As the world becomes more connected through social media and other forms of electronic communication, the opportunity to connect and help others has grown. There’s another side to this connectedness, however. Approximately 36.5% of teens and over 40% of adults report they have been victimized by cyberbullying at least once in their lifetime.
Parents, schools, and youth leaders are looking for ways to solve this problem. Knowing more about cyberbullying facts may help positively impact communities, both online and in real life.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is mean or aggressive behavior, similar to real-life bullying, that happens through electronic means. It can happen anywhere people communicate, such as on social media websites, in emails, or through messaging apps and text messages. Cyberbullying can happen through direct communication with the person being bullied or through indirect content that makes fun of or spreads malicious information about the person bullied.
It is more common among adolescents and young adults; although, there are many documented cases of adults engaging in cyberbullying behavior. The definition of cyberbullying is not limited to anyone of a particular age, race, or gender.
Why do people cyberbully?
We don’t always know why someone would choose to cyberbully, but it can have similarities to bullying in real life. Bullies usually act out of revenge, anger, or desire for control. The internet is not the cause of cyberbullying, although an internet connection can make it easy for someone to cyberbully. Someone who wants to bully another person may find online communications offer them more anonymity and less accountability, which creates the perfect environment for bullying.
How is cyberbullying different from other forms of bullying?
Like real-life bullying, cyberbullying includes intentional and continuous acts of harm. The goal is to affect the victim and create stress or a significant disruption in their daily lives. It differs from other forms of bullying in that it can often be done in secret, as part of private messages or online communities and groups where adults and other caregivers may not have access or be able to supervise.
What does cyberbullying look like?
Cyberbullying is often very obvious to the person bullied, but it may not be apparent to those outside their digital circle. Common examples of cyberbullying include:
- Posting lies about the person online.
- Creating art or other original works that depict the victim negatively.
- Editing memes or pop culture references to include the victim in a demeaning way.
- Sharing the person’s personal or private information, including photos or videos, without permission.
- Sending mean, threatening, or hurtful messages over email, text, or social media messaging systems.
- Creating fake accounts to impersonate and then misrepresent the person online.
Cyberbullying can occur in response to the things someone shares online. For example, 55% of adults have received hateful responses to their political views. In addition, 35% of online dating service users have received sexually explicit content without their permission or consent.
The bullying can happen on any available site or messaging app that allows public or private comments. Anything from a Tumblr account to a TikTok video can be used in a harmful way to intimidate or harass someone else. Facebook, however, has been cited as the most common place for this activity to occur.
Is cyberbullying illegal? Not all cyberbullying is considered illegal, but much of it may be—especially if it involves sharing the information of a minor. Forty-eight states currently have laws addressing cyberbullying in some fashion, with all having laws addressing kids in school. The U.S. government has provided a map of the cyberbullying laws and policies by state.
Emotional, mental, behavioral, and physical effects of cyberbullying
While it’s evident that this type of abuse is harmful, how does it affect the victim? Consider these outcomes.
What are signs of cyberbullying to look for? Many are related to emotional or mental health and wellbeing. They can appear as the following.
Some of the worst cases of cyberbullying involve sharing information publicly about the victim. This info can be embarrassing, even if it isn’t true. Because the internet is considered a permanent record with search engines and web histories being stored for many years, the victim may experience humiliation and anxiety over the fact that embarrassing information can haunt them forever. The effect it may have on their future jobs, educational opportunities, and relationships, whether real or perceived, is significant.
While cyberbullying is widespread, it nonetheless leaves the victim feeling like they are alone in the situation. Victims may find their social opportunities reduced and in-person interactions awkward and painful. Often, the only way for victims to avoid bullies online is to stay away from the social networks that include their friends and family. This can increase the feelings of isolation.
Would you get mad if cyberbullying happened to you? According to cyberbullying statistics, it’s one of the most frequent responses to cyberbullying. While it’s normal to be upset, prolonged and unresolved anger can lead to threats and acting out against the bullies, loved ones, or innocent members of the community.
Information spreads so quickly online that parents and authorities may struggle to contain the harm of cyberbullying. Shutting down accounts can happen only so fast, if it happens at all. Cyberbullies may come back again on different platforms with new user names. This all leads to the victim feeling like any resolution to the matter may be futile.
The victim’s state of mind may also be harmed with several notable effects.
Depression and anxiety
While a victim of cyberbullying may already be dealing with signs of depression and anxiety, even those who have never dealt with these conditions may find themselves struggling to cope. They might worry that things will never get better, or that it’s not worth trying to stay strong, which can make it hard for victims to manage cyberbullying.
