Cyberbullying: What Is Cyberbullying and How to Stop It

CyberbullyingCyberbullying affects countless teens and adolescents. A 2015 random sample study of 11-15 year olds in the Midwest found that over 34% reported being the victim of cyberbullying in their lifetime. Other studies have found that 1 in 4 teens have been cyberbullied. Victims of cyberbullying are much more likely to use alcohol and drugs, avoid school and have poor grades, experience depression and low self-esteem, and may even contemplate suicide.


What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a broad term and is any form of abuse repeatedly directed at a child through technology by another child. This could be online through social media, like Facebook, or via text messages on their mobile phones. Some of the forms that cyberbullying can take include:

  • Sharing and posting videos or photos on social media of a person that are cruel in intention or violent.
  • Sharing and posting videos or photos on social media or via text that are sexual in nature or display violent sexual behavior.
  • Making threats of physical harm towards a person or telling someone to kill themselves via email, text, or social media.
  • Attacking a person online or via text based on their physical appearance, religion, sexuality, or mental ability.
  • Impersonating another person online in order to trick someone into revealing personal details, and then sharing it with others.
  • Hacking into another person's social media accounts or email in order to send untrue and cruel messages to others.

With 92% of teens reporting going online at least once daily and 24% stating that they are "online constantly," the amount of potential exposure to cyberbullying is high. Unlike bullying, cyberbullying can be unrelenting and seem inescapable since it is online and on phones. It can happen at anytime of day, follows pre-teens and teens home after school, and is often completely anonymous.

Cyberbullies can create fake social media profiles and download apps that provide temporary disposable numbers that allow them to send threatening text messages without the victim knowing the identity of their attacker.

In addition to the anonymity, messages, images, and videos can also be spread very quickly via social media and group text messages. Once the information has been shared it's impossible to delete all of the occurrences of it since it can be downloaded by individuals and repeatedly uploaded.

Facts About Cyberbullying

  • Girls (40.6%) are much more likely to be victims of cyberbullying than boys (28.8%). Girls also dominate social media, while boys tend to play videogames.
  • Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat are the top three most popular social media platforms for teens. Facebook has created a "Bully Prevention Hub" to help teens, parents and educators stop cyberbullying on the site.
  • Bullying and cyberbullying are closely related. Children who are victims of traditional bullying in school also experience cyberbullying at home. Children who bully traditionally will also bully other children on social media and with text messages.
  • In a random sample study over 14% admitted to cyberbullying another person, with spreading rumors online, via text, or email being the most common form of bullying.
  • A study by McAfee, found that 87% of teens have observed cyberbullying.
  • Over 70% of teens have a smartphone, and 15% have at least a basic cellphone, making texting one of the most common means of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying Laws

Each state has different laws and policies regarding bullying, however, there is no federal anti-bullying law at the moment. Of the 50 states that have anti-bullying laws, 23 states include the term "cyberbullying" and 48 states include a definition of electronic harassment in their anti-bullying laws.

The only state that does not require schools to have an anti-bullying policy is Montana. Of the 49 states that have mandatory school anti-bullying policies, 14 states have mandatory off-campus anti-bullying policies as well.

Please see the table below for a full breakdown on cyberbullying laws in each of the 50 states.

State Bullying Law Includes "Cyberbullying" Criminal Sanction School Sanction School Policy Off-Campus Policy
Alabama Yes No No No Yes No
Alaska Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Arizona Yes No No Yes Yes No
Arkansas Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
California Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Colorado Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Connecticut Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Delaware Yes No No Yes Yes No
Florida Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Proposed No Yes Yes Proposed
Hawaii Yes Yes Proposed Yes Yes No
Idaho Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Illinois Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Indiana Yes No No Yes Yes No
Iowa Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Kansas Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Kentucky Yes Proposed Yes Yes Yes No
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maine Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Maryland Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Massachusetts Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Michigan Yes Yes Proposed Yes Yes No
Minnesota Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Mississippi Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Missouri Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Montana Yes No Yes No No No
Nebraska Yes Proposed No Yes Yes Proposed
Nevada Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
New Hampshire Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
New Jersey Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
New York Yes Yes Proposed Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
North Dakota Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Ohio Yes No No Yes Yes No
Oklahoma Yes No No Yes Yes No
Oregon Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Pennsylvania Yes No No Yes Yes No
Rhode Island Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
South Carolina Yes No No Yes Yes No
South Dakota Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
Tennessee Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Texas Yes No No Yes Yes No
Utah Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Vermont Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
Virginia Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Washington Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Washington, D.C. Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
West Virginia Yes No No Yes Yes No
Wisconsin Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Wyoming Yes No No Yes Yes No

For more information on the laws and policies in your state, the Cyberbullying Research Center provides an up-to-date PDF with descriptions of all current laws throughout the United States.

Sexting Laws

As of July 2015, only 20 states had sexting laws in place. All 20 states that have in place sexting laws address cases in which the individual sending the inappropriate content is under 18. Only 18 of the 20 states address cases in which the recipient of the messages, images, or video is under 18.

There are currently 26 states that have laws in place to protect victims of revenge porn. The table below shows which states have a sexting law in place. 

