Digital wellbeing and privacy

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • explain how online technology can affect your wellbeing
  • identify how to access support and services for your wellbeing at UQ
  • explore ways to be safe and responsible online.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the potential positive and negative effects of your digital activities
  • reflect on your use of online technology and use strategies to control it
  • understand the causes of inappropriate online behaviour and what actions you can take
  • control the information you provide online to protect your privacy.

2. Trolls and cyber abuse

Digital citizenship is about how you relate to the digital world and how it relates back to you. One of the most important aspects of digital citizenship is how we behave when online. The eProfessionalism module explains more about digital citizenship.

In your online interactions have you experienced, witnessed or even perpetrated inappropriate online behaviour? More than one in three Australians say they have experienced online harassment.


Some people use the anonymity afforded by the internet and social networks to make hurtful or threatening comments. These people are often referred to as trolls. Research suggests that greater anonymity given by the Internet leads some people to lose some of their sense of self-awareness and post things online that they might not express publicly offline. There are other reasons for trolling.


Researchers used to think that communication online and offline were distinct types of communication, and that we might behave differently online to how we behave offline. However, sociological research has suggested that our communication behaviours don't vary based on a digital or non-digital environment. Instead, we vary our behaviour based on the communication norms or rules of the situation that we are interacting in. Norms are how we describe our shared community expectations of a situation based on what is commonly done in that situation.

Can anyone can be a troll?

It is often thought that only a vocal and antisocial minority exhibit trolling behaviour but research indicates that anyone can become a troll. If an individual is feeling negative and then witnesses other troll posts, it can increase the chance that they will do a troll post of their own. Posts by trolls in an online platform or discussion can result in further toxic comments being posted in response. This can then establish a behavioural norm within the online community that trolling and aggressive posts are acceptable. Some people find sarcastic comments, insults or strong opposing views hurtful or humiliating but for others it is the 'norm'. Some trolls may deliberately ignore the norms of the platform they're on to generate controversy, while in some online communities, such as 4chan, trolling is the norm.

Cyber abuse

Often trolling is a one off or a limited occurrence – people think that because they're online, what they say can't hurt anyone, or that their interactions are in some way less real. However, when it is part of a larger or serious pattern of behaviour targeting an individual it can be cyber abuse or cyber bullying. Cyber abuse is when technology is used to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone. It can occur on social media platforms, in online discussions or via emails and messages.

What can we do if we experience trolling or cyber abuse?

Get help

Don’t hesitate to get help if you experience a troll attack or cyber abuse that makes you feel alone, helpless or humiliated:

Take action

  • Blocking or reporting the offenders is a good first step if you experience or witness harassment online, as long as you feel safe and in control. As digital citizens, it is our responsibility to report threatening content that we see online using reporting features built into platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Try not to respond. The troll might be hoping for a reaction and will go away if they don't get one.
  • Keep evidence — document what is happening, such as taking screenshots. Visit Collecting evidence of cyber abuse from the eSafety Commissioner for what to collect.
  • By demonstrating appropriate behaviour you can help shape the norms in your online communities —
    • leave positive comments
    • respond to positive posts
    • discourage trolling posts by never forwarding or responding to posts that may be offensive or upsetting.

Certain actions, such as threatening violence, are illegal and can be reported to the police. Cyberbullying within UQ is against the UQ Student Charter (PDF, 158kb) and can result in disciplinary action.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has further information about cyber bullying, including how to be a supportive bystander.

Duration:   Approximately 20 minutes

Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

Effective communication Effective communication

 Critical judgement

 Ethical and social understanding

Check your knowledge

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Support at UQ

Access UQ services to assist you with personal or study-related issues.