Research commissioned by the Department of Communications has found that one in five young peopleare being bullied on the internet but criminalising offences is not the answer.
According to the three-part Cyberbullying Research Report, most victims are cyberbullied once or twice in a 12-month period, with much lower numbers being bullied on a regular basis.
The prevalence and age range was found to be consistent with international research that indicates cyberbullying is most prominent among young people aged 10-15 years.
The researchers recommended that the overall approach to cyberbullying should be “preventative”.
“There is very little empirical evidence for the effectiveness of criminal laws or civil regimes in combating cyberbullying or similar behaviours in young people, according to the report.
“In the long-term, changes in the criminal law or civil enforcement should become part of a general effort which includes media campaigns and ongoing education,” the report said.
“Stakeholders also clearly favoured the creation of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner to oversee rapid take-down and act where a social network site or a cyberbully have not taken down cyberbullying content on request.”
The report said a youth-centred approach was “critical to achieving traction and uptake of any initiative” and to ultimately achieve changes in attitude about cyberbullying.
Report calls for e-Safety Commissioner
The Department of Communications commissioned the research from the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University of NSW, the University of South Australia, the University of Western Sydney, and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre to provide evidence on whether to create a new, separate cyberbullying offence within a new civil enforcement regime.
According to the report, “any new law will be counter-productive if it simply serves to criminalise vulnerable young people who act impulsively or unthinkingly, and who do not have the capacity to process the consequences and impact of their behaviours”.
“Whilst many participants, both young people and adults, indicated that a new law could be introduced to simplify and clarify the current penalties related to cyberbullying, many concerns and issues were highlighted,” the report said.
“A multi-pronged approach is required to prevent cyberbullying and intervene appropriately when it occurs.”
The report recommended that this would involve young people and their parents being better educated about appropriate online behaviour, and sanctions being put in place to deter young people from engaging in cyberbullying, without being unnecessarily punitive.
“A potentially promising approach to changing young people’s behaviours could be achieved by examining young people’s decision-making processes and the motivations behind the behaviours, and developing interventions which would reduce the motivation of young people to engage in cyberbullying,” the report said.
“Investment is needed in resourcing and capacity building.”
The three-part report can be accessed from the Department of Communications website at this PS News link.