louise is a 22 year old who works as a receptionist in Canberra. Over the past few months, she has been experiencing bullying behaviour at work, which includes threatening and offensive emails and text messages from other employees outside of work hours, and extends to threats of physical violence. She is starting to worry about her safety and feels fearful when she attends work. Louise should discuss this with her employer. If the conduct continues, she could consider reporting this to police on 131 444 (or if you are in Victoria contact your local station) or online to the ACORN.

If the cyber-bullying occurs via a social media site you can also report directly to the relevant provider. Social media providers like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have reporting procedures in place. Information about reporting procedures for social media are available on this site.

Case study

Robert is a professional from Sydney. He has noticed that a fake social media account has been created in his name, and is posting offensive material. He does not know who the responsible individual is or where they are located. Robert should report this matter to social media provider, as they have procedures in place for removing fake accounts and abusive messages. Robert may consider reporting to the ACORN if he is not satisfied with the response from the social media provider.