What Is Cyberbullying? How to Prevent It!

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that happens on online platforms. Because cyberbullying can take place via text, apps, SMS messages and many social media platforms, there are many different types of cyberbullying. Each forum presents a distinct set of risks for the person being cyberbullied. Depending on the severity of cyberbullying, an individual’s mental health and general well-being can degrade before any meaningful action can be taken.

Cyberbullying isn’t just about a particular individual being harassed via foul language. The term includes sharing negative content, posting and sending explicit content to individuals without consent. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect oneself from cyberbullying. Most of the tips boil down to choosing where to share personal information and being wary around strangers at all times. Assessing the risk of an individual to cyberbullying and the measures to be taken to keep away from cyberbullying can make social interactions safer and enjoyable. But if someone does become a victim of cyberbullying, there are many avenues for redress. This is where the role of parents and schools in preventing and addressing cyberbullying becomes very important. Apart from providing support to victims, both parents and schools can take steps to educate young children about the effects of cyberbullying and how to prepare for this issue. Part of educating children and other individuals about cyberbullying is talking about the potential negative effects of cyberbullying on the victim.

What is Cyberbullying?

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a social problem that arises when an individual or a group of individuals make use of online digital tools to harass another individual or group of individuals. Cyberbullying is a repeated and intentional act. People can use both software-based and hardware-based tools for cyberbullying. This type of bullying can be carried out via smartphone devices, computers, laptops and public devices. Any device that has an internet connection and access to the web can be used to carry out these activities.

The potential negative effects on the victims of cyberbullying can be devastating and in some cases, even fatal. From an emotional perspective, victims of cyberbullying often feel ashamed, lonely, tired, angry and afraid. Cyberbullying can also lead to physical problems such as stomach aches, ulcers and headaches. The victims usually are kids, but cyberbullying can happen to anyone at any age.

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Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying. Traditional bullying mostly takes place where the victim is in contact with the bully. There can only be so many roles such as the person doing the bullying, the person being bullied and bystanders. But in the case of cyberbullying, the bully is able to not only play the role of a bully but also witness and target. Compared to cyberbullying, traditional bullying is more direct, planned, and premeditated. Cyberbullying can be premeditated but in many cases is impulsive. Cyberbullies usually start bullying once faced with a different opinion. In traditional bullying, elements such as physical aggression, direct targeting of the potential victim and a desire for control over the victim are very prominent. In cyberbullying these are mostly absent, being replaced with emotional counterparts.

What Are the Different Types of Cyberbullying?

There are many different forms of cyberbullying that can vary depending on the specific situation and the technology being used. Some common types of cyberbullying include:

