European cybersecurity month: Time to put an end to digital bullying in our schools


As our lives become more digital, online safety is a critical concern. Every October is European Cybersecurity Month, and this year’s event focuses on cyber hygiene and new technologies. Cybersecurity is also a vital topic for education. ETUCE advocates for all students to receive a comprehensive cybersecurity education as early as possible.

Cyberbullying is devastating form of harassment, so schools must ensure that students and teachers alike get protection and support. Education personnel must also be trained on the risks new technologies pose – not only for students, but for their own safety and wellbeing.

Our lives are increasingly digital, and ever more private information is being shared online – for recreational, professional and administrative purposes. This leaves us all exposed to new risks, and so cybersecurity is emerging as a crucial topic for society. The European Cybersecurity Month (ECSM), hosted in October by the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), is one initiative seeking to educate citizens about the issue.

This year’s edition has two underlying themes:

  • Cyber-hygiene, discussed during the first and second weeks of October, encourages the public to establish the daily routines, checks and general behaviour required to stay safe online.
  • Emerging Technology, discussed during the third and fourth weeks of October, aims to educate citizens on how to stay safe when using the latest digital technologies.

While ETUCE welcomes the exploration of these two aspects of cybersecurity, we are concerned about the slogan of this years’ campaign: “Cyber security is a shared responsibility!” This sends a muddled message, and risks putting inappropriate blame on the victims of online crime and harassment, known as cyberbullying. When it comes to the education sector, cyberbullying must first and foremost be addressed by the education institutions in which it takes place, by putting in place strong protection measures and appropriate support for victims – be it students or staff.

Indeed, education institutions are particularly susceptible to cyberbullying. The use of digital tools in the social sphere can cause pressure on mental health, and this is partly due to the risks of cyberbullying. This concerns both students and education personnel, who are becoming victims of cyberbullying at an alarming rate. A European Parliament report revealed that the percentage of children aged 11-16 affected by cyberbullying rose from 7% in 2010 to 12% in 2014. Similarly, a 2011 study questioned 2379 teachers from 24 countries and found that 20% of teachers have personally experienced or know a colleague who has experienced cyberbaiting, a recent form of bullying where students taunt their teachers and subsequently record their reaction and post or threaten to post it online.

Despite these statistics teachers are not receiving enough training or support from their institutions to deal with cyberbullying. Only 51% claim their school has put measures in place to regulate how teachers and students interact with each other through social media. 80% of teachers call for more online safety education in schools, alongside 70% of parents. Teachers need to be taught, trained and supported in tackling cyberbullying as it poses as a psychosocial hazard which can have a negative impact on their mental wellbeing. Schools should introduce policies to reduce the risks and to deal with cyberbullying when it does occur.

ETUCE previously carried out a project on cyber-harassment experienced by teachers within schools. The aim was to raise awareness of cyber-harassment at schools and how it affects the working conditions and health of teachers, to identify and exchange good practices for anti-cyberbullying measures in schools, and to identify and promote the involvement of trade unions in this issue. We insist that cyberbullying towards teachers and other educational workers needs to be addressed by educational institutions with training and support to prevent further stress.

Susan Flocken, Director of ETUCE, commented: “On cybersecurity month, it is important for us to reflect on the harrowing cases of online and digital harassment faced by education staff. This is a serious from of abuse, and it has long-lasting effects on teachers’ wellbeing, in and outside of the workplace, and damages their ability to do their jobs calmly and effectively. The digital era is full of new possibilities but it can also create new threats for staff in the education sector. ETUCE is working hard to raise awareness of this issue and advocate for adequate training and support measures to prevent this potentially devastating form of harassment.”