7. Cyberbullying

Cyber abuse or cyber bullying is intimidating behaviour towards another person, but online. Cyber abuse can happen on any social media platform. People may think they are anonymous online, but this is not the case. It is a crime to harass or seriously offend a person online. Cyber abuse can happen in a variety of ways including:

  • Abusive or hurtful texts.
  • Abusive emails.
  • Sending photos or videos without your permission.
  • Setting up fake profiles and pretending to be you.

Unfortunately, 44% of teens had a negative online experience in the 6 months to September 2020 according to a survey conducted by the eSafety Commissioner.

In 2014 there was a very public example of the effect cyberbullying can have. Gamergate was an abusive harassment campaign aimed towards game developer Zoe Quinn, media critic Anita Sarkeesian (who had released a video analysing sexist stereotypes in games) and Brianna Wu, another game developer. Tim Brown’s ABC blog post A balanced view of GamerGate gives more information about Gamergate if you would like to read more about this controversy.

In your online interactions have you experienced, witnessed or even perpetrated inappropriate online behaviour? More than one in three Australians say they have experienced online harassment.

Tips on dealing with cyberbullying:

Take action

  • Blocking or reporting the offenders is a good first step if you experience or witness harassment online, as long as you feel safe and in control. As digital citizens, it is our responsibility to report threatening content that we see online using the reporting features built into platforms like Facebook.
  • Try not to respond. The troll might be hoping for a reaction and will go away if they don’t get one.
  • Keep evidence — document what is happening, such as taking screenshots. Visit Collecting evidence of cyber abuse from the eSafety Commissioner for what to collect.
  • By demonstrating appropriate behaviour, you can help shape the norms in your online communities
    • leave positive comments.
    • respond to positive posts.
    • discourage trolling posts by never forwarding or responding to posts that may be offensive or upsetting.

Certain actions, such as threatening violence, are illegal and can be reported to the police. Cyberbullying within UQ is against the Student Code of Conduct Policy and can result in disciplinary action.

Decorative If you are experiencing or have been the victim of cyberbullying, contact UQ Student Support Services.


Some people use the anonymity afforded by the internet and social networks to make hurtful or threatening comments. These people are often referred to as trolls. Research suggests that greater anonymity given by the Internet leads some people to lose some of their sense of self-awareness and post things online that they might not express publicly offline. There are other reasons for trolling.


Researchers used to think that communication online and offline were distinct types of communication, and that we might behave differently online to how we behave offline. However, sociological research has suggested that our communication behaviours don’t vary based on a digital or non-digital environment. Instead, we vary our behaviour based on the communication norms or rules of the situation that we are interacting in. Norms are how we describe our shared community expectations of a situation based on what is commonly done in that situation.

Can anyone can be a troll?

Person with head covered in paper bag with scary face on it, seated with a small dog on a couch with a laptop.

It is often thought that only a vocal and antisocial minority exhibit trolling behaviour but research indicates that anyone can become a troll. If an individual is feeling negative and then witnesses other troll posts, it can increase the chance that they will do a troll post of their own. Posts by trolls in an online platform or discussion can result in further toxic comments being posted in response. This can then establish a behavioural norm within the online community that trolling and aggressive posts are acceptable. Some people find sarcastic comments, insults or strong opposing views hurtful or humiliating but for others it is the ‘norm’. Some trolls may deliberately ignore the norms of the platform they’re on to generate controversy, while in some online communities, such as 4chan, trolling is the norm.


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