Cyberbullying: Examples, Types, Causes, Effects, And A Definition

contributed by Jason Steiger

What is the definition of cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying occurs when someone intentionally causes someone else emotional distress online–especially if it is an ongoing pattern of behavior (versus a single hurtful comment or mean-spirited message).

In 9 Ways To Prevent Cyberbullying, we said that it was useful to “give (students) a formal definition of cyberbullying. Give them examples–examples they might actually experience using the online activities they’re most likely to use.

We continued, “There are many forms of cyberbullying, from light-hearted by hurtful comments on facebook to passive-aggressive posts on Instagram to trolling on YouTube to cyberstalking everywhere else.”

In What Is The Definition Of Bullying?, we said that the definition of bullying was “Intentionally causing suffering for someone else who often can’t or won’t defend themselves.” If this occurs in a digital space, it qualifies as cyberbullying.

Examples Of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying behaviors include name-calling, posting rumors, threats, unwarranted ‘blocking’ of profiles, sexual remarks, victims’ personal information, using pejorative labels (i.e. ‘retarded’ or ‘gay’).

-Privately messaging someone when that message isn’t wanted–and continuing to do so after being asked to stop

-Name-calling in a comment thread on reddit

-Using sarcasm to continuously criticize the beliefs of others on facebook

-Responding to tweets with aggressive attacks or slander about a person, company, organization, etc.

-Text messaging screenshots of private conversations to others outside of that conversation in order to cause that person suffering, make them look bad, etc.

Is cyberbullying different than simply being mean on Snapchat, facebook, twitter, etc.? The most common forms of cyberbullying include harassment via text messaging, social media platforms, online comment threads, telephones, multiplayer video games, blogs, forums, subreddits, wikis, and other forms of digital media.

Cyberbullying Statistics

A report by the Pew Research Center found that 40% of Americans believe they have experienced online harassment, “with half of this group citing politics as the reason they think they were targeted.”

The report continues, “Roughly two-thirds of adults under 30 (64%) have experienced any form of the online harassment activities measured in this survey – making this the only age group in which a majority have been subjected to these behaviors.”

It is obvious that many victims are targeted because of their race/ethnicity, religion, income level, disability, gender identity, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. The report: “Lesbian, gay or bisexual adults are particularly likely to face harassment online. Roughly seven-in-ten have encountered any harassment online and fully 51% have been targeted for more severe forms of online abuse.”

How Schools Can Respond To Cyberbullying

In many of the classrooms we’ve been in over the last two or three years, bullying has shifted from the teacher vernacular to that of the students. It is not uncommon at all to see students observe, identify, socialize, and move to correct bullying on their own without input from teachers.

Obviously, things aren’t perfect. While the traditional image of bullying involves a large angry boy shaking a young timid boy upside down by his ankles until his lunch money falls out, the growth of technology has increased the nuance of human connection. By a simple ‘like’ or ‘share’ button, a message can be sent, oftentimes full of implicit meanness but lacking in a direct attack. Passive aggressiveness–especially on an ongoing basis–is a common form of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying has become so pervasive that many schools have policies to respond–many of which involve the local police. Schools take steps to prevent cyberbullying and help students understand how to deal with it when it occurs. Students need to know what constitutes cyberbullying and be able to identify warning signs. They also need to know where to go for assistance.

Parents and teachers must teach students how to reduce risk, frame their thinking when it does occur, and respond appropriately when they witness or experience it themselves.

Types Of Cyberbullying

  • Cyberharassing
  • Cybershaming
  • Cyberstalking

Cyberharassing (a less intense version of cyberbullying–when someone won’t leave someone else alone in spite of expressed desire to not be contacted, for example) and cybershaming (attempting to make someone feel guilt or shame through digital behaviors) can be thought of as types of online bullying, and cyberstalking could be as well. And the Pew Center report clarifies the ways gender can affect the bullying:

“Some 35% of men say they have been called an offensive name versus 26% of women, and being physically threatened online is a more common occurrence for men rather than women (16% vs. 11%). Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to report having been sexually harassed online (16% vs. 5%) or stalked (13% vs. 9%).

Young women are particularly likely to have experienced sexual harassment online. Fully 33% of women under 35 say they have been sexually harassed online, while 11% of men under 35 say the same.”

Once thought to be primarily a ‘kid’ or ‘teenager’ behavior, the rise of polarizing politics and social media platforms that benefit from ‘engagement’  has become increasingly common among adults. 

These acts are often perpetrated by strangers but they also can involve people you know. Cyberbullying can also come in many tones: It can be ‘playfully’ intimidating or clearly threatening. It can be humiliating, embarrassing, depressing, and even life-threatening.

What To Do If Someone Is Cyberbullying You

Cyberbullying causes damage both individually and collectively, and the effects may last long after the initial incident. Cyberbullying may cause psychological distress, emotional pain, anxiety, anger, and shame. But thankfully, it’s correctable.

It is important that you tell someone you trust–ideally a family member, close friend, your teacher, coach, or someone else who can help advise you because knowing how to respond to cyberbullying isn’t always obvious and can change in different situations.

If you’re being bullied, you may feel alone and vulnerable but know that while hurtful, it is common (meaning you’re not alone), fixable (meaning you it’s not going to continue forever), and says more about the cyberbully than it does about you.

Bullies are mean-spirited, unempathetic, unkind, and destructive and these traits are their problems that they are ‘bringing’ to you. You are the victim but you’re not the problem and you’re not the one who needs fixing. Keeping this perspective might help alleviate some of the suffering caused by the act. The causes are often jealousy, insecurity, and even fear on the part of the bully. As the saying goes, ‘Hurt people (tend to) hurt people.’

Either way, it’s not something anyone should have to endure. If it’s happening to you, turn to someone you trust to stop it.

What To Do If You Witness Cyberbullying

The most common and appropriate response for most students when they witness cyberbullying is to report it to someone they (you) trust while alerting any available moderators or administrators of the digital space the bullying is occurring. Note, this is not ‘snitching’–it is revealing harmful behavior to people who can work to make it stop.

What Is An Internet Troll?

Internet trolls are people who intentionally ‘start trouble’ online. They post mean things about others or make polarizing statements they may not even believe themselves. In short, internet trolls are simply troublemakers who get a kick out of making others upset.

What Is A Cyberstalker?

As the name suggests, cyberstalkers use the internet and related digital tools to stalk people, obtaining personal and private information about the victim and otherwise not respecting the privacy, well-being, and ‘digital personal space’ of their victim.

The Definition Of Cyberbullying