Cyberbullying

In our world, there has been a digital reality alongside the analog one for many years. Since a significant part of communication among children and young people takes place in the digital space, conflicts are no longer conducted solely in analog form, but increasingly in digital form as well. Bullying is thus facilitated and its potential for harm is enormously increased. According to scientific studies, one to two children in every school class suffer from ongoing attacks from the student body. The consequences for those affected are serious. A drop in performance, violent fantasies, withdrawal, depression, suicidal thoughts and psychosomatic reactions show the great strain on the victims.

Today, bullying in most cases no longer occurs only in direct personal contact in the classroom, in the schoolyard, on the way to school or on the sports field, but in parallel on the Internet, in social media and via smartphone. Bullying without the preceding "cyber" practically no longer exists, and cyberbullying makes bullying even more effective and even more terrible for the victims. When young people are affected by bullying, it can be assumed that this takes place both analogously ("analog" bullying) and digitally (cyberbullying), because the analog and digital worlds of children and young people overlap seamlessly and must therefore be considered together.

In addition to basic information, the material "What to do in the event of (cyber)bullying" provides teachers with suggestions in ten practical projects on how to deal with the topic of cyberbullying in the classroom. Four case studies also provide examples of what systemic conflict management can look like in schools. All videos and further materials on the practice projects can be found here.

What is special about cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying differs from analog bullying in several ways.

Interference around the clock in private life:

Cyberbullying doesn't end after school or work. Because perpetrators can attack online around the clock, you are even stalked by them at home. So one's own four walls offer no retreat from bullying attacks.

The audience is unmanageably large; content spreads extremely quickly:

Posts that are sent digitally are - once they are online - difficult to monitor. Content that has long since been forgotten can be made public again and again, making it difficult for victims to get over it.

Perpetrators can act anonymously:

Not knowing who the perpetrators are can frighten and unsettle victims because they don't know exactly who is harassing them. Those responsible for the crime often do not show themselves directly, but can act anonymously, which gives them an often deceptive security and sometimes tenacious perseverance.

The violation of affected persons is not immediately perceived:

The reactions of those affected to a hurtful statement, a disrespectful picture, etc., are usually not visible to perpetrators of crimes. In this way, those responsible for the crime are often unaware of the extent of the hurtful words and images.

Extent and frequency of cyberbullying

Much research indicates that cyberbullying increases especially in the transition to secondary schools and occurs more frequently in the teenage years of 13 to 15, suggesting that cyberbullying occurs less frequently in childhood and young adulthood. A clear trend as to whether boys or girls are more frequently involved in cyberbullying cannot yet be clearly established. With regard to various study results, one can cautiously estimate how many people have already fallen victim to cyberbullying. International studies assume a wide range of ten to 40 percent victimization rates - although it depends on the questions and methods on which the studies are based. The number of cyberbullying cases peaks during the phase of puberty and then slowly declines again. Corresponding preventive measures should therefore start as early as 3rd or 4th grade or even earlier.

The film "Gone too far" by our British partner in the Insafe network, Childnet International, deals with the topic of cyberbullying. The film is available in English on YouTube. The subtitles can be automatically translated into German (click on the small wheel in the YouTube player menu, select the "Subtitles" option, choose "Translate automatically" and then select "German"). In addition, klicksafe offers the film with German subtitles for download. You can download the film here (right-click on the link and select "Save as...").

Tips for victims of cyberbullying

If you have read or seen something hurtful, it burns itself into your memory and you feel bad, are desperate and can only think about it. But it is important that you distract yourself from it, because there are still many things that are also beautiful. Go out into nature, treat yourself to something (cinema?), visit friends or watch encouraging videos. All this will take your mind off things and with a little more strength you can plan the next steps.

