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3. Responding to Cyberbullying

3.3 INVESTIGATION

Preserve the evidence

3.3.1Schools should advise pupils and staff to try to keep a record of the abuse: particularly the date and time; the content of the message(s); and where possible a sender’s ID (e.g. username, email, mobile phone number) or the web address of the profile / content. Taking an accurate copy or recording of the whole web-page address, for example, will help the service provider to locate the relevant content.

3.3.2 Keeping the evidence will help in any investigation into the cyberbullying by the service provider, but it can also be useful in showing what has happened to those who may need to know, including parents, teachers, pastoral care staff, and the police.

How to do this

3.3.3It is always useful to keep a written record, but it is better to save evidence of bullying on the device itself:

  • On mobiles, ensure the person being bullied keeps / saves any messages, whether voice, image or text. Unfortunately forwarding messages, for example to a staff member’s phone, will result in information from the original message, such as the sender’s phone number, being lost.
  • On instant messenger, some services allow the user to record all conversations. The user could also copy and paste, save and print these26. When reporting to the service provider, or even to the police, copied and pasted conversations are less useful as evidence, as this can easily be edited. Conversations recorded / archived by the instant messaging service are better for evidence here. Conversations can also be printed out in hard copy or sections can be saved as a screen grab.
  • On social networking sites, video-hosting sites, or other websites, keep the site link, print page or produce a screen grab of the page and save it. To take a copy of what appears on the screen, press Control and Print Screen, and then paste this into a word-processing document.
  • On chatrooms, print the page or produce a screen grab of the page. To take a copy of what appears on the screen, press Control and Print Screen, and then paste this into a word-processing document.
  • On email, ask the person being bullied to print it; forward the message on to the staff member investigating the incident; and encourage them to continue to forward and save any subsequent messages.  Preserving the whole message, and not just the text, is more useful, as this will contain ‘headers’ (information about where the message has come from)27.

A note about images: If images are involved in the cyberbullying, it is important to ascertain if these might be illegal or raise child protection concerns.  Indecent or sexual images of children (defined as people under the age of 18) are illegal to produce, circulate or possess in the UK. These include images that children have taken of themselves or their friends, using their mobile phone for example.

Contact: Internet Watch Foundation, if the images are internet content (see www.iwf.org.uk). The local police if illegal images have been taken of a child and circulated. Similarly if there is a recording of a crime, e.g. assault on another child, contact the local police.

If the images are not illegal or of an illegal act, then steps can be taken to try to contain the incident (see ‘Try to Contain the Incident’ above).

Identifying the bully

3.3.4Although the technology seemingly allows anonymity, there are ways to find out information about where bullying originated. However, it is important to be aware that this may not necessarily lead to an identifiable individual. For instance, if another person’s phone or school network account has been used, locating where the information was originally sent from will not, by itself, determine who the bully is. There have been cases of people using another individual’s phone or hacking into their IM or school email account to send nasty messages.

3.3.5 In cases where you do not know the identity of the bully, some key questions to look at:

  • Was the bullying carried out on the school system? If yes, are there logs in school to see who it was? Contact the school ICT staff or ICT support to see if this is possible.
  • Are there identifiable witnesses that can be interviewed? There may be children who have visited the offending site and left comments, for example.
  • If the bullying was not carried out on the school system, was it carried out on a mobile or a particular internet service (e.g. IM or social networking site)?  As discussed, the service provider, when contacted, may be able to take some steps to stop the abuse by blocking the aggressor or removing content it considers defamatory or breaks their terms of service. However, the police will need to be involved to enable them to look into the data of another user (see below).
  • If the bullying was via mobile phone, has the bully withheld their number? If so, it is important to record the date and time of the message and contact the mobile operator. Steps can be taken to trace the call, but the mobile operator can only disclose this information to the police, so police would need to be involved. If the number is not withheld, it may be possible for the school to identify the caller. For example, another student may be able to identify the number or the school may already keep records of the mobile phone numbers of their pupils. Content shared through a local wireless connection on mobile phones does not pass through the service providers’ network, and is much harder to trace (see ‘Brief introduction to technology’ section). Similarly text messages sent from a website to a phone also provide difficulties for tracing for the internet service or mobile operator.
  • Has a potential criminal offence been committed? If so, the police may have a duty to investigate. Police can issue a RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) request to a service provider, enabling them to disclose the data about a message or the person sending a message. This may help to identify the bully. Relevant criminal offences here include harassment and stalking, threats of harm or violence to a person or property, any evidence of sexual exploitation (for example grooming or inappropriate sexual contact or behaviour). A new national agency called the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) was set up in 2006 to deal with child sexual exploitation, and it is possible to report directly to them online at www.ceop.gov.uk. However, it is important to note that it is the sexual exploitation of children and young people, not cyberbullying, which forms the remit of CEOP.

Information about cyberbullying and civil and criminal laws: It is very important for schools to take cyberbullying seriously. It can be a very serious matter and can constitute a criminal offence. Although bullying or cyberbullying is not a specific offence in UK law, there are criminal laws that can apply in terms of harassment, for example, or threatening behaviour, or indeed – particularly for cyberbullying – threatening and menacing communications. See section on civil and criminal law for more detail.

Investigating allegations against staff

3.3.6Some messages might allege abuse against a teacher or other member of staff.  Online allegations should be handled in the same way as other allegations against staff, following the guidance in chapter 5 of Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education28.  The Department is currently reviewing its guidance on handling allegations against staff, and the issue of online allegations is being considered as part of this review.