Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that involves the use of electronic communications technologies, including computers and smart phones.

There is no universal definition for “cyberbullying” but it is generally thought to involve repeated aggressive online conduct that is intended to harm someone who has less power or who cannot easily defend himself or herself. Cyberbullying can occur inside and outside of the physical workplace. It may involve communications that are directed toward a specific individual or posted on an online platform that is accessible to others.

Some examples of cyberbullying are:

  • Placing a colleague’s name on an on-line rating list inviting comment (eg “who’s hot and who’s not”);
  • Posting deprecatory comments about a victim on social media, such as Facebook,  Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, etc.
  • Distributing a sexually explicit photo of a colleague on-line without their consent;
  • Stalking a colleague using technology (repeatedly sending a colleague electronic communications which make them fear for their personal safety);
  • Logging onto a colleague’s email account and sending offensive, humiliating, intimidating communications to others;
  • Making a threat to physically harm a colleague using technology;
  • Purposely excluding a colleague from an online platform where workers exchange information/ideas about work related issues; or,
  • Tricking a colleague into disclosing personal information and then using technology to distribute the information to others.

An assessment of whether an action represents cyberbullying can take into account abusive behaviors on other platforms – ex. a degrading email. verbal abuse, a derogatory text message, unwanted physical conduct, etc. For example,an isolated act of unfriending a co-worker does not constitute cyberbullying but it may it were part of a continuum of belittling and aggressive conduct directed toward the co-worker.

Cyberbullying is judged from the perspective of a reasonable person who considers all of  the circumstances  – in other words, if a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be unreasonable, it is.

An Australian study published in 2012 found that victims of cyberbullying reported greater social difficulties and higher levels of anxiety and depression than victims of traditional bullying.

* A major resource for the above article is the Australian Business Law Review, 45 ABLR (2017), Empowering Workers: Avenues of Legal Redress for Victims of Workplace Cyberbullying,  by Colette Langos and Mark Giancaspro. In this article, the authors examine Australia’s Fair Work Act 2009 and how it has been interpreted by the courts.