Cyberbullying and Bullying

Girl being bullied

The terms “bullying” and “cyberbullying” are used to describe the same unwanted, mean behavior towards another person: if someone is threatening, harassing, or humiliating another person, they are being a bully. The big difference is that bullying happens in person, while cyberbullying happens online (via email, instant messaging, text, social networking sites, or other mobile apps and websites).

Bullying and cyberbullying are mean behaviors that:

  • Are intentional – the bullying is being done on purpose.
  • Involves an imbalance of power – the aggressive person uses some sort of power over his/her victim. He or she may feel powerful because they are popular, physically stronger, or have access to embarrassing information.
  • Happens repeatedly – more than just a couple of times.

Bullying and cyberbullying are not:

  • Once in a while, or a one-time event, where a person puts someone else down.
  • Posting something on your timeline that might offend others.
  • Disagreements, fights, or mean words that result from misunderstandings.

What  counts as bullying and cyberbullying?

Bullying and cyberbullying can happen face to face, or behind someone’s back. It can also involve actions that border on discrimination, whether it’s about sexuality, gender, race, class, or something else.

Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Verbal – threatening to hurt someone, regularly insulting someone to their face, making inappropriate sexual comments
  • Physical – hitting or tripping someone, throwing things at someone, breaking someone’s things
  • Social – embarrassing someone in public, spreading rumors, telling someone not to be friends with someone else, making inappropriate photos or videos using someone’s photo

Cyberbullying can take many forms, including:

  • Making mean or hurtful comments online (including doing so anonymously)
  • Creating a website or social media group to make fun of someone else
  • Editing photos to make them more embarrassing, and sharing them online
  • Pretending to be someone else online, and saying hurtful or embarrassing things as that person
  • Sharing private texts, messages, and photos of someone else without their permission

It can be difficult to escape cyberbullying, since we live in a connected society where we spend a lot of time using technology. It can also be hard (but not impossible) to figure out who is doing the cyberbullying online if the person is doing it anonymously.

Bullying and cyberbullying aren’t totally different things. They’re examples of the same kind of behavior — with the same social, cultural, and human roots — in different contexts. It’s often hard to separate bullying and cyberbullying, since your experience of the online and offline worlds are so closely connected. For example, many online victims know their bullies in real life (although they might only be bullied by him or her online). Conflicts dealing with relationships that start out offline may carry over to social media sites, through text messaging, etc., or vice versa, and escalate or turn into cyberbullying. For example: A prank pulled in the locker room at school results in ongoing social humiliation through pictures shared online. Another example could start with a nasty Facebook post that leads to bullying at school.

Still, things aren’t always crystal clear.

It’s important to keep in mind that conflicts that start out as jokes, misunderstandings, or arguments can escalate and lead to ongoing bullying situations.

What’s more common – bullying offline or online?

Both types of bullying often go hand-in-hand. Research studies show that offline bullying is more common among middle school students, but online bullying tends to be more common among high-school students. Also, girls are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying and yet they are also more likely than boys to be the person who uses cyberbullying to hurt someone else. Boys are more likely to bully in person.

What roles do people play in bullying?

Different roles include the bully, victim, bully-victim, and bystander. However, these roles aren’t always clear-cut. For example, bully-victims are people who are victims, but also bully others. Bystanders observe an act of bullying happening to someone else.

Regardless of what role a person plays, being involved in bullying both online and offline is connected with certain negative psychological, social, and academic consequences, including low self-esteem, trouble with sleeping, relationships problems, depression, and less success in school.

Other things to know about bullying at school:

Your relationship with your friends and others at school can affect the way you feel about bullying and can also affect your involvement in it. If you’re comfortable in your social group and your friends don’t support bullying, you likely won’t either. People who have friends who don’t support bullying are also more likely to stand up for the victim if they witness bullying. However, if your friends are bullying others, it can be easy to give into peer pressure and take part in bullying with them.

What is “trolling?”

“Trolls,” or people who “troll,” are users who purposefully post inflammatory or controversial comments in order to provoke other users and create arguments. The best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them. If you respond to their comments, you will encourage them to continue posting rude or hateful posts. If a troll is posting repeatedly or making rude or offensive comments, you can also report them to the hosting site, and they may be removed or forbidden from making future comments.

What should I do if I’m being cyberbullied?

Instead of responding to the cyberbullying, save the messages or inappropriate pictures or videos. You can also take a screen shot while the bullying is going on, because the bully may be able to delete the offending message or picture at any point. Tell an adult what happened or seek support from a close, trusted friend. In extreme cases, it may be necessary for you to report a bullying/cyberbullying situation to school officials and/or the police.

If this happens, you should be ready to answer the following questions:

  1. What exactly was said? (Print out a copy of the message/post/picture, or show the saved text message)
  2. What type of technology was used to make the threat? (IM, text, cell phone, other hand-held device, etc.)
  3. How often has the threat occurred?
  4. Do you know who is responsible for the threats? (Answer this question honestly. Do you know exactly who it is? Do you think you know who is doing it? Do you not have a clue who is making the threats?)

You can also report abuse to the online application that was used to deliver the harassing behavior. For instance, if someone is repeatedly posting mean comments about you on Facebook, you can report the comments as spam, and secure your account to prevent the bully from contacting you. If someone is sending e-mails to your Gmail account that violate Gmail policies, fill out the form to report the abuse. Remember that you can usually block and filter users from contacting you by adjusting your privacy settings.

If you or someone you know is being bulled, speak up! Below are some resources with tips on how to handle bullying and cyberbullying:

Stop Bullying on the Spot

Teens Against Bullying

Dealing With Bullying

Preventing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying FAQ for Teens


If you or someone you know is feeling severely depressed or suicidal as a result of bullying, get help right away! Tell an adult and go to the closest emergency room. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and read more in our Suicide Prevention health guide.