At some point in our lives, we have likely either been bullied, stood back and watched others bullying, or participated in the act. Playing the role of offender, offended, and by-stander has become easier, thanks to the Internet and the technologies that make it possible to keep up connected.

In this article, we aim to arm you with the basics. From there you can decide for yourself if you want to further expand your knowledge so you know what to do to help someone—a family, a peer—who might be involved in incidents of cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a term used to describe the act of bullying someone using electronic and digital means. Bullying involves two things: intent and persistence. An offender intentionally says or does something negative to the offended and does so for a period of time. This sets cyberbullying apart from, say, a one-time encounter with someone being mean or rude to them.

Cyberbullying is often used interchangeably with the terms “online bullying”, “digital bullying”, “online aggression”, or “electronic aggression”.

Note that cyberbullying and physical bullying could happen to an individual at the same time.

Examples of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can take many forms, can happen anywhere online, and can target anyone, including adults in the workplace. It is probably most commonly associated with kids and teens who send hurtful text messages to their victims, or spread rumors about them on social media. Some bullies share non-consensual images and video recordings of victims doing something in private.

Again, we’d like to stress that what classifies something as bullying isn’t a specific act or platform, but the wilfulness of the bully, and the repeated harm they inflict on their victim.

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

The effects of bullying can manifest in someone physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. And cyberbullying doesn’t just affect the victim and the offender, it also affects those who stand by and watch as the bullying takes place.

Studies have shown that those involved in bullying—whether they’re the abuser, the abused, or a by-stander—can experience headaches, recurring stomach pains, and difficulty sleeping. They can also have problems concentrating, behavioral issues, and can find it difficult to get along with others. Emotionally and mentally, those who are abused can feel sad, angry, frustrated, scared, and worthless, and can cause suicidal thoughts.

The effects of bullying can manifest as depression or a sudden change of attitude, such as not wanting to go to school or avoiding smartphones for example.

Is cyberbullying the same as cyber violence?

Cyber violence appears to be short for “cyber violence against women and girls (VAWG)”. It is a term used to describe violent online behaviors aimed specifically at women and girls. Usually, they are victims of domestic abuse done to them by a former or current partner.

According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) [PDF], “Violent online behaviour ranges from online harassment and public shaming to the desire to inflict physical harm including sexual assaults, murders and induced suicides.”

In UNESCO’s eyes, the tragic case of Amanda Todd, the 15-year old Canadian teen who committed suicide after posting an emotional video on YouTube about the bullying she had suffered in the hands of a pedophile, is a crime rooted in cyber violence.

Is cyberbullying illegal?

All US states have some form of law that covers or addresses bullying behavior. You can learn and explore more about this by visiting Cyberbullying Research Center’s Bullying Laws Across America map.

How do you report cyberbullying?

Reporting an individual or a group for cyberbullying is a way for online harassment to stop.

If you or someone you know is experiencing negative behavior that could escalate to cyberbullying, let a trusted adult know. Take evidence of the online bullying, such as screenshots, and keep it them in a secure place. If the platforms where the bullying takes place allows it, block the bully.

You can also reach out to the websites and platforms where the bullying is taking place. The Cyberbullying Research Center has a huge list of contact details that direct you to the right place for reporting bullying on a wide variety of different platforms, including social media sites and games.

If you’re anywhere in the US or Canada, remember that you have the Crisis Text Line where you can reach a Crisis Counselor at any time, 24/7. Simply text HOME to 741-741. This free support can also be reached via WhatsApp at 443-SUPPORT. Additionally, residents in Canada can also contact Kids Help Phone by texting CONNECT to 686-868.

Residents in the UK and Ireland can text SHOUT to 85-258 and HELLO to 50-808, respectively.