Cyberbullying & Harassment Online: Awareness & Prevention

Whether you’re just starting out online or you’re a seasoned digital learner, cyberbullying can impact any student at any time. Learn to understand the basics, gain expert insight on handling yourself in cyber harassment situations, and take away tips for staying safe online.

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Siah Bonita
Siah Bonita

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Siah Bonita Hagin has a passion for working with children and families. She currently works as a School Counselor with the New York City Department of Education and has been employed by the agency the past fourteen years. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she began writing poetry on her journey to healing and recently published her first book. The Journey Continues: Stories of A Survivor is a collection of poetry that leads readers from tragedy to victory, and from defeat to triumph.

Some people think bullying is part of growing up. It helps kids develop thicker skin and learn how to handle tough situations at an early age. However, research has shown that bullying can impact kids long-term, especially with the rise of cyberbullying and the use of social media to share with larger and unforgiving audiences. The rise of cyberbullying has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of technology use in the classroom with 15% of students ages 12-18 reporting being affected by cyberbullying at some point. But unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can be harder to spot. This means that it’s crucial for students, parents, teachers, and administrators to recognize the warning signs and know what to do when they see it happening.

While many schools and states now have laws and policies in place to address cyberbullying, there are still actions that students, parents, and teachers can take to prevent further harassment from taking place. Keep reading to learn how you can do your part to recognize and stop cyberbullying. 

What Does Online Bullying Look Like?

Online bullying and harassment can take several different forms and students, families, and educators need to know how to recognize each of them. Some learners may not even realize they are experiencing cyberbullying at first given that it can start subtly and ramp up over time. Check out the table below to learn about some of the more common types of cyberbullying and what each looks like.

Type of Online
Bullying
How It
Happens
DissingWhen students or other people in an individual’s life try to harm their relationships or reputations, it’s known as dissing. This type of bullying is usually done by someone who knows the person they are looking to hurt, and they try to use personal information in their attacks.
CatfishingCatfishing happens when an internet bully creates a fake profile, email, or other online presence in an attempt to fool another person. As with dissing, catfishing usually happens between two people who know each other.
ExcludingDeliberately not inviting someone or leaving them out is classified as excluding. While this frequently happens offline, it can occur in online settings as well. Students may not get an invitation to online groups or videoconferencing or may be left out of group text or message threads.
HarassingHarassing often serves as an umbrella term for the many different types of cyberbullying in use today. If someone talks about being harassed, they usually mean that they have been the victim of some type of harmful or hurtful online behavior, including any of those listed in this section.
DoxingAlso known as “dropping docs,” this type of harassment takes place when an internet bully publishes personal information that can harm another person, such as their address and phone number, personal communication, sensitive photographs, or details about their family. The intention is to embarrass, extort, or intimidate the person being doxed.
CyberstalkingThis often-scary type of bullying happens when a cyberbully purposefully tracks or follows someone to the point of making them uncomfortable or fearful. Individuals may experience anxiety, pain, or emotional distress and fear for their safety at times. Some people who engage in cyberstalking due so out of an obsession with someone else, while others look to steal their identity. When taken too far, cyberstalking can have legal consequences.
TrollingTrolling is typically done by someone who wants to gain attention, cause harm, or stir up trouble by posting inflammatory comments. Trolling often takes the form of controversial or demeaning comments on social media posts, sometimes under the guise of being helpful. For instance, someone might comment on a student’s weight but frame it as trying to help them be healthy.
SwattingWhile the actual act of swatting does not happen online, it’s often the direct result of what started as online bullying and progressed. Swatting also shows the dangers of how cyberbullying can cross into your offline existence easily. Swatting happens when someone calls the police or another law enforcement agency and creates a false narrative about threatening or scary behavior happening at another person’s home. The goal is to get a SWAT team to show up at their place of residence.
FrapingWhen someone uses your social media account or email to post or send things that did not come from you, this is known as fraping. This act can sometimes be harmless (think when someone uses your account to post that they’re your best friend, etc.) but can turn into bullying if the person posts hurtful, mean, or inappropriate content that looks like it came from the individual they seek to harm or embarrass.
TrickingTrickery often relates to doxing but has the added element of the bully getting close to the person before causing harm. Tricking bullies often try to befriend their target to get more personal details or information out of them before making it public in harmful or scary ways.
FlamingFlaming takes place when an online bully directly seeks to insult or be mean to another person. It can involve sending text messages, emails, or direct messages to another person filled with disparaging words. While usually done in private, the goal of flaming is often to start a more public online fight and bring others into it.

