Why Cyberbullies Choose People They Know

Discover how the kids your child knows become cyberbullies

Young woman sitting alone in room with laptop in front of her

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For most teens, the Internet is so much more than a tool for school research, YouTube videos, and online games. It also is a huge part of their social lives. They connect with their peers through social media services like SnapChat, Instagram and Twitter and chat online through Google Hangouts, Skype and FaceTime. Even texting is a huge way for kids to communicate on a regular basis. But sometimes those interactions can sour and the people they once considered friends are suddenly cyberbullying them.

What Research Shows About How Cyberbullies Choose Their Victims

In fact, according to one study, cyberbullying is more likely to occur between current or former friends and dating partners than it is likely to occur between your child and a stranger. Reports also show that cyberbullying occurs seven times more frequently among teens who know each other than among people had never been friends or dated.

What's more, researchers also found that certain types of students are more likely to be victimized. For example, girls are twice as likely as boys to victims of cyberbullying. Meanwhile, LGBTQ teens are four times as likely than heterosexual teens to be targeted. Not only do they experience homophobic slurs but they also have their sexual identities and preferences revealed to others without their permission. 

Overall, cyberbullying usually involves everything from threats, rumors, and gossip to embarrassing photos, identity theft, and humiliating videos.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying carries significant effects and is often more difficult to overcome than traditional bullying. This is especially true when the bullies were once considered friends. Another reason cyberbullying is so traumatic is that victims not only feel like there is no escape, but they also feel like the entire world is aware of what is happening. Suddenly, they no longer feel safe in their homes because of the always-connected aspect of their daily lives.

For this reason, it is extremely important for parents to recognize that their child has a greater risk of being cyberbullied by someone close to them than they do of being cyberbullied by a stranger. Here's what you need to know about cyberbullying among former friends and dating partners.

What Motivates a Former Friend or Dating Partner to Cyberbully?

When it comes to understanding why kids cyberbully one another, the reasons can run the gamut. For many, they are simply vying for their spot on the social ladder and will use any means they can to maintain their position. For other teens, the reasons are much more insidious. Here are six reasons why a former friend or dating partner might cyberbully your teen.

Your child's secrets make a juicy story. When a relationship ends, some teens will use the secrets once shared in confidence as ammunition. The goal is to lessen the pain they are feeling by making their target hurt as much as they do. Whether it's sharing the details of a secret crush or exposing something your child has done, kids use these things said in confidence to gain the attention of others.

They are looking for revenge. Sometimes when relationships end, kids will be so hurt by the break up of the friendship that they will do anything to get even. This quest for revenge might even include making up stories or spreading rumors and gossip.

They are envious of your child. There is no denying that envy is often at the root of bullying. In simple terms, your child has what another person wants. Whether that is a position on their sports team, a grade in a particular class or even a relationship with a significant other, the person cyberbullying will try to destroy it. Their general thinking is, if I cannot have it, I do not want her to have it.

They want to improve their social standing. Many times, kids will turn on a friend and cyberbully if they think it will secure a position for them within a clique or group of popular kids. They not only target your child online, but may give in to peer pressure to engage in name-calling, ostracizing, and bullying in order to secure their position within the group.

They want to control the message about the end of the relationship. When a relationship ends, kids often scramble to get their side of the story out. Not only are they worried about what others will think about them, but they also do not want their former friend or dating partner to look like a victim. As a result, some will resort to cyberbullying as a way to exert control over the message others are getting as well as to manipulate the situation in their favor.

They are not willing to give up control over the other person. Some people will use cyberbullying to humiliate and harass another person. When this happens, it is a sign that the relationship was most likely abusive and the person cyberbullying your child is not willing to give up their control. As a parent, you need to be on high alert for additional signs of abuse. Controlling people will sometimes go to great lengths to maintain a relationship. You need to be sure you do what you can to protect your child from additional harm.

What Tactics Do Former Friends and Dating Partners Use?

These are some of the tactics that ex-friends and partners will use when cyberbullying.


This tactic involves a group of teens sharing information about one person in particular. For instance, when a girl breaks up with a boy, she may join with other girls who dated the former boyfriend in order to roast him online. As a result, they might talk about everything from his secrets to how he kisses. The goal behind this type of cyberbullying is to embarrass him and punish him for his perceived misdeeds.


This type of cyberbullying involves creating a fake identity online in order to lure someone into a fake romantic relationship. Kids engage in catfishing when they want to get the target to confess feelings of love to a fake person and then later expose those confessions online. Other times, they will use the fake relationship to lure a child into a dangerous or humiliating situation. For this reason, it is important that your teen know that meeting people that she knows only online is not a safe decision.


When kids use impersonation to cyberbully, they are usually impersonating the person they are targeting. As a result, they will post a fake profile complete with pictures of your child to make it look authentic. Then, they will post rude comments, threats, gossip and other mean things in order to get your child in trouble with others. The goal is to make others think your child is responsible for the posts and ruin her reputation.


Slut-shaming occurs when girls are targeted online for the way they dress, the number of people they have dated and their presumed level of sexual activity. Although the methods of bullying may vary, bullies and mean girls often use social media sites to share explicit photos and videos.

For instance, they make take photos of another girl without her knowledge and then post them online with mean comments, sexual innuendos or rude comments about their bodies. They also might engage in name-calling and sexual bullying. And if the target has ever engaged in sexting these photos also might be made public by a vengeful former dating partner.

Subtweeting and Vaguebooking

This form of cyberbullying is subtle yet insidious. The cyberbully never really says the person's name in her tweets, hence the term subtweeting. Meanwhile, everyone knows who she is talking about including the victim.

However, disciplining students who cyberbully in this manner is difficult. Administrators find it difficult to prove who the student is referring to. Some teachers and principals have been able to get other students to indicate who they believe the tweets are about so that the cyberbully can be reprimanded. But it can be challenging and time-consuming.

Public Shaming

When someone is publicly shamed, the cyberbully uses a mistake or bad choice the target made in order to shame him online. And while public shaming and cyberbullying are both similar and involve humiliating someone online, the difference is that many other people join in by commenting or sharing the posts. Additionally, public shaming is often accepted by a vast majority of people because they believe the person the receiving end deserves the treatment.


Outing occurs when teens use social media, texting or another electronic means of communication to share someone's sexual identity or sexual preference. This type of communication can be devastating for a teen, especially if he is not prepared for others to know. Other times, kids will "out" someone who is actually heterosexual. But they are hoping to start rumors or gossip about the teen in order to change other people's perceptions of him.

What Can You Do About Cyberbullying?

Most people do not realize that kids are most at risk for cyberbullying from friends and dating partners. As a result, it is important for parents to be aware that broken relationships can often lead to cyberbullying. As a result, be sure you are aware of any changes not only in your child's online activities but also be aware of which friends are no longer coming around. These things can be the first indicators that something is wrong in your child's life.

Additionally, make sure you know how to spot frenemies, mean girls and toxic friends. Also be sure your child knows the hallmarks of a healthy friendship. By doing these things, you not only can help prevent cyberbullying from taking root in your child's life but also protect your child from unhealthy relationships.

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