Banter vs. Bullying: How people can be toxic online

It can be easier than you might think to cross the line from banter into bullying

Written by spunout


Online communication is different to in-person communication. When dealing with someone face to face, body language and tone play a huge role. This is lost online.

For this reason, miscommunication online can happen quite easily. When we’re communicating online, we don’t get to see people’s immediate reactions, like their facial expression or body language. For example, someone might think they are joking around with someone else online and the other person is enjoying it too, when in fact the other person might be getting upset.

Banter vs. bullying

It’s a good idea to think about the way you communicate online and how it might make other people feel. Take a couple of seconds to read back to yourself what you’ve written and how it might come across before you hit send. It can be very useful in avoiding crossed wires. Using emojis can help to show what you mean if you think they might pick up on your message wrong, such as including a laughing or smiley face.

What is banter?

Banter is when people tease or ‘slag’ each other in a friendly way. People don’t mean offence by it. Both people in the exchange should feel equal, and neither should be hurt or upset by the exchange.

What is bullying?

When ‘slagging’ or banter goes too far it could be bullying. Bullying is:

  • Intentional
  • Targeted
  • Negative
  • Sometimes repeated, but other times can be once-off (for example, sharing a video or picture of someone)

If the same person is constantly getting slagged, getting upset by the slagging, or a number of people target the same person regularly, this is bullying.

What to do if you think banter has become bullying

Something might start out as banter between you and your friends. That doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. If you feel that the type of banter has changed and that someone is being specifically targeted this might be bullying.

If you are the person who’s being targeted, try and let the person involved know. They might not have realised that the banter has gone too far. If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, let them know how it makes you feel and why it’s not okay.

It can be difficult to approach people in a situation like this. If you need support and there is someone there who can help, reach out to a close friend first. They might help you approach the others.

Read more about what to do if you’re being bullied online.

If you think that a friend is being targeted or things have gone too far, don’t join in with the banter. Check with the person to see if they’re upset. They might not even realise how much it bothered them until you mention it to them. Even if they say it’s fine, they will appreciate having someone looking out for them.

What if you are engaged in bullying behaviour?

If you often lead the banter, take a minute to make sure you aren’t unintentionally bullying someone. Pay attention to if they ‘slag’ you back, and if everyone gets ‘slagged’ equally.

If you are worried you might have stepped over the line and/or accidentally be bullying someone, check in with them. Ask them if they are comfortable with the teasing. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how your words might have impacted them.

What to do if you see bullying online

If you see someone getting picked on online there are some things you can do.

Reach out to them

If you know the person you could send them a private message to make sure they are okay. It might turn out to be nothing but it might also really help them to know that they have support.

Stand up for them

You could respond to the bully and stand up for who is being picked on. This can be particularly important if you know the person doing the bullying. If someone is bullying, and no one says or does anything, everyone will feel that this sort of behaviour is acceptable.

Report the person bullying them

Whether you know the people involved or not, you should always report the comment or the bully to the social media site. Any offensive content online should be reported; it’s painless and it only takes a second. The person doing the bullying will not know it was you who reported it.

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

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