Where Does Cyberbullying Happen?

While it should be pretty obvious that cyberbullying takes place online, zooming into which tools and apps are commonly used to harass others can help prevent future issues. It’s important to stay up to date on this list, as new apps and tools are steadily developed and released. A few places where cyberbullying can happen include:

  • Social media apps: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok can all be used in cyberbullying, specifically in instances of catfishing, fraping, trolling, and dissing. Some bullies may use comments for harassment while others may post under fake accounts or send hurtful direct messages.
  • Texting apps: WhatsApp, Kik, and Discord are all used frequently by teens to do text, voice, and video chatting. Many of these allow users to be contacted by people outside their contact list, creating the potential for cyberstalking and general harassment.
  • Discussion boards: Reddit, 4Chan, Amino, and other public forums allow users – sometimes anonymously – to post content that could be damaging or considered bullying to other users, including those who they know. These and other forums can be used for doxing, tricking, trolling, and excluding.

The Impact of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can impact students and their families in myriad ways, all of which are harmful. Whether you’re a student, parent, or educator, understanding what cyberbullying and online harassment can do in terms of mental health and academic performance helps underscore the seriousness of this ongoing issue.

Mental Health

  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety: A 2018 study of more than 8,000 learners found that middle and high school students who are bullied repeatedly are at higher risks for low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression as compared to those who are not. They also more frequently express a desire to avoid school and interactions with others.
  • Long-term effects on bullies: In the same study, researchers found that individuals behaving in bullying ways were at a higher risk for continued aggressive behavior, substance use and abuse, and issues at school.
  • Uptick in the need for psychiatric intervention: In 2017 a group of researchers conducted a study on 50 children aged 13-16 at a private inpatient psychiatric hospital. They found that almost half of those patients had suffered the effects of cyberbullying and showed signs of disassociation, depression, and anger.
  • Childhood trauma and cyberbullying often connected: The same study also found a higher rate of cyberbullying among youth who had childhood trauma. Of the 20% of students who reported being cyberbullied within the previous two months, a substantially high number also stated they had experienced emotional abuse as children.
  • Can lead to suicidal behavior: A study from Swansea University found that individuals under 25 who faced cyberbullying were over 50% more likely to engage in self-harm and/or suicidal behavior compared to peers who hadn’t been harassed online.

Academic Performance

  • Poorer performance in school: A study on cyberbullying and academic performance included 365 participants who had been in some way involved in bullying, either as the victim or perpetrator. 70% of the respondents, 255 students, agreed that cyberbullying had adversely affected their academic performance over the previous year.
  • Bullying and academic issues frequently linked: A landmark study of 2,300 middle and high schoolers in Los Angeles found that students who are repeatedly bullied earned lower grades than their classmates and were less engaged in the learning process. These students, according to the researchers, are frequently mislabeled as low achievers due to fear of getting bullied if they participate.
  • Bullying leads to skipped school: While primarily this includes in-person education, cyberbullying can also lead students to skip virtual classes and not engage with the materials. The Cyberbullying Research Center found that nearly 20% of students skip school at least once a year due directly to bullying at school.
  • Less confidence in academic abilities: A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that bullied students lose confidence in their academic capabilities and grow to dislike school. This then results in lower academic achievement.
  • More issues around grades and testing: StopBullying reports that students who are bullied – including cyberbullying – have lower GPAs and standardized test scores than students who aren’t. The group also found that bullied students more frequently miss school.

10 Steps to Take if You’re Bullied Online

If you become the victim of cyberbullying, know that there are things you can do to stop the harassment and get your life back. The advice below can help you safely and effectively navigate through the pain of bullying.

1

Tell an adult

Whether that means a parent, guardian, teacher, or all the above, let someone know that you are being mistreated online. This can help with eradicating the problem more quickly and ensuring the bully is properly dealt with.

2

Block cyberbullies

Whether on email, social media, or chat programs, the first thing you should do when experiencing bullying is block the person doing it. While they can still create a new account and reach you, this at least cuts them off from you temporarily and allows for time to figure out next steps.

