Duty of care beyond the classroom: cyberbullying

As schools prepare for some well-deserved summer holidays, you perhaps should consider how your duty of care extends beyond the classroom and into digital spaces.

Student wellbeing has been a major focus in 2021, for obvious, ‘unprecedented’ reasons, and cyberbullying is a major consideration for students with ever increasing digital literacy skills.

The duty of care of schools extends to foreseeable harm that could occur in all environments – physical and digital – that are made available to students by the school. For information about how to help children struggling with mental health, see our recent article Duty of care and mental health for students.

According to the Australian eSafety Commissioner, 1 in 5 young Australians (aged 8 to 17 years) reported being socially excluded, threatened or abused online.


Cyberbullying is an increased risk over holidays, where schools have less visibility of student interactions, and students engage digitally in the absence of school hours to connect with each other. Many students are already struggling with the resumption of socialising and mental health issues, compounding the risk of students being exposed to – and being traumatised by – bullying.

Bullying normally requires a repeated behaviour, however, due to the propensity of cyberbullying to be shared and republished, a single instance of cyberbullying is often considered to be bullying itself. Cyberbullying can take many forms, including:

  • posting mean comments or messages;
  • excluding or ignoring someone;
  • tricking or humiliating them through fake accounts; or
  • sharing a photo or video that will make them feel bad.

Threatening to share an intimate image without the consent of the person in it, such as a naked selfie, is called image-based abuse.

The eSafety Commissioner has many, age-appropriate resources to educate young people about cyberbullying here. In addition, anyone can make a complaint to the eSafety Commissioner requesting the removal of cyberbullying material. This is a new function of the eSafety Commissioner introduced by the Online Safety Act 2021 (Cth).

Why is the school involved?

If cyberbullying occurred on platforms made available to students by the school, the school could be considered to be responsible for not removing the bullying statements of content. As we explained in our article, Taking responsibility for your social media accounts, defamation laws have been extended by the High Court of Australia for organisations where they can be held responsible for third party comments on a website they control, for “facilitating and encouraging” the comments.

Through 2020 and 2021 you may have introduced various online platforms or programs to help your students connect with each other through lockdowns. We know peer support is critical to the social development of young people and have been amazed by the passion and creative ideas of schools to keep children connected through the pandemic. Nevertheless, schools do continue to have obligations to protect students from reasonable foreseeable harm – in the digital world – and may want to consider what controls or protections can be implemented to ensure cyberbullying does not go undetected.

The value of friendships

The new Victorian child safe standards, which come effect on 1 July 2022, have introduced a requirement that child safe organisations promote and value friendships and peer support in creating and maintaining child safe environments. The Commission for Children and Young People wants child safe organisations to recognise the important of friendships and encourage support from peers to help children and young people feel safe and connected.

How we can help

Moores’ education and child safety teams can help you update or develop Acceptable Use Policies, or Student Codes of Conduct. We can also offer tailored training in this space of digital safety, including up-to-date training information on digital trends, popular apps and emerging cyber security risks for young people.