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Parents advised as reports of cyberbullying jump 40%

Parents and carers are being urged to talk their kids about how to stay safe online after Australia’s eSafety Commissioner recorded a significant increase in cyberbullying reports.

Last year, eSafety received 2,383 reports of cyberbullying compared to 1,700 in 2022, with two-thirds of reports (67 per cent) concerning children aged 12 to 15 years.

Acting eSafety Commissioner Kathryn King said eSafety’s investigators tend to see an increase in cyberbullying reports during school term because online bullying is frequently an extension of bullying behaviour in the playground or classroom.

“Before school returns, it’s helpful to sit down with your children to reassure them they can always come to you if they see anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable – but to also remind them to treat others with respect,” Ms King said.

“It’s also helpful to discuss why any parental and privacy controls are in place for their safety and agree on when and where they can use their devices.

“Once they’re back in the classroom, ask questions about what they’re doing online and who they’re chatting to with the same regularity that you’d ask them about maths, sport and school friendships.”

The top five cyberbullying harms reported to eSafety in 2023 were nasty comments or serious name calling; offensive or upsetting pictures or videos; fake accounts and impersonations; threats of violence; and unwanted contact.

Two-thirds of reports (66 per cent) related to cyberbullying of girls and just under one-third (29 per cent) concerned boys, with gender diverse children targeted in 2 per cent of reports.

Ms King said any parent or carer wanting to brush up on their online safety skills could sign up for free webinars as part of Safer Internet Day on 6 February.

“This Safer Internet Day, we’re helping more Australians take three simple actions to improve online safety for themselves and loved ones: Connect, Reflect, Protect. Connect safely by keeping apps and devices secure and reviewing your privacy settings regularly. Reflect on how your actions online may affect others or your safety. Protect yourself and others by visiting eSafety.gov.au to find out how to stay safe online and report online abuse.”

Ms King said rapid take-up of sophisticated AI technologies was changing the nature of online abuse.

“We encourage families not to make online safety a ‘set and forget’ issue. Even as eSafety applies pressure on industry to do more to make their platforms and services safer, we’re also asking parents, carers, aunties and uncles to actively guide and support children’s online experiences,” she said.

“The nature and impact of cyberbullying harm is changing for the worse with the rise of generative AI technologies. These incredibly powerful tools burst onto the mainstream stage last year and are now being used to produce very realistic, degrading and offensive synthetic content featuring real people, including children.

“We want children, parents and carers across Australia to know that we can remove seriously harmful content when the platforms won’t. We’re here as your online safety net.”

To report serious online abuse or get involved in Safer Internet Day, visit: eSafety.gov.au.

How to report cyberbullying of a child:

– Collect evidence, such as the user profile, URL of the content and screenshots of the content.

– Report the cyberbullying to the platform where it is happening.

– Review the device and app privacy settings and mute or block the account.

– If the platform fails to act, the person targeted, or an authorised representative (such as a parent), can report it to eSafety.gov.au/report.

Signs that suggest a child is experiencing cyberbullying include:

– They appear sad, lonely, angry, worried or upset more than usual.

– Unexpected changes in friendship groups or not wanting to be around people, even friends.

– Changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn or anxious.

– Changes in sleep patterns, eating or energy levels.

– Becoming secretive about their mobile phone use or what they are doing online.

Top online safety tips for parents and carers:

– Be invested and involved in your child’s online lives: ask what they’re doing, why they enjoy it and how it works. By showing your interest, it makes it easier for them to open up if things go wrong.

– Set family rules together, including which devices and apps can be used, when and for how long.

– Encourage them to use their devices in open areas of the home, rather than in their bedroom or bathroom.

– Know what apps they’re using and how to activate age-appropriate parental controls.

– Regularly review the privacy and safety features of the apps they’re using with them to ensure they are set at the highest level. Particularly during the younger years, know who they are connected to, including through online games.

– Keep reminding them that you always have their back if things go wrong online.

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