Maybe you think you can solve your problems on your own. Maybe you're ashamed of being bullied or don't dare talk to your parents because you're afraid of more stress or being banned from the media. Most of the time, it's good to talk to someone, and in many cases of bullying, it takes adults to intervene. But if you'd rather get advice anonymously first, you can contact the youth counseling team at www.juuuport.de or the Nummer gegen Kummer. Call 116111!

Learn how to make copies of unpleasant messages, pictures, or online conversations. They will help you show others what happened and can help identify your tormentor (e.g., at your school, with your cell phone provider, your Internet service provider, or even the police).

You can report insults, hate postings and nasty pictures directly in the services where they appear. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube and other networks now offer ways to report and block things or people.You can find instructions, for example, at SaferInternet.at or at kompass-social.media.

Defend yourself cleverly! You can be weak at home, but try not to show too much emotion in public, for example, don't shout - even if you feel like it. Don't insult back either, because that won't solve your conflict. Say or write directly what hurts you and put it very clearly, for example, like this: "It hurts me that...", "I feel bad because...", "I want it to stop IMMEDIATELY!". It is best to involve friends for support. It is also important that you inform yourself about legal regulations, because if someone spreads unsolicited pictures of you, it is a violation of the "right to one's own image". If someone insults you, this is a criminal offense.

And remember: No one has the right to hurt and insult you. You are great the way you are!

Ten basics for emergencies

If there is a case of cyberbullying, action must be taken as quickly as possible to put an end to the victim's suffering and prevent permanent damage to their mental health.

Tips for educational professionals

Ask about the facts of the case and the victim's experience. Encourage them that it was a very good decision to come to you for help. Explain to them that you care and want to do something for them.

Do not be afraid to ask about thoughts or actions that are dangerous to oneself or others. In this way, you can safeguard the mental and physical health of the person affected and third parties. If you learn about the events directly from the person affected, you can ensure, at least for the moment, that the person is not endangering himself or herself out of a knee-jerk reaction. If there are indications of danger to others or to oneself, consider together with those affected how the situation can be remedied and the danger de-escalated and which persons must be entrusted with this task. In this case, pay particular attention to Basics No. 4 and 6 to 10. 

Ask what they would like to see in this situation. Explain what options you have to meet their needs. Be careful about your own ideas for solutions. Tell them that you will not take any step without first informing them or, if necessary, obtaining their consent (see Basic No. 8). Cyberbullying usually cannot be stopped without informing and involving other teachers, school administrators, or class members. In this case, ask to be allowed to contact other people in order to be able to provide effective conflict assistance.

Learn of the issue through other class members or adults, ask them to motivate the victim to get appropriate help. Ask these class members to report back to you in a timely manner if the referral worked. If you are a professionally trained helper, you can ask a third party to refer the victim to you.

If the victim refuses mediation or assistance, you should visit him or her immediately to assess his or her condition. You are especially obligated to do this if there are indications of danger to others or to yourself.

Encourage the victim to defend himself against cyberbullying without resorting to violence. Appeal to his or her self-respect. Arguments can be:

  • Bullying harms people, often for a long time afterwards. It must not be tolerated and must be stopped - as soon as possible.
  • There may be more affected class members - they are encouraged when resistance to cyberbullying stirs and may make the decision to speak up as well.
  • It can get worse if nothing is done.

Offer coaching. This should be the first and most important step. Stand behind the victim and guide them through everything. The victim will be most likely to decide to take action if you succeed in building a relationship of trust. A prerequisite for this is transparency in all steps of action. If victims find it difficult, take them seriously! Explore inhibiting influences with them.

Have the situation explained to you until you understand it. Remember that this is a subjective description - the situation may be described differently by others. Nevertheless, take it seriously under all circumstances. Document what happened in detail. The more information you can gather in advance, the better you will be able to assess the situation. If a specialist subsequently intervenes, you will have already done crucial preliminary work that will benefit the overall development.

