Understand Cyberbullying

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs through electronic technology. It can take place through text messages, emails, or posts of messages, photos, or videos on social media sites. Some examples include: posting mean comments or embarrassing photos, making threats, or excluding someone from online groups or other communications. A recent survey showed that 16% of youth in the United States had been cyberbullied in the past 12 months.*

How can you tell if someone is being cyberbullied?

Many parents are concerned about their children’s behavior online, but not every negative online experience is cyberbullying. Young people can be unkind to each other during adolescence as they practice their social skills. Most experts agree that to be considered cyberbullying, online interactions must include the same characteristics that define face-to-face bullying: intention to harm, repeated aggression, and a real or perceived imbalance of power.

Determining whether an incident meets these criteria can be difficult, since online interactions lack the context and social cues that help people to read each other’s intentions in person.

What are the consequences of cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is associated with many of the same negative effects as school bullying, including poor self-esteem, substance use, lowered school attendance and grades, and mental health problems. Yet unlike face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can be perpetrated anonymously — and can occur wherever and whenever young people have access to the internet. Hurtful messages and images can be spread to hundreds of people within seconds, and are nearly impossible to erase permanently.

Who is likely to be involved in cyberbullying?

Any child or teen can be a victim of cyberbullying, but girls, youth with disabilities, and those perceived as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are particularly vulnerable.

Many youth who experience cyberbullying are also bullied at school or in other face-to-face settings. These youth are not able to escape the bullying either at school or home, exacerbating their feelings of sadness, anxiety, and lack of safety.

What roles do youth play in cyberbullying?

Situations involving cyberbullying are often more complex than they seem. In both face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying, there are three recognized roles: victim, bully, and bystander. However, a young person who is victimized at school might fight back by saying harmful things online, sometimes through an anonymous or false persona. In addition, a large number of young people may involuntarily become bystanders to cyberbullying through their online social networks, even if they have little knowledge of the situation or those involved.

What about sexting? How does it relate to cyberbullying?

Sexting is the digital circulation of nude, semi-nude, or sexually explicit or suggestive images (photos or videos). Some people also include sexually suggestive or explicit text messages in their definition of sexting.

Sexting can contribute to cyberbullying if the content is circulated widely or without the teen’s permission. In some situations, sharing of such images could have legal implications related to child pornography if the subject of the image is under 18.

*To find sources for the content on this page, please refer to the Bullying Facts resource.