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

Prevent It

Here are some tips to protect yourself from cyberbullying, and to prevent yourself from bullying others:

  • Never share your passwords, private photos, or personal data (such as address or phone number) online, not even with friends.
  • Think before you post. If you’re upset, sad, or angry, wait to post or respond. Give yourself some time to cool down, so you don’t do something that you can’t take back.
  • Never publicly reveal anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone knowing. Remember when you share something online, it can be shared with anyone, including your parents and teachers.
  • When you make comments about someone else, imagine how you would feel if someone said that about you.

When it Happens, Take Action

Talk about it with someone, reach out for help.

  • You don’t have to go through this alone.
  • It’s important to know that it’s not your fault.
  • Tell a parent or another trusted adult, such as someone at your school – a teacher, counselor, coach, or principal.
  • Ask for their help.

How to Tell An Adult About Bullying

Keep Records

An important part of addressing a cyberbullying situation is keeping a record of what has happened. You may want to delete what is being sent, so that you don’t have to see if again, but it’s important to NOT delete messages and other bullying content that you receive. Keep records as you may need to provide proof of the cyberbullying to a parent, school officials or law enforcement officials.

Save the evidence:

  • Save everything -use screenshots when necessary- including emails, text messages, posts, URL’s, and photos.
  • Don’t delete anything until you have a copy.
  • If bullying is also happening in person, make sure to record the date and description of each event.

Block: Remove the opportunity for the person to contact you.

Report the activity to the social media site

Many social media sites have safety pages that provide guidelines for how to report and address cyberbullying on their site:

Cyberbullying: What Youth Need to Know

During October’s National Bullying Prevention Month, Ryley from Youth MOVE Nevada (a youth inspired and youth led podcast that explores mental health and youth serving systems) interviewed Danna Mirviss from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to discuss what cyberbullying is, why it is so harmful, and what youth can do if they are experiencing cyberbullying or see it happening.

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.


Want more information?

Visit the cyberbullying section at PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

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

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