State Sexting Law Under 18 Sending Policy Under 18 Receiving Policy Revenge Porn Law
Alabama No No No No
Alaska No No No Yes
Arizona Yes Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas Yes Yes Yes Yes
California No No No Yes
Colorado No No No Yes
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes No
Delaware No No No Yes
Florida Yes Yes Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes Yes
Idaho No No No Yes
Illinois Yes Yes No Yes
Indiana No No No No
Iowa No No No No
Kansas No No No No
Kentucky No No No No
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maine No No No No
Maryland No No No Yes
Massachusetts No No No No
Michigan No No No No
Minnesota No No No No
Mississippi No No No No
Missouri No No No No
Montana No No No No
Nebraska Yes Yes Yes No
Nevada Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Hampshire No No No No
New Jersey Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico No No No Yes
New York Yes Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina No No No No
North Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ohio No No No No
Oklahoma No No No No
Oregon No No No Yes
Pennsylvania Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rhode Island Yes Yes No No
South Carolina No No No No
South Dakota Yes Yes Yes No
Tennessee No No No No
Texas Yes Yes Yes Yes
Utah Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vermont Yes Yes Yes Yes
Virginia No No No Yes
Washington No No No Yes
Washington, D.C. No No No No
West Virginia Yes Yes Yes No
Wisconsin No No No Yes
Wyoming No No No No

The Cyberbullying Research Center provides an up-to-date PDF of current sexting and revenge porn laws throughout the U.S. 

For more information on sexting we've created a guide with tips on how to prevent teens from sexting and what to do if private photos and videos are leaked.

How to Stop Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an issue, but it's one that can be stopped. There are many online resources to help both parents and children cope with cyberbullying and prevent it.

What teens can do...

...if they are a target of cyberbullying:

  • Don't blame yourself for the unfair treatment you are receiving. Bullies have often been the victims of bullying themselves and they treat you poorly so that they can feel control and power.
  • Don't retaliate with more cyberbullying, it's best to just ignore a cyberbully if you can. You can block them on social media and block texts from them if you don't want to see it. Bullies are looking for a reaction when they attack a person, if you turn the other cheek they go away.
  • If the cyberbullying is getting out of hand and it feels like it is too much for you to handle talk to a trusted adult and ask for advice.
  • Keep a record of the cyberbullying in case you decide to report the cyberbullying to authorities. With the proof of cyberbullying directly on your phone and computer it can be easy to prove that you are being threatened and attacked by a cyberbully.
  • Report offensive social media posts to the company. If you don't like what is being posted about you report it. If you are being harassed by text by anonymous numbers you can screenshot the text, block the number, and look it up in a reverse phone lookup app, like CallerSmart. In our app you can also report a harassing number by leaving your feedback so that others will know to also block the number.

...if they see cyberbullying:

  • Don't become a part of cyberbullying by sharing posts, texts, images, or videos which hurt others. Take a stand against cyberbullies.
  • Support the person who is being bullied, take the time to listen to them and let them know that it's not their fault. Even if you aren't friends with the person being bullied, reach out and let them know that it's not their fault and that how they are being treated is not right.
  • Report the offensive behavior. Most social media sites, like Facebook and Instagram, have made it easy to report posts that are inappropriate. protect themselves from cyberbullying:

  • Be careful with what you share online about yourself. If you share overly personal information publicly and even privately via text or private message a person could use it against you in the future.
  • Don't let other people use your smartphone since it contains personal information and people can access your social media accounts from it.

Pre-teens and teens usually won't share what is happening to them with their parents so it's important for parents to pay attention to any changes in their child's attitude and talk about the effects of bullying and what to do. Even if you don't think your child is a victim, they could be seeing cyberbullying everyday.

What parents can do...

...if your child is being cyberbullied:

  • Tell your child that you love them and make them feel safe and supported in their home life. Talk with them and listen to what's happening to them. Encourage them to ignore and block the cyberbully and not to retaliate.
  • If the problem continues help your child collect evidence and discuss reporting the cyberbully to school authorities. Go over setting up stronger privacy settings in social media accounts and make sure they know how to report posts that they find hurtful and cruel.
  • Don't let your emotions get the better of you. Hearing that your child is being tormented can inspire a range of emotional reactions, one of them being anger. Make sure to be thoughtful and a good listener, don't react quickly. This will only create more confrontation and problems.

...if their child is a cyberbully:

  • Your child may be a cyberbully because they were at one time bullied, either in person or over the internet. Talk to them about what they are doing and how they are hurting other people, make sure that they understand the severity of their actions.
  • Talk to them about why they are doing what they are doing and listen to them, don't react out of anger.
  • Monitor their online and phone behavior to make sure that they are not continuing this type of behavior.
  • If the problem persists and it doesn't seem like an isolated offense involve your school authorities in order to show your child that this is a major problem. You may want to seek professional counseling to help your child overcome their problem. prevent cyberbullying from happening:

  • Keep the family computer in a public area where you spend a good deal of time.
  • Encourage "offline time" with your family. Try to have everyone disconnect for an extended period of time every evening, this could include having family dinner or practicing some shared hobbies together.
  • Have open conversations about bullying and cyberbullying, discuss why it's wrong and what your child should do if they see it.
  • Make sure your child knows how to maintain their "digital reputation" and knows not to share personal information that they wouldn't want made public with anyone. Discuss how to use privacy settings and talk about how to block unwanted content and texts. Teens can report offensive posts, images, and videos to the social media company, they can report and block harassing phone numbers in a community phone book.

For more information on preventing cyberbullying and what to do if you're experiencing cyberbullying and the Cyberbullying Research Center has many resources for teens, parents and educators.