What is cyber bullying?

Any form of bullying, harassment or victimisation that makes use of technology to deliberately upset, threaten, degrade or humiliate a person.  It can be conducted by a single person or a group of people, and can cause significant distress.

The rise in cyber bullying has sadly had a detrimental effect on many adults and children in the UK. Those who are women, transgender people and minority ethnic people are very common targets. The physical distance and anonymity that cyber bullying provides perpetrators, has fueled the rise in incidences and the number of people involved in this form of behaviour.

Cyber bullying can take different forms. The most common are:

  • sending menacing, malicious or upsetting messages;
  • cyber stalking;
  • identity theft;
  • making personal and confidential information available;
  • encouraging other people to be abusive towards groups of people or individuals.

The law

The general legal principle is that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. Cyber bullying in itself is not a crime, but by committing an act of cyber bullying, a person may be breaking the law under a number of different acts including the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act.

The workplace

Bullying has become a common feature in most workplaces, with nearly one in five employees in the UK reporting having experienced some form of bullying. All employers have a duty of care to provide employees with a safe working environment and that includes victims of cyber bullying at work.

In the workplace, cyber bullying can  spill from on-screen to off-screen and affect the face-to-face interactions between colleagues at work and away from work. With online profiles, cyber bullying can also affect an individual even if they move jobs.

Top 5 essentials for employers

  1. Include guidance on the use of social media in dignity at work and disciplinary policies.
  2. Remember: social media can affect communications among all staff, including prospective staff. It can distort the boundaries between home and work and policies need to reflect this.
  3. State clearly what is considered unacceptable behaviour. This should include the use of offensive or intimidating language to other employees on social networking sites.
  4. Employers should take any complaint seriously and investigate it promptly.
  5. Employers should inform and consult with their employees if planning to monitor social media activity affecting the workplace.

Core 5 responsibilities of employees

  1. Vigilance: regularly check your privacy settings on social networking sites.
  2. Think: consider whether you want or need co-workers to see your profile.
  3. Respect your colleagues and the confidentiality of the organisation you work for.
  4. Report it: keep all evidence and notify your manager of instances of cyber bullying. It is best to deal with the issue early on before it escalates and encompasses more people.
  5. Pause: when responding to workplace emails use the ‘delay send’ function or reflect if you are upset or annoyed before sending an email. Remember that email etiquette is important in the workplace.


House of Commons. Online harassment and cyber bullying. Briefing Paper Number 07967 9 June 2017.