Cyberbullying: What Is Cyberbullying and How to Stop It

Katie
Katie May 13

Cyberbullying affects countless teens and adolescents. A 2019 study of 4,972 middle and high school students in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 shows that 36.5% of the students have been cyberbullied in their lifetimes. Other studies report that 60% of young people had witnessed their peers being bullied, but they didn’t intervene for fear of becoming targets themselves. Victims of online bullying are much more likely to use alcohol and drugs, avoid school, have poor grades, experience depression and low self-esteem, and may even contemplate suicide.
Cyberbullying

Overview:

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a broad term and is any form of abuse repeatedly directed at a child through technology by another child. According to “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying,” cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” 

The difference between traditional bullying, which takes place in person, and cyberbullying, is that the latter must involve the use of technology. Additionally, to be defined as cyberbullying, the interaction between two or more people must contain the following elements:

  • The action must be willful. The behavior has to be intentional, not accidental.
  • The incident must have occurred more than once. Bullying reflects a repeated pattern of behavior.
  • The victim must perceive that harm was inflicted.

Cyberbullying takes place online through social media sites, like Facebook or Snapchat, in chat rooms, or via instant messages or text messages on their mobile phones. Types of cyberbullying 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 messages that are sexually explicit 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. Threats may also include family members.
  • Attacking a person online or via text messages regarding their physical appearance, religion, sexuality, disability, or mental ability, or mental health.
  • Impersonating another person online to trick someone into revealing personal details, and then sharing it with others.
  • Hacking into another person's social networking sites, instant messaging apps, or email to send false and cruel messages to others.

With 95% of teens reporting going online at least once daily and 45% 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 mobile phones. It can happen at any time of the 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 sites, instant messages, and group text messages. Once the information has been shared it's impossible to permanently delete the information since it can be downloaded by others and repeatedly uploaded.

Facts About Cyberbullying

  • A poll of 200,000 students showed that 70% of teens had someone spread rumors about them online.
  • Girls (38.7%) are much more likely to be victims of cyberbullying than boys (34.1%). Girls also dominate social media, while boys tend to play videogames.
  • Over 12% of LGBT youth have been cyberbullied. 58% experienced hate messages and 35% received online threats.
  • Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are the top three most popular social media platforms for teens. According to a recent report, teens are commonly bullied on Facebook (42%), Instagram (42%), Snapchat (37%), WhatsApp (12%), YouTube (10%), and Twitter (9%).
  • The report also shows that 67% of teens who are online almost constantly have experienced cyberbullying, compared with 53% of less frequent users.
  • Bullying, cyberbullying and cyberstalking 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 2019 study, 16.1% of boys and 13.1% of girls admitted to cyberbullying another person at least once.
  • Over 95% of teens have a cellphone, making texting one of the most common means of cyberbullying.
  • 22.5% of teens say mean comments are the most common type of online bullying. That is followed by online rumors (20.1%) and sexual remarks (12.1%).
  • 35% of teens had sent a screenshot of someone’s photo or online status to laugh at them
  • 61% of teens say they were cyberbullied because of their appearance. Lesser reasons include: Academic achievement/intelligence 25%, race 17%, sexuality 15%, financial status 15%, religion 11%. The other 20% lists “other” as the reason for being bullied.
  • 64% of victims who are cyberbullied through instant message know the bully personally.

Cyberbullying and Kids With Learning Differences

Bullies target anyone different from themselves, including those with disabilities, mental health issues, or learning differences. The bullies say mean things about someone who has ADD or ADHD; a student that is dyslexic, on the autism spectrum, or simply learns differently than other students. The bullying takes away attention from the bully’s issues and places them on others. Plus, teens with learning differences or disabilities are less likely to fight back. Many schools have anti-bullying policies, however, that does not prevent cyberbullying which can take place in or outside of the school.

Cyberbullying Laws

Each state has different laws and policies regarding bullying, however, there is no federal anti-bullying law at the moment. As of November 2018, 50 states have anti-bullying laws, 48 states include a definition of electronic harassment in their anti-bullying laws, and 44 states include criminal sanctions in their cyberbullying laws.

Montana is the only state that does not require schools to have anti-bullying policies. It does, however, provide for criminal sanctions against harassment by electronic means. Of the 49 states that have mandatory school anti-bullying policies, 17 states have mandatory off-campus anti-bullying policies. Off-campus policies have been proposed in Georgia and Nebraska.

Please see the table below for a full breakdown of cyberbullying laws in each state.

State Bullying Law Includes "Cyberbullying" Criminal Sanction School Sanction School Policy Off-Campus Policy
Alabama Yes Yes No No Yes No
Alaska Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Arizona Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Arkansas Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
California Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Colorado Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Delaware Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Florida Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Proposed
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Idaho Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Illinois Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Indiana Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Iowa Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Kansas Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Kentucky Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maine Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Maryland Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Massachusetts Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Michigan Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Minnesota Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Mississippi Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Missouri Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Montana No Yes Yes No No No
Nebraska Yes Yes 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 Yes Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
North Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Ohio Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Oklahoma Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Oregon Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Pennsylvania Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rhode Island Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
South Carolina Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
South Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tennessee Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Texas Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Utah Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Vermont Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Virginia Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Washington Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Washington, D.C. Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Wisconsin Yes No Yes Yes Yes No
Wyoming Yes Yes 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 November 2018, only 26 states had sexting laws in place. There are 25 states with sexting laws addressing cases in which the individual sending the inappropriate content is under 18. Only 23 of the 26 states address cases in which the recipient of the messages, images, or video is under 18.

There are currently 42 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 Yes
Alaska No No No Yes
Arizona Yes Yes Yes Yes
Arkansas Yes Yes Yes Yes
California Proposed Proposed No Yes
Colorado Yes Yes Yes Yes
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes Yes
Delaware No No No Yes
Florida No Yes Yes Yes
Georgia Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes Yes
Idaho No No No No
Illinois Yes Yes No Yes
Indiana Yes No Yes No
Iowa No No No Proposed
Kansas Yes Yes Yes Yes
Kentucky No No No Proposed
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maine No No No Yes
Maryland No No No Yes
Massachusetts Proposed Proposed Proposed Proposed
Michigan No No No Yes
Minnesota No No No Yes
Mississippi No No No No
Missouri No No No Yes
Montana No No No Yes
Nebraska Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nevada Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Hampshire No No No Yes
New Jersey Yes Yes Yes Yes
New Mexico Yes Yes Yes Yes
New York Yes Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina No No No Yes
North Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ohio Proposed No No Yes
Oklahoma Yes Yes No Yes
Oregon No No No Yes
Pennsylvania Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rhode Island Yes Yes No Yes
South Carolina Proposed Proposed No No
South Dakota Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tennessee No No No Yes
Texas Yes Yes Yes Yes
Utah Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vermont Yes Yes Yes Yes
Virginia No No No Yes
Washington Yes Yes Yes Yes
Washington, D.C. No No No Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wisconsin No No No Yes
Wyoming No No No Proposed

The Cyberbullying Research Center provides an up-to-date map 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 you 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 you 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.

...to protect yourself 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. Nearly 60% of parents of children aged 14 to 18 report that their children have been bullied. 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:

  • Make sure your child feels loved and supported. Have open and frank discussions with your child about what is happening. Encourage ignoring the cyberbully and the temptation 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 your 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.

...to 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 ConnectSafely.org and the Cyberbullying Research Center has many resources for teens, parents and educators.