Highlight collective responsibility and teach social communication skills to reduce cyberbullying

Online bullying can hugely damage lives, but public discourse around cyberbullying is too often muddled and focused on the dramatic.
- Professor Ellen Helsper

Educate young people about collective responsibility and teach social communicative skills to reduce the impact of online bullying. These are just two of the recommendations made in a new report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The report evaluates the Cyberscene project. A collaboration between theatrical charity Masterclass and anti-bullying charity Kidscape, Cyberscene worked with London teenagers aged 16-19 to produce an original theatre play about cyberbullying. Professor Ellen Helsper from LSE’s Department of Media and Communication was engaged to evaluate the project and its impact.   

The report finds that young people have a skewed idea of what cyberbullying is, often focussing on extreme cases and thus missing the impact of less clear-cut behaviour. To rectify this, Professor Helsper advises that educational material and media coverage should focus less on “evil perpetrators and passive victims”, and more on incidents of everyday bullying, for example persistent micro- aggressions such as ‘harmless jokes’ about someone’s weight or looks. 

There is also still too often a tendency to blame the victim, the research found. “This was persistent and, even towards the end, present not only amongst observers of cyberbullying but also among some of those who had experienced sometimes quite severe forms of it themselves” the report states  To combat this, Professor Helsper recommends that workshops and educational material focus on ideas of collective prevention, as well as teaching social communicative skills. 

The report also calls for more emphasis on early intervention, highlighting that online bullying is something that can escalate over time and that teachers, parents and young people “all need to recognise the long trajectories that lead to escalation so that cyberbullying is recognised early on and discussed openly.”

One response to cyber bullying that is not recommended, however, is for those experiencing difficulties to simply disconnect. Information and Communication Technologies are not just here to stay, but they offer unprecedented opportunities to learn and connect with others the report argues. Disengaging from this completely would have negative consequences, leaving young people isolated and with less future prospects.

Ellen Helsper, Professor of Digital Inequalities at LSE, said: “Online bullying can hugely damage lives, but public discourse around cyberbullying is too often muddled and focused on the dramatic rather than the lower-level interactions that are more likely to be experienced. If we are to help young people deal with cyberbullying, focus must be placed on prevention and early intervention.” 

“We are still too likely to blame the victim. Instead of looking at what victims can do to reduce the bullying they are experiencing, we should shift the narrative towards teaching collective responsibility and social communicative skills. We must make it clear that what we say or do not say can hurt others, and that not doing anything is just as bad as actively engaging in bullying.”

The report is based on findings from observations, interviews and surveys at different stages of the project in order to understand young people’s perceptions and awareness of cyberbullying. This included 12 workshops, the process of script writing and staging the final play, Cookies, which has been released on film. Educational material for schools are available as a free resource. 

Find out more about the Masterclass: The Cyberscene Project and download Overcoming victim blaming and bystander effects through social theatre by Professor Ellen Helsper.

Behind the article

For more information, contact Professor Ellen Helsper at or @ellenhel on Twitter.