Image of Online Bullying: Is Banter an Online Safety Risk?

Online Bullying: Is Banter an Online Safety Risk?

Online bullying can take on many forms. Without the advantage of face-to-face contact, it can be hard to tell the difference between jokey ‘banter’ and something more serious.

According to the Institute of Leadership and Management, Banter is something that 98% of adults encounter and accept in the workplace. But for children who experience it online, the sort of comments we adults might class as banter can be, understandably, a bit worrying.

If a child in your care has encountered online banter, this article can help you decipher if this is online bullying and how serious the matter is. Read on to learn more!

What is Online Banter?

Banter is a term which describes the jovial teasing or talk amongst friends. It is often used to help establish a sense of belonging, understood only by the group or between a select few. In this way, it can be enjoyed and provide a source of good-natured fun or entertainment.

However, when banter comes into contact with the outside world, including online, some may find it hurtful. Without the benefit of facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and context, things can easily be misinterpreted and online banter suddenly becomes an online bullying risk.

Crucially, the risk is that bullying behaviour can be excused as ‘banter’ and statements often said in jest can sound hostile, derogatory, or even racist.

To find out more about what might be classed as online banter, you can watch our explainer video here.

What are the risks associated with online banter?

Banter can be a form of bullying.

There is a fine line between banter being good natured and viewed as playful joking, to turning into a form of bullying practice. Something somebody may perceive as banter may be classed as bullying, especially when it is targeting one person or a group is carrying it out.

It can be used as an excuse for unacceptable speech or behaviour.

The word ‘banter’ also conjures up the most common excuse heard when someone is accused of bullying. “It was only banter”, they might say.

Bullies can use this as an excuse to target victims, particularly online where their actual face, body language or tone of voice can’t be seen or measured.

For some, it is cruel and humiliating.

Online banter can turn cruel and humiliating. It is only banter when everyone is enjoying it. If the comments picks at things which are close to the victim or they feel sensitive about, it could make them feel inferior, impact on their self-confidence and lower their self-esteem.

How can trusted adults address these online banter risks?

There are a few ways in which adults can open up conversations with children on the subject of banter. For inspiration, take a look at our talking points below. You can also find a more general list of conversation starters related to mental health online here.

Explain banter and bullying

Try to explain to children the continuum from banter to bullying. Discuss what they perceive to be banter and how that could be misinterpreted or go too far, especially when they are at risk of online bullying. Try to get them involved in creative exercises to help illustrate the different definitions.

Use specific scenarios

Create a safe space where children can talk to you and you can both discuss any issues resulting from online banter or bullying. Use scenarios to help explain points and to engage children in thinking about their actions or behaviour or indeed how they might respond if they were on the receiving end.

Question intent

Ask questions of children you know to be involved in online banter to find out how intentional the hurt caused by banter actually is. For example ‘How would you feel if someone said this to you?’ or ‘Do you understand why saying this would be so offensive, hurtful, or unacceptable?’ Try to get children to think about their actions and how it might impact on others.

Other ways to offer support

Be reassuring, and stay calm

Always thank the young person for coming to tell you about any issues with online bullying or banter they’re having. It is a huge step for them to build up the courage to do so. Offer immediate support for how they are feeling. This may mean helping them feel pride in their identity and to have a sense of their rights.

Check for other issues

Check with the child to see if there is anything else happening online that might be related.

For instance, are there any threats to harm or is hate speech? If so, this may require Police involvement - try to gather evidence on devices and identify the offender if they aren’t already known.

If the comments in question come from an unknown or anonymous source online, our guide to trolling and online abuse may be a helpful resource. You can download it for free here.

Report it to school

If you are a parent, you should always report any issues to the school. If you are a member of school staff, report it to your safeguarding officer - particularly if there is any safeguarding risk. If the child is a recipient of online bullying from another child at school which has become hurtful and offensive, it’s important they also receive the appropriate level of support.

Seek further support

If you think that online banter has gone too far and has developed into a form of online bullying, this could have a serious impact on the child’s wellbeing. In this case, it might be worth seeking further support from dedicated organisations who will be able to offer specialist advice and guidance. Some good examples of these organisations are BullyingUK and the Anti Bullying Alliance. At National Online Safety, we also have a range of webinars that offer guidance.