3

Report account

In addition to blocking the cyberbully, make sure you report the account to the administrators of the app or tool in use. Administrators can help limit the bully’s access by blocking both their username and IP address.

4

Change your username(s)

Despite blocking and reporting accounts, dedicated cyberbullies can still find ways to harass you if they want. If these things keep happening despite your best efforts, it may be time to change your email address and usernames. Use something unique that is unconnected to your name or any identifying features to add more anonymity.

5

Keep records

Take screenshots, save emails, and keep records of anything a cyberbully says or does to you. Having these records will be important if you’re ever in a situation where you need to press charges or involve law enforcement to ensure the cyberbully leaves you alone.

6

Avoid responding

No matter what the cyberbully says, does, or threatens, don’t engage with them. It can be hard not to tell them they’re being dishonest or causing you pain, but often this just eggs the bully on even more given that they thrive on reactions.

7

Schedule a meeting with school leadership

If you’ve tried handling this on your own or hoped it would go away, but it hasn’t, involve others from your school. Schedule a meeting with a high-ranking administrator or teacher and let them know what is happening. Ask how they plan to make it better and stay in regular communication with them.

8

Bring in law enforcement if necessary

Despite your best efforts to deescalate the situation yourself, sometimes law enforcement is the only option left. Many states now have cyberbullying laws to help protect you if things get out of hand.

9

Remember that they are trying to cause harm

Cyberbullies thrive on saying and doing things that hurt others. They often try to make their victims feel bad about themselves and question their worth. No matter what they say, remember that they don’t know you and aren’t telling the truth. Don’t believe their hurtful lies.

10

Stay positive

It can be hard to imagine life before or after when you’re in the midst of being cyberbullied. Although it can feel all-encompassing, know that this too shall pass and one day it will be all behind you.

Preventing Cyberbullying

Steps can be taken by schools and students alike to prevent cyberbullying from happening in the first place and lessen the damaged caused if it does take place. The following section looks at some preventative measures to keep in mind.

What Schools Can Do

Schools have many options when it comes to educating students on cyberbullying and decreasing the number of incidents. Teachers and administrators alike can use these tips to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

1

Emphasize digital citizenship

In an age where students spend hours a day on smartphones, computers, and tablets, understanding how to function responsibly on the internet and interact with others on various apps responsibly is more important than ever. Check out our resources at the bottom of the page for details on a digital citizenship curriculum.

2

Create and enforce specific anti-cyberbullying policies

Setting expectations early on for how cyberbullying and mistreatment of fellow students and/or teachers can help dissuade would-be cyberbullies from acting on their impulses. Let all students know that the school has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of behavior.

3

Involve parents

Whether dealing with the parents of a student being bullied or one doing the bullying, it’s important to bring parents into the conversation. They can help look for warning signs and work with school staff to catch issues early rather than letting them fester.

4

Encourage open communication

In many cases, students being cyberbullied do not tell their parents or teachers until it has gone on for far too long. Administrators and teachers must emphasize an open communication policy that encourages students to let others know when they are being harmed online.

5

Provide cyberbullying education

As part of in-service training days or continuing education offerings, make sure educators take a cyberbullying prevention class. This will help them identify warning signs earlier and know what to do when this happens.

What You Can Do

If you or a fellow student are being cyberbullied, there are plenty of things you do can to protect yourself and your peers.

1

Stand up for others

If you see another student being bullied online or hear that this is taking place, stand up for them. Let them know that is behavior is unacceptable and remind them that, no matter what the bully says about them, it’s all untrue. Act as their ally and provide support whenever possible.

2

Treat everyone with respect

Practicing kindness regardless of how others treat you is one of the most powerful things we as humans can do. Regardless of whether you’re having a bad day or are feeling out of sorts, take time to be nice to others.

3

Call out bad behavior

If you see a friend or classmate behaving online in a way that could be classified as cyberbullying, call them out. Tell them that they shouldn’t treat and/or speak to others in that way. If it persists, reach out to a teacher, parent, or school administrator.

4

Create an anti-cyberbullying club

Bring together other students affected by or worried about cyberbullying and start a club. This could involve training sessions for being an ally, awareness-raising programs, or screenings of anti-bullying media.