  • Online Harassment: Sending threatening or abusive messages or images through email, messaging apps or social media is probably one of the most common types of cyberbullying. Harassing someone gives rise to many other subtypes of cyberbullying as well. Generally, the cyberbully tries to follow a predetermined pattern of threatening the potential victim with disturbing messages or images. This type of cyberbullying can involve sending sexually explicit photos without consent. The intention of sending these messages and images is always to harm the victim.
  • Online Defamation: Spreading rumors or false information about someone online is called defamation. The cyberbully may also defame the cyberbullying victim via false posts and messages. The false information is mostly just rumors and gossip.
  • Image-based Abuse: Another way cyberbullies try to harass victims is by posting photos and videos associated with the individual. The photos are usually compromising and are posted without consent. This type of cyberbullying is close to a sub-type called doxing or outing where the cyberbully spreads personal photos in addition to other sensitive documents.
  • Impersonating Someone Online: Impersonating someone to damage the reputation of the individual is a very common cyberbullying technique. Cyberbullies can post comments on various social media platforms while pretending to be someone else. The cyberbully may join different chat groups with the victim’s name and send objectionable material to others. The victim may have to deal with negative consequences based on the comments made by the cyberbully.
  • Creating Fake Social Media Accounts To Harass Someone: Very often, the cyberbully sets up profiles on various forums. The cyberbully tries to intimidate the victim by making mean comments about the victim’s race, physical appearance, religion, gender and general ideas about life. Intimidation via fake social media profiles is particularly bothersome because the cyberbully remains anonymous.
  • Catfishing: In Catfishing, the cyberbully tries to play on the potential victim’s emotions. The cyberbully also creates fake profiles on various forums, pretending to be someone else, and sends messages to the victim to form a relationship. Most of the time, the relationship is romantic. The aim of the cyberbully is to gain the trust of the victim so that more personal information can be shared. Once enough personal information has been gathered, the cyberbully can blackmail the victim and damage the victim’s reputation.
  • Excluding Someone From Online Groups or Social Events: In this type of cyberbullying, the cyberbully deliberately leaves out specific individuals. Similar to traditional bullying, the cyberbully uses online means to target a victim and then bully the victim by excluding the victim from various groups and chat rooms. The victim may see friends and family invited to activities but is not invited. Cyberbullies also leave out victims from online conversations that may have common friends as members.
  • Posting Negative or Hurtful Comments on Someone’s Social Media Posts or Photos: In this type of cyberbullying, the cyberbully usually knows the victim through social interaction. But the process can be carried out by someone random as well. The cyberbully searches for the victim’s profile on various social media platforms. Once the profile is found, the cyberbully picks posts or photos on which hurtful comments can be made. Depending on the settings, the victim’s other contacts can also see the comments which can further add to the damaging mental effects.
  • Cyberstalking: In cyberstalking, the cyberbully or cybercriminal uses the internet and related technologies to stalk the victim. Cyberstalking is very similar to in-person stalking. Cyberstalking happens through messages, email messages, social media posts and others. Unlike some other types of cyberbullying, cyberstalking is very methodical and persistent. What may begin as harmless interaction, ends up being a constant source of mental anguish for the victim.
  • Online Manipulation: Cyberbullying can also involve the use of technology to manipulate or control someone, such as by monitoring online activities or tracking the person’s location without consent.

Who Is at Risk of Being a Victim of Cyberbullying?

There are many different factors that may make a person more likely to be targeted by a cyberbully. Kids are one of the demographics that cyberbullies target the most. But there are many other factors.

One of those factors is gender. Users who identify as female are more likely to experience cyberbullying when compared to male users. Younger girls are at an even higher risk of experiencing cyberbullying. Not only that, young girls under the age of 18 receive the most aggressive and threatening texts, emails and DMs.

In terms of age, children are at a high risk of being bullied. That’s because children are more likely to show characteristics that are different. These characteristics include being underweight or overweight, wearing different pieces of clothing, wearing glasses, not being able to afford certain items considered high value by peers and being the new kid at school. Children are also most likely to be considered anxious, depressed and lonely. Another risk factor is the amount of time the child spends in front of the screen. Various studies have shown that children who spend an increasing amount of time on laptops or cell phones are at a high risk of receiving threatening or aggressive messages via electronic means. Children who have self-esteem issues have a false perception of not having safety in educational institutes and feelings of isolation are at higher risk of becoming victims. No particular characteristic can make a child completely safe from cyberbullying. Peers from school or in the neighborhood are free to pick any feature that makes the potential victim different and then exploit that feature to isolate the victim via cyberbullying.

People with disabilities are also at a high risk of becoming a victim of cyberbullying. For example, the percentage of students with disabilities who face cyberbullying is very high when compared to other students in educational institutions. People with disabilities can stand out from peers because these people show unique behaviors and characteristics. Bullies see these differences as problems. That’s why disabilities are a risk factor for bullying.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Cyberbullying?

There are many ways to protect oneself from cyberbullying. The most important of which is to build a supportive network of friends and family. The role of parents and other adults in monitoring and supporting children and the availability of resources and support from organizations and authorities is also important.

