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What Is Cyberbullying? Understand How You Can Stop It


Before the internet, most bullying happened in schools or in person. Once someone went home, they were safe from bullying. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Because of home computers, laptops, and smartphones, cyberbullying can infiltrate life at all hours. Learn how you can help prevent and stop cyberbullying. But first, what is cyberbullying?

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that takes place via a digital platform.

Many think cyberbullying is only done on social media, but it can also take place over text message, email, or in games.

Cyberbullying means sending, sharing, or posting anything negative or harmful, with the intent to hurt someone else. This can also include embarrassment and humiliation. Cyberbullying is harmful and problematic, and some cyberbullying is even illegal and considered criminal behavior.

Two teenage boys preventing cyberbullying on their phones
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Special Concerns: Cyberbullying Vs. Bullying

Digital and social media is always available and consumed non-stop. The content that is created can create a permanent, online and accessible record for all to see.

Cyberbullying is different than bullying in a few important ways:

1. Anonymous

Online, people can create usernames and fake profiles to hide their identity. Sometimes, you may not even know who is doing the bullying. This is very different from traditional bullying where the bully is face-to-face with the victim.

2. Relentless

Digital devices allow for communication at all hours, every day, so any negativity can be communicated at all hours, not just during school or work hours.

3. Public

What occurs online can be seen by anyone, especially if it happens on public message boards or social media sites. Traditional bullying may only be seen by those who are involved.

4. Permanent

Information that is created online is permanent and can always be accessed. Therefore, cyberbullying that takes place early on can affect aspects of later life as well, such as college admissions or future jobs. This is true for both bullies and people who are bullied.

5. Easy to Hide

Because cyberbullying can happen on private accounts, and in online message forums, teachers and parents may not notice, be aware of, or be able to find the bullying that is happening right in front of them.

Laws And Sanctions

All states have laws against discriminiation, and most states have laws against bullying in schools, but cyberbullying is tricky to monitor. Laws are hard to regulate and enforce for bullying that occurs online.

Cyberbullying can occur off campus, and may not be enforceable by school officials, but if cyberbullying affects school performance, school administration may have the authority to intervene.

Frequency Of Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, cyberbullying is common. According to this study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 15% of teenage students who were bullied, were bullied online.

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, also found that 15% of total students that were involved in the study had been cyberbullied in the past year.

Teenage girl experiencing cyberbullying on her phone
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Tactics: Examples Of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can occur in many ways, but some common tactics include:

  • Sharing nude photos
  • Lying and accusing falsely
  • “Sockpuppeting” or making a fake profile
  • Encouraging self-harm and suicide
  • “Doxing,” which means threatening to share personal documents and information
  • Bullying for being of a certain socio-economic status
  • Bullying due to gender identity or sexual orientation

Cyberbullying And Kids With Learning And Thinking Differences

Anyone can be a recipient of bullying and cyberbullying, but unfortunately, children who are different experience cyberbullying differently than others.

Some kids may be bullied because they are different, or because they have certain learning or social challenges. And because most cyberbullying is done in written online communication, kids with learning difficulties or social challenges may have an especially hard time interpreting and coping with the bullying. They also may be more likely to respond rashly, or become a cyberbully themselves.

Why Do People Cyberbully?

Commonly, it is teenagers who are the ones doing the cyberbullying. Teenagers might engage in cyberbullying behaviors because of boredom, peer pressure, jealousy, revenge, or ignorance. They may not even realize what they are saying online is harmful or even illegal.

How To Prevent Cyberbullying

As an adult, the best way you can prevent cyberbullying is being aware of what your children or students are doing online. You can also teach your children about the importance of online privacy, interacting with strangers and how their activities online can affect them for life.

What You Need To Know

What you need to know about cyberbullying is that it is persistent and can happen anywhere all the time. It can affect anyone, but is more commonly experienced by teenagers. You can prevent cyberbullying, and you can do something if you are the one being bullied.

Effects And Consequences Of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying, just like any other form of bullying, can cause serious and long-lasting consequences for both the person being bullied, and the bully themselves.

Cyberbullying causes people to be in a constant state of fear, worry, and anxiety which can lead to depression, clinical anxiety, and problems with mood, appetite, and school or work performance. Cyberbullying can also have seriously negative effects on a person’s image and self-worth, which can be difficult to build back up again.

Teenage boy experiencing cyberbullying on his phone
Photo by from Pexels

Tips For Teachers

There are several things that teachers can do when it comes to bullying. Know the warning signs such as a noticeable increase or decrease in use of devices, strong emotional reactions to phones or computer screens, lack of interest in or avoidance of social situations, and potentially decreasing school performance.

You can prevent cyberbullying by teaching your students what counts as bullying, and how to stand up to it safely online.

What Can I Do About Cyberbullying?

You can have a part in preventing and stopping cyberbullying! Know that you are not powerless, and even small steps you take can have a big impact.

Here are 6 things you can do about cyberbullying:

1. Tell Someone

You don’t need to get involved in the back and forth of the bullying, but if you see something online that doesn’t look right, or is affecting a classmate, tell a teacher, an adult, a friend, or a school admin.

2. Remove Yourself

When you see cyberbullying happening in a chat or on a thread you are in, step away from the screen, turn off notifications, or remove yourself from the group or thread.

3. Take A Breath

Don’t respond right away without thinking first. Try to resist the urge to be negative towards the bully. Responding when emotions are running high can be dangerous.

Two teenagers prevent cyberbullying
Photo by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels

4. Save Evidence

If this is something you plan to report, take screenshots of the bullying. Send them to someone you trust so that you don’t need to be reminded of them whenever you open your photos.

5. Report And Block

Most sites have an option to report posted content to the site itself, or to group moderators. If you see something that looks like cyberbullying, or is inappropriate or harmful, report it. Block the user as well if they are bothering you.

6. Keep Yourself Safe

When interacting online, don’t share personal information that could be used against you. Keep all of your passwords well hidden and not easily guessed so that others cannot access your personal messages or photos.

The Bottom Line

So, what is cyberbullying? It is a type of bullying that is relentless and harmful. You can prevent cyberbullying, even if you are a student, parent, or teacher. You can stand up if you are being bullied by reaching out for help from peers, family, or teachers. Cyberbullying stops with you.

University of the People