On the Pulse

What Is Cyberbullying?

10.17.2023 | Heather Cooper

Child on electronic deviceAlmost all parents and caregivers are familiar with bullying that happens in person. But fewer adults understand cyberbullying. It refers to bullying that happens in the digital world via devices like smartphones, computers and gaming systems.

A type of harassment, cyberbullying includes sending messages meant to intimidate, humiliate, manipulate or cause other distress. Cyberbullying can be private, one-on-one bullying that happens via texts and other direct messages. It can also be public, such as creating social media posts that everyone can see. Cyberbullying happens a lot, and it can affect kids so deeply that it’s sometimes a factor in suicides and suicide attempts.

To help protect kids, parents and other caregivers must understand the different forms of cyberbullying.

What are some of the common types of cyberbullying?

Spamming is a form of cyberbullying in which the person who bullies floods another person with unwanted messages. It can involve sending hundreds of texts or emails and may include images and videos. Trolling happens when someone posts offensive content (comments, photos or videos) that is meant to ignite emotions and create open conflict.

Some forms of cyberbullying go beyond harassment. These tactics can cause emotional damage, ruin reputations and even lead to physical harm. Exclusion involves purposely leaving someone out of group chats or other virtual group events. Outing is exposing information about a person that is personal, private or secret — with the intention of humiliating that person. Doxxing (also spelled ‘doxing’) is revealing someone’s personal information such as their home address or phone number without their consent. It’s done to encourage others to harass or harm them. Stalking can include ‘following’ someone online or collecting information about them to make them feel unsafe. Catfishing involves pretending to be someone else online, and often includes creating fake personas and social media profiles. The person who bullies lures someone into conversations to gain personal knowledge about them and may even pretend to be interested in a relationship.

How can parents and caregivers help protect kids from cyberbullying?

Awareness and communication are key. We need to know what our kids are doing online, including the apps and services they’re using. As part of our regular check-ins and ongoing conversations, we can ask them if they see cyberbullying or ever experience it themselves.

We also need to be sure they understand that any negative online content can have terrible consequences because it’s permanent and gets passed along. And of course, we can be positive role models by posting with care and never provoking or harassing others.

Visit stopbullying.gov for more information, including what steps to take when cyberbullying happens.