The number of teens being cyber bullied has doubled in the past year

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

More than one in three Australian school students who have been bullied say it happened online, according to a leading youth service.

A national survey of 1000 youth conducted by ReachOut found reports of cyber bullying in one teen age group had doubled in the space of just 12 months.

Thirty-six per cent of those aged 14 to 16 who took part in the survey reported being bullied online, compared with 18 per cent the previous year.

Cyber bullying rates were even higher in the 17 to 19 years age group, with 43 per cent of those surveyed reported online bullying, compared with 28 per cent the previous year.

Reports of cyber bullying across all age groups surveyed had grown to 38 per cent, up from 25 per cent, but was not part of an overall trend, as schoolyard and workplace bullying rates dropped in the same period.

The large increases in cyber bullying rates are thought to be the result of the growing number of online platforms available.

In the survey, ReachOut defined cyber bullying as using social media, instant messaging, texts, websites and any other online platform to send abusive or hurtful messages, share posts, images or videos, or deliberately excluding others online, spreading nasty gossip or rumours, imitating someone online or using their log in.

ReachOut CEO Jono Nicholas says the research shows cyber bullying is widespread.

"Almost every young person in Australia uses technology, whether that's social media, chat apps or online games, like Fortnite," he says.

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"Because of this, cyber bullies have the key to our front door and yet there's little pressure on the tech giants to do anything about it.

"If someone physically entered our homes and bullied our children, there would be national outrage and a demand for action."

Mr Nicholas says cyber bullying is often associated with other forms of bullying, with the majority of online bullying victims also reporting bullying at school or while travelling to and from school.

ReachOut, which offers an online mental health service, says global tech giants and governments need to do more to tackle online bulling and has called on Australia's new Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make cyber bullying a priority.

Mr Nicholas says former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull promised in January to bring in new industry safety standards for technology, which made the safety and wellbeing of users a priority.

"This is as much about future-proofing Australia for the next wave of new technology, as it is about dealing with platforms and products that are currently in the market," Mr Nicholas says.

"We need to draw a line in the sand and send the message that the current approach of tech companies releasing new technology and thinking about the consequences later is no longer acceptable."

Mr Nicholas says global tech giants are worth more than $1 trillion but are not obligated to do more to fund solutions that prevent, and protect, users against cyber bullying.

"If global tech giants won't make their products safer, then government will have to step in and do it for them," Mr Nicholas says.

ReachOut's Bullying and Young Australians report released last year found half of young people who were bullied did not disclose to anyone what was happening or seek help.

Embarrassment and fear of appearing weak were cited as among the reasons for not seeking help.

Children who are bullied are more likely to dislike or feel disconnected from school, get into fights and leave school early, the report found.

A recent survey of more than 20,000 students aged eight to 14 found one in four students were bullied every few weeks or more, with bullying rates peaking when children are in year five.

SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD IS BEING CYBER BULLIED

• Being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone

• A significant increase or decrease in internet and/or mobile phone use

• Showing more emotion than usual, particularly sadness, anger, or frustration

• Withdrawing from or changing friendships and friendship groups

• Secrecy around their social life and what they're doing online