Other practical tips to stay safe from cyberbullying include using strong, unique passwords and regularly changing these to protect online accounts. Being cautious about sharing personal information online and only sharing such information with trusted people and websites is also very important. Similarly, using privacy settings on social media and other online platforms to control who can see personal posts and information always helps to gain protection against potential cyberbullies.

An image featuring a child being protected while using laptop representing child safety from online cyberbullying concept

Monitoring online activities and discussing internet safety with children is another great way to ensure that children know how to recognize cyberbullying and take proper action to stop any further harm. Reporting cyberbullying, either to the platform where the bullying is happening or to a trusted adult or authority figure is one of the best ways to not only stop cyberbullying but also keep future cyberbullies from causing harm to other children and adults. Studying and educating others about cyberbullying consequences and prevention is essential to prepare against potential cyberbullying activities.

Seeking help from organizations and authorities that specialize in addressing cyberbullying and providing support to victims should be combined with the tips above to form a more comprehensive action plan against cyberbullying.

Pro Tip:

For children, some more direct tips include not responding to any teasing or name-calling online. Resisting the urge to stand up for oneself is another way to avoid cyberbullying, as responding to cyberbullies only creates more opportunities for further attacks.

What Should You Do if You Are Being Cyberbullied?

Children and adults who are being cyberbullied should take the steps below.

  1. Ignoring the situation or not taking the situation seriously enough is a mistake some people make when confronting cyberbullying. Taking the situation seriously doesn’t mean responding to a cyberbully. In fact, not responding to a malicious person is the best thing a child can do to stop cyberbullying. The lack of answers to insults takes away the attention that cyberbullies crave. Simply deleting, banning and reporting people who send malicious content should be enough.
  2. Don’t try to reason with the cyberbully. Cyberbullies aren’t looking to discuss ideas and form informed opinions. Do not start any kind of conversation with cyberbullies.
  3. The next important bit is to keep documenting cyberbullying incidents. After enough material has been gathered, report to authorities or people in charge. Once a cyberbully doesn’t get attention, the cyberbully usually moves on to the next target. A few cyberbullies will continue to harass the potential victim even being blocked and banned, though. If things get to that level, keep evidence of all emails, text messages and comments from the cyberbully in a folder. Save the folder in a location that is easily found. Make backups as well. The best is to upload to a cloud storage service for easier access. Also note down the times and dates of the hurtful messages.
  4. The next step is to seek support and resources from concerned authorities, organizations and people. For children, talking to an adult should help. Other options include any trustworthy person in a position of authority. Apart from parents, such people include teachers and school counselors. Adults can also contact people in positions of authority to get help against bullies. In some cases, the police can be involved. The state laws will define how law enforcement agencies will move forward against a cyberbully. Most importantly, the victim should seek help from friends, family and responsible people to not feel alone against a cyberbully.
  5. Most websites have terms of use in a policy document. If a cyberbully is violating that policy, then the website administrator has the authority to take action against the bully. The National Crime Prevention Council has previously noted that the most popular platforms for cyberbullying, YouTube and Facebook, have safety centers that victims can approach for help. Similarly, parents can contact internet service providers or content providers to deal with cyberbullying. With enough information gleaned from ISPs, social media platforms and the victim, even anonymous bullies can be identified in some cases, which makes taking action easier.

The Role of Parents and Schools in Preventing and Addressing Cyberbullying

The most important step parents and schools take in preventing and addressing cyberbullying is educating children. Not only children but also young people, who may become victims of cyberbullying as well. The education should be centered on what constitutes responsible online behavior. Children should be taught from an early age about online safety.

More specifically, schools need to come up with clear policies and standard procedures on how to deal with cyberbullying. For such purposes, schools can install software on computer systems to hinder bullying through electronic means. Network administrators can help by monitoring traffic that generates within the institution’s vicinity. Of course, such measures can lead to privacy issues. Those should be addressed as well via clear policies and regulations.

