Social bullying is common today, but it doesn’t have to be. You can take a stand when you see it happening and help make the world a kinder place.

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Bullying is a type of aggressive behavior in which a person or group of people intentionally aims to intimidate, hurt, or abuse another person. Bullying comes in many different forms, such as physical bullying, online bullying, and social bullying.

Social bullying, as the name implies, is a “social” form of bullying that can affect a person’s reputation and relationships. People can socially bully others in person at work, school, or other places, as well as online. Social bullying can affect both children and adults.

This article discusses more about social bullying, including examples of these behaviors and how to respond to social bullying that’s happening to you or someone else.

Social bullying, also known as relational bullying or aggression, is a form of bullying used to intentionally damage someone’s social reputation or relationships with others. Social bullying can come from classmates, colleagues, and even friends and family.

Social bullying often involves indirect behaviors, and it can happen both in person and online (aka cyberbullying). But whether the bullying is online or offline, direct or indirect, these behaviors all serve to damage a person’s reputation and relationships in some way.

Examples of social bullying

Some examples of social bullying behaviors may include:

  • spreading rumors about someone
  • playing humiliating pranks or jokes on someone
  • mimicking or making fun of someone
  • telling others to ignore or exclude someone
  • calling someone names in front of others
  • actively ignoring someone while around others
  • leaving the room or area when someone comes in
  • purposely leaving someone out of group activities
  • posting pictures on social media making fun of someone
  • harassing or insulting someone on social media
  • extending these behaviors to other online platforms

Research shows a link between social bullying and an increased risk of mental health concerns — for both the person experiencing bullying and the person doing the bullying.

In one study published in 2013, researchers explored the relationship between suicidal thoughts and behaviors and verbal and social bullying in adolescents.

Results of the study found that 6.1% of students surveyed reported frequently bullying others, 9.6% reported being frequently bullied, and 3.1% said they were both a bully and a victim. In addition, 22% of bullies reported suicidal thinking or attempts, as did 29% of people who were bullied and 38% of people who said they were both.

It’s difficult to understand why some people bully and why others become the target of bullying behaviors. Research from 2023 suggests that multiple factors can play into these types of behaviors, both for the bully and the person being bullied.

For example, some factors that may increase someone’s vulnerability to bullying include:

  • having a family that is considered dysfunctional
  • having a lower socioeconomic status
  • belonging to a certain racial or ethnic group
  • belonging to a gender or sexuality minority
  • being perceived as “different” from one’s peers

While it’s impossible to say exactly why someone might bully others, several factors appear to increase the risk of becoming a bully.

For example, experiencing adverse events in childhood or having certain personality traits, like competitiveness, can increase the risk of bullying. Research has also found that other lifestyle behaviors can increase the likelihood of someone becoming a bully.

One study from 2022 on social bullying among undergraduate students explored the role of certain types of behaviors on bullying. The results of the study found an association between risk-taking behaviors and internet gaming addiction and the likelihood of becoming a bully.

Children are especially susceptible to social bullying, and we have a responsibility to speak up against it when we see it.

If you notice children or adolescents engaging in behaviors that appear to be social bullying, it’s important to intervene as quickly as possible. After you’ve stopped the behavior, you can gather more information from everyone involved and figure out how to move forward.

But even adults can experience social bullying — at work, school, and online — and it’s not always easy to figure out how to respond when it’s happening to you or another adult.

If you’re a bystander, you can attempt to calmly redirect the conversation or behavior. A radical change of subject may work better than direct confrontation. (“Do you know if this bus goes downtown?”) If this doesn’t work, you can also question the behavior as a group to let the person know it’s not acceptable.

If you feel too nervous to speak up, consider checking in with the person being bullied to ensure they’re safe.

If you’re being bullied, keep your distance from the bully and try to limit your interactions with them if you’re able to. If this isn’t possible, make sure to document and report every interaction that happens between you. And if the behavior becomes harassment, contact the authorities — especially if you feel that you’re in danger.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to handle and respond to bullying, you can find a full page of resources at

Social bullying is one of the most common types of bullying, and it can have a significant effect on someone’s mental health. It can increase the risk of distress, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

But even though social bullying behaviors are common, it isn’t always obvious when someone is the victim of a social bully.

One of the best ways that we can help prevent social bullying is to learn what it looks like and stop it when we see it. By speaking up against any form of bullying, we can reduce the risk of it happening to someone else and show people being bullied that they have the support they need.