Cyberbullying is becoming increasingly common and can have long-lasting negative side effects for everyone involved. But you’re not alone, and there are resources to support you or your child.
Thanks to technology and the internet, we’ve never been more connected to each other and things happening around the world than we are now. But the internet isn’t perfect, and for millions of people — especially young adults on social media — it has opened the door for harassment, stalking, doxing, and other types of cyberbullying.
According to a 2017 survey, 17% of young people have reported being bullied online. That figure can increase if we don’t take steps to stop it.
Here’s what you need to know about what cyberbullying is, including the harmful impact it can have on someone’s life, and how we can stop it.
Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that happens online or over digital devices. It involves the sharing or posting of private, hurtful, harmful, humiliating, or false information about a person. Although cyberbullying can happen on any digital device or anywhere online, it commonly happens in:
- text messaging apps
- online chat or messaging apps
- social media platforms
- online forums or message boards
- video gaming communities
Some types of cyberbullying are severe enough that they can be considered criminal activity — especially cyberbullying that involves stalking or discriminatory harassment against certain groups of people, such as the LGBTQA+ community.
You’re not alone
If you or someone you know is affected by cyberbullying, you’re not alone, and there are resources available to help:
- StopBullying.gov features a page dedicated to getting help for bullying and cyberbullying.
- Stomp Out Bullying has a page with helplines and resources for people affected by bullying.
- The Cybersmile Foundation features an online help center for people experiencing cyberbullying.
And if you’re having a crisis and are in immediate need of mental health support, you can visit Find a Helpline to connect with a helpline in your country. You can also text the word “HOME” to 741-741 if you live in the United States to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.
Harassment happens when a bully sends persistent mean, offensive, or threatening messages to a person online. Many of the different types of cyberbullying fall under the category of harassment.
Flaming is the act of sending angry, inflammatory messages to someone via text or online, often with the intention of getting the person riled up enough to engage back. Trolling is like flaming but is not directed at a single person — instead, it’s aimed at causing conflict in online social spaces.
Cyberstalking is a more severe type of cyberbullying that involves online (and sometimes physical) stalking behaviors, such as watching, following, or monitoring. However, whether purely online or also physical, both types of stalking are illegal and punishable by law.
Exclusion happens when a person experiencing bullying is intentionally left out of online activities, such as social media groups, group messages, projects at work, or other group situations. Exclusion can also start offline and leak into spaces where the person hangs out online.
Outing — sometimes called doxing or doxxing — is another serious type of cyberbullying done with the intent of sharing personal information about a person online. Doxing can place people in danger when sensitive information, like an address, is shared without consent.
Impersonation happens when someone poses as another person online, with the intention of posting things that will result in a hostile response towards that person. Fraping is a similar type of impersonation in which a bully specifically uses a person’s social media account to post or share harmful or inappropriate content.
Masquerading is a type of cyberbullying in which a bully creates a fake social profile or account to anonymously harass a person online. Catfishing is a type of masquerading that involves specifically luring someone into a relationship using a fake persona online.
Tricking is a similar type of cyberbullying that starts when a bully purposefully gains the trust of a person. After gaining their trust, the person doing the bullying then turns around and shares personal or sensitive information that a person shared with them in private.
Denigration, more commonly referred to as dissing, happens when a bully seeks to damage someone’s reputation online. Dissing often involves things like posting, sharing, or spreading false, harmful rumors about a person online.
Which social media site has the most reports of cyberbullying?
According to statistics from The Annual Bullying Survey 2017 — which surveyed over 10,000 young people living in the United Kingdom — cyberbullying was most prevalent on the following social media platforms:
- Instagram: 42%
- Facebook: 37%
- Snapchat: 31%
- WhatsApp: 12%
- YouTube: 10%
- Twitter: 9%
- Tumblr: 3%
While the larger social media platforms account for most of the cyberbullying, it’s still important to remember that it can happen in any online space.
While these were the most recent comparative statistics available, some more recent research suggests that online harassment is becoming more common. In 2021 the Pew Research center reported that 41% of U.S. adults experienced online harassment — with 75% of this group saying the harassment happened on social media.
Cyberbullying can cause warning signs, such as behavioral changes and emotional symptoms, for people experiencing cyberbullying and people who do the bullying alike.
Warning signs in people experiencing cyberbullying
If your child is being cyberbullied, you might notice changes, such as:
- experiencing nervousness or anxiety when using their devices
- becoming hesitant to use their devices at all
- having negative emotions after spending time online
- not wanting to discuss their online activities
- becoming withdrawn from family and friends
- no longer wanting to go to school — or even outside — anymore
- frequently leaving class early or calling out of school
- experiencing changes in eating or sleeping habits
- showing signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation
Warning signs in people who do cyberbullying
If your child is cyberbullying others, you may notice changes in their behavior, such as:
- becoming more secretive about their activities online
- attempting to hide their online activity on their phone or computer
- using their device more frequently and becoming upset when they can’t
- laughing at things online but doesn’t want to discuss what they are
- seeming to have multiple social media profiles or accounts
- exhibiting behavioral changes at home or school
- showing personality changes, especially aggressive ones
- becoming more concerned with social status
What age group has the highest rate of cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can happen to anyone, at any age, but research suggests that younger people are more likely to experience the effects of cyberbullying.