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Parents can further take action by monitoring their child’s online activities. Supporting activities that help the child develop and learn new things is commendable. But parents should ensure that the child knows how to keep away from harmful content and people on the internet. In the case the child does become a victim of cyberbullying, then parents should play a supportive role.

Other steps parents can take include knowing more about the technology that kids use to interact in the online world, setting limits, knowing the children’s friends, talking to children about recent online experiences, educating children on the difference between reporting and tattling and getting involved with schools and district organizations to prevent cyberbullying.

What Are the Effects of Cyberbullying?

Just because cyberbullying takes place over the internet via electronic means does not mean there are fewer effects than traditional bullying. Any kind of bullying can lead to psychological and physical harm. The most common effects of cyberbullying on the victim include depression, anxiety, fear, behavioral issues and low performance at work or school.


There is a strong connection between long-term mental health effects and cyberbullying as well. Depending on the severity of cyberbullying and the personality of the victim, cyberbullying can lead the victim towards self-harm and, in extreme cases, suicide. There is a great need to take the issue seriously enough that children know how to stay safe from cyberbullying and seek help from concerned personnel.

The emotional effects of cyberbullying include long-term feelings of humiliation on the part of the victim. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying takes place in the online world, where things feel more permanent. Children often have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that mean comments from the cyberbully will always be online for everyone to see. What’s worse is that such a situation can have knock-on effects, such as feelings of isolation. Since cyberbullies can exclude or ostracize victims, these victims often feel alone and helpless. Some parents take away means of electronic communication from children to prevent further harassment, but that can also lead to the victim feeling disconnected from the world.

Additional emotional effects of cyberbullying include anger and powerlessness. The mental side effects of cyberbullying mostly boil down to anxiety and depression, in addition to low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and academic issues. Cyberbullying can also have significant behavioral effects as well. Prolonged cyberbullying can lead the victim to skip school, use drugs and alcohol to cope with the additional stress and, in some cases, keep a weapon close by. Various studies have shown that victims of cyberbullying are more likely to own a weapon than individuals who haven’t been a target of cyberbullying.

The physical effects of cyberbullying include sleep problems, eating disorders and stomach problems such as ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

What Software Can Help Fight Cyberbullying?

There are many apps, tools and resources available to help prevent cyberbullying. These can include:

  • Filtering and monitoring software that can help parents control children’s access to inappropriate content online and monitor children’s online activities. Filtering is probably the simplest way to keep harmful content and people away from children. Many websites have started offering bully filters that parents and children can enable to avoid threatening messages.
  • Social media and messaging apps that include built-in tools for reporting and blocking users who are engaging in cyberbullying. Almost all social media platforms and interactive messaging apps allow users to report problematic users. Sometimes, there is even an option to not receive texts with certain words included.
  • Websites and online resources that provide information, support and advice for victims of cyberbullying and the victims’ families. Such online resources have grown in the last couple of years, as children and younger adults have pushed more and more activities online. Governments and NGOs have made available plenty of well-researched content that can help people deal with cyberbullying effectively. Since the methods being used to carry out cyberbullying are constantly changing, bookmarking helpful websites is a great way to keep abreast of all the latest techniques to counter cyberbullying.
  • Educational programs and resources that can help young people learn about internet safety and responsible online behavior. Local governments, charity organizations and educational institutions have started to take cyberbullying much more seriously than before. There are more learning resources available than ever for kids and young adults to fight cyberbullying the proper way. There are lots of other security tips for kids that can help fight cyberbullying.

How Can the Community Prevent Cyberbullying?

Almost all strategies for preventing cyberbullying can have a wider impact if the whole community is involved rather than just individuals. Some strategies the community can boost include education, the role of technology companies, government policies and general awareness raising.

This is important:

The most effective way to reduce and prevent cyberbullying is via a multi-faceted approach. Young people enrolled in development programs are less likely to fall victim to cyberbullying. And young people are less likely to engage in cyberbullying given enough opportunities to learn.