Some parties to the conflict, victims as well as those responsible for the crime, do not want parents, other teachers or the school administration to be informed. It is important to understand this wish, but not always to agree with it. You must be considerate of this if three conditions are met, otherwise you will be liable to prosecution:

1. if you are a professional for school social work, school psychology, school counseling or youth counseling (§203 StGB),

2. if you are not aware of any weighty indications of a risk to the well-being of children according to § 8a SGB VIII,

3. if you have the impression that the child (e.g. of primary school age) is mature enough and in the necessary mental and spiritual condition to understand and take responsibility for his or her own decision against informing the parents or school administration.

Consult with experts in this regard by first presenting the case anonymously.

A police report should first be reserved for those affected or their parents. This is necessary if

  • the conflict can no longer be de-escalated by purely educational means and the police can have a de-escalating effect,
  • a state of emergency has arisen that can only be eliminated by police intervention,
  • those responsible for the crime have been identified, are committing criminal acts and can only be prevented from harming the victim by police measures,
  • those responsible for the crime can only be identified by police measures,
  • a reconciliation of offenses has failed and educational and disciplinary measures at school have proved ineffective,
  • those responsible for the offence do not belong to the school and no educational influence can be exerted on them.

If the above reasons do not apply, there are many arguments in favor of not filing a police report. Arguments that can speak against a report are:

  • The effect of a report on those responsible for the crime and those around them may take a long time, as the time span from recording to an indictment or even conviction can be very long.
  • A report can lead to further escalation.
  • Cyberbullying involves actions that are not criminal offenses.
  • The evidence is not sufficient.
  • Through the use of the police, an educational reappraisal is blocked.
  • By using the police, cyberbullying cannot be stopped, because it is highly probable that other persons will continue below the threshold of the crime.
  • The use of the police leads to the reversal of guilt and ostracism of the victim in the community.
  • Due to the police's compulsory investigation of official offenses, the victim and his or her family are deprived of control over conflict resolution, or at least this is severely restricted.
  • Educational processing takes a back seat, while purely legal considerations come to the fore and lawyers take the lead.

All of these reasons can lead to the victim's situation being exacerbated by the police report, victim protection and pedagogy being marginalized, and early work with those responsible for the crime being blocked. Keep in mind that in many cases the police are under pressure to investigate and repress. Police intervention initially relieves the burden on pedagogy, but it can cause incalculable "collateral damage."

Never walk alone! Work as a team whenever feasible, even if you are the decision-making person. Get key decision makers, experienced professionals, and key caregivers of the victim at the table. Team members need to have access to personal information about the case. If possible, always get permission to do so. The police may also be considered for consultation. However, you should be

However, you should be cautious about disclosing hard facts to them, as they may be required to prosecute. Describe the case to the police in anonymous hypothetical form, i.e. in the subjunctive. Find out about external help. Which contact points exist in your region? What concepts are implemented by the contact points? Make clear that the possibility of specifically ending cyberbullying can be greatly expanded by resorting to external help. Contact the center and ask both about a possible time for intervention or counseling and about costs and possible payers.

What does the law say?

In Germany, there is no specific "mobbing law" or even "cyberbullying law," but it is possible to take action against individual offenses that are relevant under criminal law. Cyberbullying lawsuits often combine individual criminal offenses such as insult, defamation, blackmail/coercion or the dissemination of images and videos without permission, which in their combination result in far-reaching criminal consequences. The following overview shows which legal violations may be involved in cyberbullying:

Insult (Section 185 of the Criminal Code).

Anyone who insults, offends or otherwise injures or humiliates another person in their honor through statements or actions is liable to prosecution.

Defamation and slander (§§ 186 & 187 Criminal Code)

Anyone who spreads untruths about a person in forums, social networks or blogs, for example, or utters insults intended to damage the person's reputation, is liable to prosecution.

Coercion (Section 240 of the Criminal Code)

Anyone who threatens violence or other harm to another person unless the latter complies with a demand to do, tolerate or refrain from doing something is liable to prosecution.