It makes sense that someone mistreated through cyberbullying may cause it to shape the way they feel about themselves. Whether they believe some of the things being said about them or they simply don’t think they are valuable enough to get help, low self-esteem can further compound the issues of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying commonly happens among peers within a school environment, making it hard for students to excel in their academics. But bullying doesn’t always have to come from a school environment to affect grades. The stress and worry that come from cyberbullying can interfere with studying and focusing on education.
Suicidal thoughts and self-harm
Cutting or other self-harm behaviors can manifest in kids who have never considered it before. In the worst-case scenario, a cyberbullying victim may feel that the only way to end the situation is to take their life. If you suspect that this is happening with a cyberbullying victim, act immediately to get them to safety and enlist the help of a professional.
What happens when cyberbullying goes on so long that the victim feels they need to take action to find a resolution? Whether a victim chooses to self-soothe or seek revenge, these are serious and possible outcomes:
Using drugs and alcohol
Bullying victims are more likely to use illegal and illicit drugs than their peers. Substance abuse, including binge drinking, is 2.5 times more common in victims than those who are not cyberbullied.
Kids may find it easier to skip school altogether instead of confronting their bullies or judgment from their peers. Truancy can be an attempt to avoid bullying peers and embarrassment. Once kids stop attending class, grade issues naturally worsen, making the cycle harder to break.
Carrying a weapon
School safety is a severe concern of communities today. The stats show that cyberbullying victims are eight times more likely to bring a weapon to school, including handguns and knives. This creates an unsafe situation for the victim and those attending the school — including staff and volunteers.
Risky sexual behavior
Whether cyberbullying is sexual or not, risky sexual activity is another way some victims deal with pain, embarrassment, or stress. It should be noted that drug and alcohol abuse is also tied to this; it may be common to find kids acting out in situations where both behaviors are present.
A victim of cyberbullying may experience physical problems, such as certain changes in their body.
Complaints of a stomach ache may signal an anxiety disorder, digestive problem, or even an ulcer. While an occasional upset stomach may not be a reason for concern, watch for frequent diarrhea, vomiting, or complaints of cramping and pain.
There are a few reasons a victim may choose to engage in anorexic or bulimic eating patterns. For one, it’s a way for them to feel in control while so many aspects of cyberbullying are out of control. Fad dieting or dangerous weight loss efforts could be a response to bullying around weight or looks. Take disordered eating seriously.
Sleeping too much or too little could result from the strain caused on the body by bullying. Nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, and other abnormal sleeping episodes may be a signal to look into how online relationships affect a potential victim’s sleeping habits.
How to be proactive about cyberbullying
Perhaps the best way to beat cyberbullying is to stop it before it happens. These tactics can help to discourage the most dangerous forms of online harassment.
Learn how to report and block hateful accounts on social media platforms
Cyberbullies enjoy seeing their victims go through pain or distress. One way to keep them from getting a reward in this manner is to keep them from contacting the victim. Most social media platforms have both a block and report function to let the platform admins know that the behavior is happening, so they can protect others from receiving hateful messages. If enough people report cyberbullying on social media, these platforms may have the evidence needed to terminate the bully’s online account or ban them for life.
Ensure safe online interactions with (real-life) friends
Are you looking to prevent cyberbullying? While you can’t control how others act, you can mitigate some harm by nurturing opportunities to connect with trusted friends and loved ones in real life. These in-person connections have more accountability through face-to-face interaction, unlike strangers or unvetted peers who may use the anonymity of the internet as a shield for bullying.
Parents and caregivers may choose to instate a rule that children only accept online friend requests or text messages from people they know and trust in real life. Teach children the right way to politely decline or even block anyone who doesn’t meet this standard.
Watch and take action
If you see something amiss in your child’s online interactions, don’t hesitate to step in and help them create boundaries. This may mean blocking even those you know in real-life or taking a much-needed social media break. Avoid taking away phones or internet access altogether, as this may be the lifeline your child needs to stay in touch with supportive and caring friends and family members.
Mental health resources for youths experiencing cyberbullying
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association links to facilities and providers near you. Reach out if you are experiencing difficulties, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if the victim is experiencing suicidal thoughts. In the case of an emergency, dial 911 for your local authorities.
More resources on cyberbullying
Parents may not know how to stop cyberbullying, especially if they are only vaguely aware of a problem. Adding in the complicated, technical nature of some online platforms, it may seem there is a lot to learn to keep kids safe. Fortunately, resources like those offered by the U.S. government can help. StopBullying.gov includes links for parents, educators, and students with concerns.