What Is Cyberbullying?

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What Is Cyberbullying?

When a young person uses the Internet or technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person, this person is called a cyberbully. Typically, cyberbullying involves tweens and teens; but it's not uncommon for adults to experience cyberbullying and public shaming as well. 

Compared to traditional bullying, the effects of cyberbullying are often more significant. Not only do the hurtful messages reach an unlimited audience, but the words and images are often preserved online.

Even if someone deletes a mean post, chances are it's still available in some form such as in a screenshot or a shared text message. Worse yet, those targeted by cyberbullies often don't know who is bullying them, so they often have no way to bring it to an end.

Types of Cyberbullying

Teens are online now more than ever. Every day they use their smartphones, tablets, and computers not only to research material for school but to socialize with friends and family members.

In fact, texting and using social media is one of the top ways kids communicate with others. But just like any other social activity, the opportunity for bullying exists.

While there are a number of different ways kids are bullying others online, the majority of online harassment falls into one of six categories. Here are six of the most common methods of cyberbullying.

Harassment

Harassing someone is a common method of online bullying. This type of cyberbullying occurs when someone uses one of these strategies to torment another person.

  • Engaging in “warning wars.” Many internet service providers and social media sites offer a way to report a user who is saying something inappropriate. Kids use these report buttons as a way to get the victim in trouble or kicked offline.
  • Participating in text wars or text attacks, which occur when bullies gang up on the victim and send thousands of texts. These attacks not only cause emotional distress but create a large cell phone bill if you don't have unlimited texting.
  • Posting rude, mean, or insulting comments about the victim via the chat option of online gaming sites.
  • Posting rumors, threats, or embarrassing information on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sometimes teens and tweens also will engage in subtweeting and vaguebooking to harass someone in a more subtle way.
  • Using text messaging, instant messaging, and email to harass, threaten, or embarrass the target.

Impersonation

A cyberbully also may impersonate another person, causing problems in that person's life. Here are some examples of ways cyberbullies pretend to be the person they are targeting.

  • Change the target’s online profile to include sexual, racist, or other inappropriate things.
  • Develop a screen name that is similar to the victim’s screen name and then post rude or hurtful remarks while pretending to be the victim.
  • Pretend to be someone else in order to lure an unsuspecting person into a fake relationship. This type of activity is often called catfishing.
  • Set up a social media account and post as the victim while saying mean, hurtful, or offensive things online. Actual photos of the victim may be used to make the account look authentic.
  • Steal the victim’s password and chat with other people while pretending to be the victim. The bully will say mean things that offend and anger the victim’s friends or acquaintances.

Inappropriate Photographs

Bullying may include the use of embarrassing or inappropriate images. Here's a closer look at how cyberbullies may use photos and images to cyberbully others.

  • Posting nude pictures on photo sharing sites for anyone on the internet to view and download.
  • Sending mass emails or text messages that include nude or degrading photos of the victim. This behavior is often called “sexting,” and once the photos are sent, there is no way to control it. The photos can be distributed to hundreds of people within just a few hours.
  • Taking nude or degrading pictures of the victim in a locker room, a bathroom, or dressing room without their permission.
  • Threatening to share embarrassing photos as a way of controlling or blackmailing the victim.
  • Using photographs to shame someone online. One common tactic teens use is to engage in slut shaming. This behavior involves shaming someone, usually a girl, for the way she dresses, acts, or the number of people she has dated.

Website Creation

A bully may create a website, blog, or poll to harass another person. Here are ways cyberbullies use websites to bully others.

  • Conduct an internet poll about the victim. Questions in the poll may vary including everything from who is ugly and who smells to who is dumb and who is fat.
  • Create a blog about the victim that is embarrassing, insulting, or humiliating.
  • Develop a website with information that is humiliating, embarrassing, or insulting for the victim.
  • Post the victim’s personal information and pictures on a website, which puts the victim in danger of being contacted by predators. Spread rumors, tell lies, or gossip about the victim online through websites or blogs.
  • Use information that was shared in confidence and make it public in a website or blog.

Video Shaming

The use of videos may be used for online bullying. These short clips are often extremely hurtful to the people being targeted. Here are some ways cyberbullies use videos to shame and humiliate others.

  • Creating an incident that causes another person to become upset or emotional and then record the incident. This type of activity is often referred to as cyberbaiting. Teachers are a common target for cyberbaiting incidents.
  • Downloading a video of something humiliating and posting it to YouTube in order to allow a larger audience to view the incident.
  • Sharing a video via mass e-mail or text messaging to humiliate and embarrass the victim.
  • Using a camera phone to video and later share a bullying incident, which may include one or more kids slapping, hitting, kicking, or punching the victim. Embarrassing moments are sometimes recorded and shared as well.

Other Subtle Methods

Methods such as subtweeting or vaguebooking as well phishing email programs can be used to bully and avoid detection. Here are just a few ways that cyberbullies engage in subtle forms of cyberbullying.

  • Posting tweets or Facebook posts that never mention the victim's name. Yet the victim, the bully, and often a larger audience know who the posts are referencing.
  • Using subtle posts and tweets to fuel the rumor mill while avoiding detection by teachers, administrators, and parents.
  • Sending viruses, spyware, or hacking programs to the victim through email or text in order to spy on the victim or control their computer remotely.

