What Actually is Cyberbullying? All The Laws You Need to Know

Cyberbullying features in news stories at least once a week, and more than a third of teens experience it at some point in their lives. But what actually is “cyberbullying” and what laws are there to help protect your child?

Parliament member James Cartlidge described cyberbullying as “nasty, psychological attacks that particularly affect young people”. With statistics as high as 50% of the teenage community being victims of cyberbullying in 2015, it is certainly a prevalent issue to address.

Cyberbullying is when an individual uses online communication tools such as Facebook and Instagram to bully another. This typically involves sending intimidating messages, posting photos, commenting on their posts, and directing taunting, embarrassing or nasty posts to another person. Most victims of cyberbullying view it as embarrassing and less than half ever inform an adult.

In a lot of cases, cyberbullying cases can be resolved through parent or school intervention, or they fizzle out on their own. However, in some cases, it may take more to make it stop.


So what do you do when cyberbullying gets serious?

There is no one, specific law prohibiting cyberbullying, however, there are numerous laws that can be applied in cyberbullying cases. These include:

  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997 s 2 (harassment) and s 2A (stalking) – stalking includes undertaking a course of conduct which amounts to harassment or any of the associated ‘stalking behaviours’ which also includes contacting someone by any means (including social media)
  • Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
  • Malicious Communications Act 1988- sending messages with intent to cause distress or anxiety
  • Communications Act 2003- sending messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing
  • the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, s 16 – threats to kill
  • Defamation Act 2013


For example, the Communications Act 2003 makes it against the law to send: “…by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

These offences can be aggravated offences if motivated by prejudice (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender etc.) and can attract higher sentences.






28-32 Crime and Disorder Act  1998 and s 145 Criminal Justice Act 2003 (racial and religious aggravation and also s 146 Criminal Justice Act 2003 (disability, sexual orientation and gender identity).

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