Online support may provide buffer to cyber bullying

in Press Releases

Media Release - Wednesday 20 July

Australian researchers are exploring the way online campaigns can be used as prevention and intervention tools for bullying and cyber bullying.

Using social marketing strategies, Dr Barbara Spears and Dr Carmel Taddeo from the University of South Australia, are working with colleagues from Western Sydney University and Queensland University of Technology to develop projects aimed at addressing attitudes and practices to support positive social behaviours.

The study involves more than 500 students aged between 12 and 18 across Australia.

The research was conducted through the Safe and Well Online project of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

Dr Spears said the research found that young people’s attitudes and social norms needed to stop online bullying and make sure victims did not feel it was weak to seek help early.

“We know young people do not reach out for help. Our resources are trying to destigmatise help-seeking before the problem becomes too big,’’ Dr Spears said. “The traditional space for interventions is in schools, but we want to take this online where most of young people’s social networking and interactions happen.”

Both researchers will be running a workshop at the National Centre Against Bullying Conference (NCAB) in Melbourne on July 28 to discuss results and uses of the programs with teachers. They have developed four online programs over five years to promote attitudinal change and encourage help seeking. NCAB is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

One program, Keeping It Tame, uses online banner ads on high-traffic social media and gaming sites to direct young people to a YouTube video depicting the devastation of finding a humiliating post online. (see:

A second ‘app’, Appreciate a Mate, demonstrates how young people can turn the tables on cyber space being used for negative messages and create a space for positive reinforcement. They get to customise messages and emoticons to friends that create positive messages.

This does not have to be necessarily in response to bullying. It can also be a confidence and esteem building strategy that helps protect a potential victim. Over the course of the project, 85,000 positive messages were created by young people to affirm each other. (see:

The third campaign was web based. It was called Something haunting you? and was directed at boys. It used the popular zombie theme to encourage them to seek help if they felt “haunted” by problems like bullying. (

The final campaign, Goalzie was a fun-based ‘app’ to engage young people to set positive goals, or just fun goals, such as making a Vine video. Players can also set fun consequences for unachieved goals like cooking dinner for the challenger. “It’s about positive interactions and creating the connectedness that helps protect young people and those who may be at risk,” says Dr Taddeo. (see:

The campaigns have generated significant interest among the target groups of young people, and Dr Taddeo says one of the success factors was in engaging with 500 young people to develop the themes and messages for their peers.

Student survey evaluations of the campaign (over 5000 young people nationally), indicated that 77 per cent liked Appreciate a Mate, 79 per cent liked Something Haunting You, and 63 per cent liked Goalzie.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said she looked forward to the conference and hearing more about the study. Ms Podesta said the biennial NCAB Conference was Australia’s leading forum, highlighting the latest bullying research and expertise from across the country.

“Cyberbullying is a serious issue affecting young Australians every day,” Ms Podesta said. “Dr Spears and Dr Taddeo’s work is a great example of thinking creatively to engage young people in finding solutions and encouraging them to seek the right support. It is another example of the wonderful work being done in this space.”

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Media inquiries contact Adrian Bernecich: 03 9697 0683, 0416 045 701 or

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