One paper published in 2020 reviewed the available literature on the growing issue of cyberbullying. According to the research, cyberbullying appears to start sometime around 10 or 11 years old, when children start to use the internet. However, cyberbullying seems to peak when children are around 13 to 14 years of age.
Children that fall into commonly stigmatized groups may also be at higher risk, such as:
Different surveys and studies have explored the negative effects of cyberbullying, both for the people who experience and who do cyberbullying. Here’s some of what they’ve found:
- In The Annual Bullying Survey 2017, people who experience cyberbullying reported having an increase in social anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Many people also reported stopping or deleting social media altogether, skipping school, and dealing with issues such as disordered eating or substance use.
2018 reviewexplored the relationship between cyberbullying, self-harm behaviors, and suicidal ideation in young people. According to the results of the review, roughly 20 studies found an association between being the victim of cyberbullying and self-harm or suicidal behaviors.
- In addition, an association was also found between those perpetrating the cyberbullying and suicidal behaviors. And this association is profound, considering that almost 70% of young adults in the 2017 survey reported having engaged in abusive behavior online, such as sending mean messages or creating fake profiles.
Cyberbullying affects millions of people online, especially young people who engage with social media platforms. Here are some of the facts and statistics on the impact of modern-day cyberbullying:
- Of all students reporting bullying during the school year, almost 16% report this bullying taking place online or by text.
- About 17% of young people — including 15% of tweens (younger adolescents) — have reported experiencing cyberbullying.
- Around 29% of young people who experience cyberbullying report experiencing cyberbullying at least once a month, with 16% experiencing it at least once a week.
- Roughly 69% of young adults have admitted to having engaged in abusive behavior online toward another person.
Is cyberbullying a crime?
Although cyberbullying has become more prevalent online in the past few decades, currently federal law in the United States doesn’t directly prohibit cyberbullying.
However, federal civil rights laws prohibit what’s known as discriminatory harassment, which includes harassment that’s targeted toward someone based on their race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.
When cyberbullying involves illegal behaviors, such as discriminatory harassment or cyberstalking, it’s against the law.
We all have a responsibility to prevent and stop cyberbullying — and here are some of the ways we can do that.
If someone is cyberbullying you or someone you know, try not to respond to them or give them any attention. Instead, delete them, block them, and report the abuse. If this doesn’t help, the next step is to let a parent, teacher, or trusted adult know.
Even if you’re not being cyberbullied, some steps you can take to protect yourself include:
- being mindful of how you treat others
- thinking before you post something online
- protecting your profile and password from strangers
- letting your parents or guardians help you stay safe online
Parents and guardians
If you believe your child is being cyberbullied, don’t ignore it or overreact — instead, gently open the door for conversation so that you can figure out exactly what’s going on. Inform your child of the best way to respond to cyberbullying and help them create a safe space for themself online.
You may be able to find online activities or communities that you could participate in together, so you can model what healthy online use looks like for them. And when necessary, consider supervising their online activities to help them stay safe.
Sometimes cyberbullies don’t respond to being ignored and will continue their behavior. If the behavior continues to escalate or become threatening in any way, don’t hesitate to get the authorities involved.
- Ensure that your classroom is a safe, positive space for all students.
- Encourage students to be respectful and responsible both online and offline.
- Teach students how to prevent cyberbullying, including how to report it.
- If a student is being cyberbullied, make sure that parents and administrators are aware and involved.
Getting help when you or your child is cyberbullied
If you, your child, or someone you love is experiencing cyberbullying, here are some of the steps you can take to get help:
- Keep a record of all bullying activities: Documenting any instances of cyberbullying can help provide information (and proof) for when you report the behavior. When you can, take screenshots of the abusive exchanges and make sure to back up the files.
- Report the behavior to the appropriate place: If the behavior is happening in school, report it to the principal or superintendent. If the behavior is happening outside of school or is moving offline, it should be reported to the authorities.
- Contact the authorities for urgent situations: For situations in which you or your child may be at risk of immediate harm due to cyberbullying, you should contact the authorities or call 911 in the United States.
- Seek help from a counselor or therapist: Many people who experience cyberbullying exhibit changes in their mental health following bullying, so reaching out to a mental health professional for support can help.
Cyberbullying is a serious form of harassment that can have a long-term negative impact on the lives of both the people who experience and who perpetrate cyberbullying.
But, by educating our children — and ourselves — on what cyberbullying is and what it looks like, we can become more aware of how to prevent and stop it.
To learn more about how to put an end to cyberbullying, you can visit the Department of Health and Human Services’ website stopbullying.gov for more resources.