Impact of Cyberbullying

When kids experience cyberbullying, they experience a variety of physical, psychological, and emotional consequences. Consequently, they may complain of everything from fear and anxiety to depression and low self-esteem. They also may struggle academically and report feelings of significant distress. In fact, more than 30% of kids who are targeted by cyberbullies report experiencing symptoms of stress.

Victims of cyberbullying also find it difficult to feel safe and may feel alone and isolated, especially if they are being ostracized by their peers. Cyberbullying also can lead to increasing levels of anxiety and depression. One study found that as many as 93% of kids victimized by cyberbullies reported feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and powerlessness.

If your child is being targeted by cyberbullying, it's important that you work with them to report the cyberbullying and do everything you can to get the victimization to stop. Additionally, you should talk to their pediatrician or a mental health professional about what your child is experiencing. Expecting your child to cope with the cyberbullying on their own is not realistic.

Coping with Cyberbullying

If your child has been victimized by cyberbullying, it's important that you help them develop tools for coping with what they are experiencing. This may mean enlisting the help of a mental health professional.

You also want to be sure you are keeping the lines of communication open and that you're validating your child's feelings. Here are some other tips to help your child cope with cyberbullying.

  • Encourage your child to reclaim control. Cyberbullying can make teens feel like their lives are out of control. For this reason, you want to give them opportunities where they feel like they have some control. One way to do this is to encourage your child to use what they have experienced and turn it into something good like helping others going through the same thing.
  • Focus on learning from the experience. Whether your child needs a boost to their self-esteem or they need to learn to think positively, help your child identify what they can learn from this experience. You also can help them reframe their experience and focus on the good that has come from it rather than the pain that it caused.
  • Help your child focus on the future. It's very easy for bullied kids to stay stuck in their pain. Instead, help them focus on the future and set goals rather than dwelling on the pain they're experiencing. Remind them that middle school and high school are just a small portion of their entire lives. So, while you should validate their feelings, help them look toward the future too. Doing so teaches them how to take back their power.

Preventing Cyberbullying

When it comes to preventing cyberbullying, it's important that you not only help your child implement some safety measures, but that you also have an ongoing dialogue about how to use social media safely. It's also important to talk about the risks of cyberbullying and what to do if they are bullied online. Here are some ways that you can help prevent cyberbullying in your child's life.

  • Help them utilize privacy tools and settings. Almost every social media platform contains privacy tools and settings. Help your child make use of these tools in a way that keeps their account private, prevents people from sharing their photos, and requires their approval before people can post to their pages or accounts.
  • Show them how to protect their accounts and devices. Passwords are one of the most effective ways to protect your child's social media accounts as well as their computer, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Be sure your child knows that they should never share their password with their friends. Even their best friend should not know their passwords because there is no guarantee that they will be friends forever.
  • Require them to keep personal information private. Remind your child that they should never share personal information online. This includes things like their address, the school they attend, and even their last name. The more information that they make available, the easier it is for cyberbullies to target them.
  • Talk to them about not sharing their location. Many kids like to share their location with their friends. While this is usually fine, it also can provide detailed information about your child's whereabouts to kids who have less than genuine intentions toward them. Knowing your child's location makes it easier for abusive boyfriends or girlfriends to stalk your child or for cyberbullies to exploit this information.
  • Teach them to think before posting. Often an impulsive post or comment can be an open door for cyberbullying. Make sure your child knows that they should always take time to really think about what they're posting before putting it online. Even if they post something and then delete it, there is still the risk that someone will see it, take a screenshot of it, and exploit it. It is better to always be slow to post.
  • Encourage your child to limit their posts and their time on social media. Kids who post a lot of selfies or self-reflective posts often attract the attention of cyberbullies. Plus, when there are a lot of photos or posts, it gives cyberbullies a lot of material to work with. Encourage your child to limit how much they are posting to social media.
  • Perform a social media audit. Every few months, sit down with your child and go through their social media accounts. Talk about what should be deleted from their account because of the potential ways in which the posts could be misconstrued. Performing a social media audit is also a great way to ensure that their social media account presents images and posts that colleges and future employers would find acceptable as well.
  • Encourage your child to log out of social media apps and email when on public computers. Simply closing the tab where they were viewing their Instagram or Facebook account is not enough when they are on public computers at school, the library, or a coffee shop. It's too easy for a person to go to that page after they walk away and be inside your child's personal account. Cyberbullies can then change passwords or impersonate your child online.
  • Tell your child to report cyberbullies instead of responding to them. One of the biggest mistakes kids make is to respond to cyberbullying with a post that fights back or tries to explain. This interaction is what the cyberbully is hoping for. Consequently, it is safer for your child to ignore the posts and block the person. It's also important that they talk to you about what they're experiencing and report the cyberbully to the appropriate people. This might mean reporting them to the social media provider, the school, or even the police if the cyberbullying involves threats or violates cyberbullying laws.

A Word From Verywell

Although cyberbullying involves using social media, smartphones, text messages, and online apps as tools and weapons, these tools are not the problem. Cyberbullying occurs because of the choices kids make. Restricting your child's digital access will not prevent them from being cyberbullied. In fact, kids can still create a fake profile and impersonate your child online.

Instead of controlling your child's online access, focus your efforts on educating your child about the risks of cyberbullying. Talk to them about how to make smart choices online and how to report cyberbullying if it occurs. Keeping an open dialogue with your kids about cyberbullying is the most effective way to deal with the issue. 

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