What Is Cyberbullying?

Teenage Girl Victim Of Bullying By Text Messaging

While the definitions of cyberbullying, sometimes called online bullying, vary from source to source, most definitions reflect:

Cyberbullying is bullying – unwanted, repeated, aggressive, negative behavior – that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, tablets, and computers. Cyberbullying can happen over email, through texting, on social media, while gaming, on instant messaging, and through photo sharing.

Cyberbullying can be anonymous, which can sometimes make it even worse. It also has a wider audience and can spread quickly. Finally, targets of cyberbullying often feel like they can’t escape the bullying. If someone is bullying you at school, it’s over when you leave for the day. But cyberbullying can follow you home and continue all night.

Imagine a classmate posts a photo of themselves online. Someone else makes a mean, mocking comment about the photo. Soon, that photo has been shared, liked, reposted—even made into a meme. Thousands of people have seen it, even people the person being targeted doesn’t know. That’s why cyberbullying can be extra hurtful: it’s public, it spreads quickly, and it’s 24/7.

Cyberbullying is bullying—unwanted, repeated, aggressive, negative behavior—that takes place using digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can happen anywhere online, including over email, through texting, on social media, while gaming, on instant messaging, and through photo sharing.

Unique Characteristics of Cyberbullying

While all bullying is characterized by intentional, often repetitive, hurtful behavior toward another person or group, there are distinguishing elements when it happens online or via smartphone, which include:

  • Persistent. Most students have access to some form of technology at all times, which means cyberbullying can happen any time—in the morning, afternoon, and evening—not just while children are at school. It happens while at home or in the community.
  • Hard to detect. While some bullying is very overt, such as pushing or damaging belongings, cyberbullying happens through phones and on computers or tablets, making it much more difficult for adults to detect.
  • Anonymous. Cyberbullying can be done anonymously. Those being bullied might not even know who is perpetuating the behavior, which makes it easy for one child to hurt another and not be held accountable.
  • Shared to a potentially larger audience. Information online can be easily and quickly shared, which makes it difficult to contain or stop negative messages once they are posted online.
  • Easier to be hurtful. It is often easier to bully using technology because of greater physical distance The person bullying doesn’t see the immediate response from the person being targeted They might not recognize the serious harm caused by their actions because technology distances them from the real-life pain they could be causing.
  • Permanent.* Once something is shared on the internet, it is often available to everyone, everywhere It can be challenging to completely delete information once it is on the internet.

Note: The one advantage to “permanence” is that online bullying does leave tangible evidence. Unlike physical or emotional bullying, online bullying leaves a digital footprint; the words, images, or videos posted can be documented through screenshots or saving URLs and texts, which can be useful.

Cyberbullying Prevention 101 Quick Guide

What you can do about cyberbullying

If you see someone being bullied online, here’s what you can do:

Show support for the individual(s) being bullied.

  • Choose not to join in on the bullying. You may feel pressure to join in if a lot of other people are. You can make your own choice not to contribute to the situation.
  • Don’t “like” or share posts that are bullying someone. When you see negative behavior happening online, don’t contribute to it.
  • Respond with positive support. If you feel comfortable, and if it’s safe for you, publicly show your solidarity with the person being targeted by the bullying. Even one nice comment among a bunch of mean ones can make a world of difference.
  • Reach out to the person being bullied. Send them a private message letting them know that you don’t agree with what’s happening, they don’t deserve to be treated like that, and they’re not along. Encourage them to report the bullying, or to tell an adult.

Document and report

  • Let an adult know what’s happening. Tell your teacher, a social worker, or another trusted adult at school. If outside of school, find an adult you trust and ask for their advice.
  • Report the behavior to the social media platform. The following companies provide guidelines for how to report and address cyberbullying on their sites:

Let An Adult Know What’s Happening

What is the role of schools to address cyberbullying?

Every state has a bullying prevention law or policy that helps districts and schools address bullying. Many of these laws and policies require that schools address cyberbullying in their district policy. Some state laws also cover off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment. If a child experiences cyberbullying, check the school’s bullying prevention policy to learn more about the role the school can play in helping youth address the issue.

State Law and Policy

  • Cyberbullying can create a disruptive environment at school and is often related to in-person bullying. The school can use the information to help inform prevention and response strategies.
  • In many states, schools are required to address cyberbullying in their Anti-Bullying policy. Some state laws also cover off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment.
  • Source:


Check Your Knowledge

Why can cyberbullying sometimes be more damaging than traditional bullying?


At what age should there be a “cyberbullying conversation” with youth?


True or False: Cyberbullying only happens on social media.


Schools aren’t required to address cyberbullying that happens outside of school hours.


True or False: Any information young people put online or on their phone can be easily shared, copied, and pasted in other places.


True or False: Many social media sites offer some sort of system to report bullying content.


True or False: If youth are being bullied online, they should immediately delete all of the bullying messages and posts.


True or False: The bullying that happens online is less damaging than traditional bullying.


True or False: Most cyberbullying happens outside the view of adults.


True or False: There are additional protections for students of protected classes, including students with disabilities.


Cyberbullying – Student Perspective | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 3, Episode 23

Students provide their insights about how to address and prevent cyberbullying.

5 Unique Aspects of Cyberbullying | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 3, Ep 22

Teens Respond to “I Care Because” Statement: Cyberbullying | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 2, Episode 18

The “I Care Because” section features statements from individuals around the world, sharing why they care about bullying prevention. In this episode teens read and respond to a statements about cyberbullying, sharing their insight and advice.

Cyberbullying: More Questions Answered By Kids | PACERTalks About Bullying, Episode 16

Age 13 is when teens are typically able to sign up for many social media accounts. But does cyberbullying only start at age 13 when teens start getting these accounts? In this video we ask kids about this question and about all things cyberbullying. Check out their amazing responses.

Cyberbullying:What Makes it Unique | PACERTalks About Bullying, Episode 13

The dynamics of using technology to hurt, harm or humiliate another individual or group are examined in this video.

Video: Teen Talk on Cyberbullying

Ideas for Addressing Cyberbullying | PACERTalks About Bullying, Season 2, Episode 13

In this video, are tips on how to address and prevent cyberbullying, and what to do if you see it happening online.