AI-driven bullying poses new threat to young people

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

The revelation by Queensland’s Education Minister that at least one student each week reports being told to “kill themselves” by an online school bully shows an urgent need for action – and with AI-generated bullying also being reported, experts say better education about harm-prevention strategies must be put in place.

Di Farmer used the state’s return to classrooms for the new school year to highlight what she describes as a three-pronged strategy to tackle cyberbullying. She says parents can start by setting a positive example in the home.

The recent death of a Queensland teenager who died by suicide after relentless online bullying has, Ms Farmer says, “broken everyone’s hearts”.

On 13 September 2023 – a week before the awareness-raising RUOK Day – 13-year-old Far North Queensland student Corrine Lee-Cheu took her own life. It was an action her mother Jodie Fitzgerald says was the result of relentless bullying.

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The teenager was picked on at school and also cyberbullied at home over Snapchat and SendIt with taunts that she was “ugly” and “rat-faced”, with “rabbit teeth”. Her family discovered the extent of the bullying their daughter endured after her death.

School mobile phone bans designed to help reduce bullying harm

Ms Farmer says the mobile phone ban across state schools, which came into effect for Queensland students on Monday, would help to reduce cyberbullying.

Students’ phones must be turned off and stored securely by their school, with many Australian schools in other states where mobile phone bans have already been in place utilising pouch-like storage systems or purpose-designed mobile phone lockers. The mobile phone bans mean that smartwatches must have notifications switched off.

“Bullying and cyber-bullying are terrible, insidious issues. The mobile phone ban will assist … during the school day no child is going to see a bad social media message because they are not going to be able to look at their phones,” Ms Farmer says. “We also engage with the eSafety Commissioner so that if we see damaging material on social media, we ask the companies to remove it.”

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Improved mental health support is critical

Ms Farmer says the devastating impact bullying can have is “another reason why our Health and Well-being Program in schools is so important because mental health is a big concern for teachers and families”.

“We need to make sure we have that professional support at school and those professionals are being used.”

The state government’s $106.7m Student Well-being Package continues to be rolled out and includes improving access to mental health and well-being support for every Queensland state school student by providing access to more counsellors. A pilot program placing GPs in 50 state schools with secondary students one day per week is also part of the strategy.

High-profile anti-bullying campaigner Kate Everett lost her 14-year-old daughter in January 2018 as the result of bullying and says every parent in the country should be “terrified” that bullies are now armed with a new and powerful weapon – artificial intelligence (AI).

eSafety Commissioner says reports of AI-generated bullying are increasing

In August, the eSafety Commissioner confirmed that it had received the first reports of students using AI-generated sexually explicit material to bully other students.

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Mrs Everett says it poses a new level of danger if used incorrectly.

“It terrifies me. And it terrifies me that parents don’t fully know about this.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, the following services are available.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]