Swiss law: What you need to know about cyberbullying

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Swiss law: What you need to know about cyberbullying
Cyberbullying general involves children and teenagers. File photo: AFP

Cyberbullying is a growing problem in Switzerland. Here Geneva-based lawyer Renuka Cavadini looks at how to deal with this issue and what you can do to help prevent it happening.


All children experience mean behaviour from other kids at one point or another – in the classroom or in the playground. But bullying on social media is another story. You can’t get a break from the mean remarks, because they continue – even at home – on your smartphone. 

What does cyberbullying entail?

Cyberbullying (known as ‘cybermobbing in German and French) is the act of several people acting together to deliberately insult, tease, humiliate, harass or even blackmail one or more victims.

Although it generally involves children and teenagers, it can affect anyone.

Read also: Cybercrime in Switzerland – an ultimate survivors guide

This form of bullying takes place through digital applications or social media and can involve spreading false information, rumours and falsified images or even pornographic pictures. In some cases, fake and demeaning personal profiles of victims are set up.

To make matters worse, this information can be permanently stored online, affecting children later in life when they apply for educational courses or jobs.


Criminal offence(s) under Swiss law

There is no specific provision under Swiss penal law for cyberbullying. However, it can fall under the scope of various provisions of the Swiss penal code including: Article 143 (undue access to a data processing system); Article 144 (damage to data); Article 156 (extortion), Articles 173-174 (offence against personal honour and defamation); Article 179 (breach of secrecy or privacy through the use of an image-carrying device); Article 179 (obtaining personal data without authorization), and Articles 180-181 (threatening behaviour and coercion.

While insults and defamation are only prosecuted in case of a criminal complaint, offences such as threats, extortion and blackmail are prosecuted even in the absence of any complaint – once the authorities become aware of them.

How to handle the situation

Make your children aware of the risks related to images posted on social media and applications. There is a guide for children 12 and over (in French and German) called "My little safebook".

Be available for your children to speak about their situation at school. Be aware of changes in behaviour which may be related to bullying in school.

If your child is already being bullied – collect the evidence with print screens, and speak with your child’s teacher or with the school’s social services team.

If the bullying does not immediately stop after contact has been made with the bullies and their parents and guardians, seek help from victim support services or from youth welfare services to determine what action you should take next. This may include filing a criminal complaint.

In addition, contact internet service providers and site administrators to request that offensive content be deleted.


Tips for avoiding cyberbullying

Zurich Police recommend the following ways to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying.

1. Protect your social media and email accounts with secure passwords and don’t share these passwords with anyone.
2. Don’t share sensitive private data and images online.
3. Only accept real friends as friends online.
4. Set your privacy settings at a high level on social media and check these settings regularly to ensure you are only sharing information with people you actually want to share with.
5. Only post images and videos that won’t cause you problems in future. Bear in mind that these images and videos could be seen by teachers and potential employers years from now.
6. Never engage in sexting. Images shared could be used for extortion or be made public.

This article was co-written by Renuka Cavadini, an attorney with Page & Partners in Geneva. 


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