Different members of the community can bring unique approaches to develop strategies to prevent cyberbullying. Examples include the government implementing programs to teach sports coaches how to train young people to not engage in cyberbullying and how to react once a young adult becomes a victim. Similarly, businesses in the area can launch campaigns selling clothing items, among other things, with anti-bullying messages. Staff at after-care facilities can read books to young children about cyberbullying and how to respond to any negative situations. The more the community can help with cyberbullying, the better the chance of a positive outcome. In addition to local businesses, local associations, adults working with kids, youth coaches, mental health specialists, service groups, law enforcement agents, faith-based groups and parents can form a comprehensive strategy to combat problems such as cyberbullying.

What Is the Role of Technology Companies in Preventing Cyberbullying?

Most cyberbullying activities take place on platforms owned by big technology companies. Fortunately, almost all technology companies behind social media platforms have incorporated resources and tools for reporting cyberbullying and addressing the concerns of victims and concerned users.

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Just recently, Twitter updated the platform’s violent threat policy. Now the platform can intercede in situations where a cyberbully is being clever about the type of violence that will be carried out against a potential victim. Twitter has also hired specialists who have the privileges to lock accounts and delete specific tweets besides putting up a notification on potentially harmful content.

There is also a great need for collaboration between governments, schools and technology companies to develop policies that not only address cyberbullying but actively prevent such social problems. A good example is the government in Australia that recently had public consultations on how technology companies, ISPs and social media platforms need to outline procedures in place on how to keep online communities safe for everybody.

Is Cyberbullying Illegal?

In the U.S., each state has unique rules and regulations regarding cyberbullying. Most do not classify cyberbullying as a criminal offense. As far as the U.K. goes, cyberbullying can become a criminal offense if the victim is alarmed or distressed via the Harassment Act 1997. Depending on the severity of the cyberbully’s actions, the cyberbully can be charged with criminal harassment under the criminal code of Canada. Cyberbullying, generally, is not considered a distinct offense under current Australian legislation. But in serious cases, cyberbullying can be considered a criminal offense. Such cases include using the internet or smartphones to harass someone or send someone offensive content. Under the ACT law, stalking is an offense, which is what cyberbullies do in certain situations.

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What Are the Possible Consequences of Cyberbullying to the Victim?

The possible consequences of cyberbullying to the victim are given below.

  • Drugs and Alcohol Use: To cope with cyberbullying, the victim may take drugs and alcohol.
  • Low Self-esteem: Cyberbullying often leads to feelings of low self-esteem as the cyberbully continues to disrespect the victim using different methods.
  • Performance Issues: The victim may not only suffer academically but also in other areas of life, such as hobbies and sports.

What Are the Possible Consequences of Cyberbullying to the Perpetrator?

The possible consequences of cyberbullying to the perpetrator are given below.

  • Criminal penalties: Though this is hard, if the cyberbully is convicted, more than 14 states can impose criminal punishments. Punishments can include jail time of 12 months and/or a fine close to $3,000.
  • Suspension: Many educational institutions have started to implement policies that can result in a suspension for the cyberbully if identified.
  • Possibility of Being Ostracized: Friends and family circles may decide to not include a cyberbully in events and gatherings in case of identification.

What Are the Possible Consequences of Cyberbullying to the Perpetrator’s Parents?

The possible consequences of cyberbullying to the perpetrator’s parents are given below.

  • Civil Liability: Depending on the laws of the state, the parents may have to face criminal fines or pay up for damages in the form of monetary payments and even incarceration. That is especially the case if proof of negligent supervision is established.
  • Criminal Liability: Parents found negligent in monitoring the online activity of kids can face incarceration.
Damien Mather Damien is a cybersecurity professional and online privacy advocate with a bachelor of Computer Science. He has been in the industry for 20+ years and has seen the space evolve far bigger than he ever thought. When he is not buried in his research or going through code, he is probably out Surfing or Camping and enjoying the great outdoors. 
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