Threat (Section 241 of the Criminal Code)

Anyone who threatens another person is liable to prosecution. This includes threatening to commit acts against sexual self-determination, physical integrity, personal freedom or property of significant value. This also applies if you do not threaten the person being targeted, but someone close to him or her (for example, the family). The penalty increases when threatening a person or someone close to him with a crime (for example, murder). Pretending that a crime is about to be committed is also punishable. The penalty is further increased if threats are made publicly (for example, on social networks or in chat groups).

Extortion (Section 253 of the Criminal Code)

Anyone who inflicts violence or threatens harm on another person in order to enrich themselves or a third party is liable to prosecution for extortion.

Stalking (Section 238 of the Criminal Code)

The term "stalking" is derived from the English verb "to stalk" and means "to creep up on". Accordingly, a stalker persistently seeks out his victim against his will. In doing so, he uses means of communication to establish contact with the victim and terrorize him. Anyone who stalks a person in this sense without authorization is liable to prosecution.

Right to one's own image (§§ 22 & 23 Art Copyright Act)

Dissemination of compromising images, video and sound recordings: Images and videos may only be disseminated and published if the person depicted has consented. In principle, each person can decide for him/herself whether and in what context images of him/her are published. Anyone who violates this can be punished under Section 33 of the German Art Copyright Act (KunstUrhG).

Violation of the confidentiality of the word (Section 201 of the Criminal Code)

Anyone who makes unauthorized audio recordings of another person, e.g. of a lecture that was intended for only a small group of people - such as the class - is liable to prosecution. This applies all the more if these recordings are passed on and published. Even the dissemination of statements in (non-public) online chats can be punishable.

Violation of the most personal sphere of life through image recordings (Section 201a of the German Criminal Code)

Anyone who secretly photographs or films another person in their home or in an intimate environment, such as in the shower, toilet or changing room, is liable to prosecution. This applies all the more if such recordings are passed on and published.

Violation of the secrecy of correspondence and spying on data (§§ 202 & 202a Criminal Code)

§ Although Section 202 of the German Criminal Code prohibits opening or reading sealed letters or documents, this does not apply to reading e-mails, so that the violation of the secrecy of correspondence does not apply in the online area. However, Section 202a of the German Criminal Code (StGB), "Spying on data," can be used in this context. However, the data must be "specially secured against unauthorized access" beforehand. Accordingly, persons who read an encrypted e-mail without authorization or illegally obtain the log-in password of another person are liable to prosecution.

Distribution of pornographic writings (Section 184 of the German Criminal Code)

Whoever offers or gives a pornographic writing to a person under 18 years of age, in a place accessible to persons under 18 years of age or which can be viewed by them, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to one year or by a fine.

Distribution of child pornography (Section 184b of the Criminal Code)

Anyone who possesses, obtains or forwards photos or video clips of persons under the age of 14 in which their genitals are clearly positioned or sexual acts are depicted commits a crime. If it comes to the attention of the police, they must investigate and prosecute, regardless of whether the person depicted in the photo or video clip files criminal charges themselves. Please note: Never have pictures or videos forwarded to you and do not take screenshots, for example, to document a bullying case or to secure evidence if the recordings are to be classified as child pornographic content. According to current law, you are committing a crime (obtaining and possessing child pornographic content), which is punishable by a prison sentence of no less than one year. Furthermore, please note that according to the current legal situation, images of a "partially undressed child in a provocatively sexually accentuated posture" are also considered child pornographic content. This means that it is also a crime to possess, distribute or obtain images in which, for example, the genital area is covered but the child can be seen in "provocative sexually accentuated posture". For the classification as child pornographic content, it is irrelevant whether the images were taken by the depicted person himself. Even voluntarily self-recorded images and videos of persons under the age of 14 (for example, in the context of sexting) are child pornographic content, and the creation, possession, distribution of these images and all attempts to obtain these images are crimes punishable by at least one year in prison.