5

Protect your online presence

To dissuade cyberbullying from happening, try to keep a low profile online. Make your social media accounts private, only allow new messages from individuals in your contact list, and never provide your contact information in a public forum.

Insight from the Expert

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Siah Bonita Hagin has a passion for working with children and families. She currently works as a School Counselor with the New York City Department of Education and has been employed by the agency the past fourteen years.  As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she began writing poetry on her journey to healing and recently published her first book. The Journey Continues: Stories of A Survivor is a collection of poetry that leads readers from tragedy to victory, and from defeat to triumph. 

1. What should parents know about cyberbullying?

Parents should be aware of their child’s experience in the school building. Students commonly behave the same online as they do in person. There are of course exceptions, but students who are targeted in school will most likely be targeted online. If they have a hard time making friends or are often teased by their peers, it is safe to assume that their social skills online will be of concern as well.  

Parents should familiarize themselves with the school’s policy regarding cyberbullying. Every school should have a policy in place regarding bullying and cyberbullying. These regulations include consequences for students who engage in this behavior as well as options for the student being bullied. Administration routinely facilitates a meeting with the parents of both students and enforcements are detailed at the time of the meeting. Finally, parents should know what apps that their child is on and routinely check in on their s activity online. 

2. What signs might there be that a child is being bullied online?

Signs that a student may be bullied online include a fear, or disinterest in going to school and engaging in school activities or a lack of drive and/or extremely sad mood.  This includes change in appetite and sleep. Students can also be confrontational or argumentative with authority figures including parents and teachers. Students can also be confrontational with their peers. 

3. What actions can parents and schools take to help curb and/or eliminate this problem?

Parents:

  • Be familiar with your child’s school policy on bullying. 
  • Monitor your child’s activity online. Address any concern that you may find with your child. If your child has a relationship with the student who is engaging in the bullying behavior, reach out to their parents and have a conversation with them.  
  • Take the necessary precautions to prevent further bullying including closing the account, unfriending, etc.  
  • Get the school involved by sharing the concern and seeking their support if unable to resolve the problem. 

Schools:

  • Review and enforce policies and procedures on cyberbullying.
  • Provide workshops for parents and students to help combat the issue.
  • Provide professional development for teachers to help enforce policy and procedures 

4. What are some potential consequences if caught cyberbullying?

Possible consequences include suspension, removal from classroom, conflict resolution with the school counselor with the two parties (student being bullied and the bully). Consequences can also be removal from an activity that the student enjoys such as computer time, class celebrations, etc. 

5. What advice or support can you give to students encountering this issue?

  • Do not suffer alone. Tell an adult that you trust about what is going on, including your parents. 
  • Do not engage with the bully online. Once the bully knows they have gotten to you, they will continue to engage in the behavior, and it will most likely escalate. Report the behavior immediately so it can be addressed. 
  • Keep telling until the problem is resolved. If the behavior continues, continue to speak about it.

Cyberbullying Resources

  • Cyberbullying Research Center
    This nonprofit group provides tons of resources, research studies, books, and opportunities for connecting with others who want to discuss this important topic.
  • Cyberbullying: Understanding and Addressing Online Cruelty
    The Anti-Defamation League offers a curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school students to address the growing issue of cyberbullying.
  • Everything You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship
    Teachers can find K-12 lesson plans for helping students learn how to responsibly use the internet, including how to avoid cyberbullying.
  • iKeepSafe
    This group brings together educational facilities, nonprofits, and the private sector to educate children, parents, and teachers about the devastating effects of cyberbullying.
  • National Bullying Prevention Center
    PACER provides this resource that includes specific support for cyberbullying, including videos, definitions, and several white papers.
  • Stop Bullying
    This government resource offers plenty of guidance and support services for students, teachers, and parents alike. It also includes an important “Get Help Now” section.
  • Submit* The Documentary
    This film was made to highlight the detrimental effects of cyberbullying and help students understand its consequences.
  • Teachers’ Essential Guide to Cyberbullying Prevention
    Common Sense Education offers this comprehensive guide on handling cyberbullying in the in-person and online classroom.
  • The Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying
    This Connect Safety guide offers comprehensive guidance for parents looking to safeguard their children from cyberbullies.
  • What is Cyberbullying and How to Stop It
    CallerSmart provides state-by-state guidance on laws around cyberbullying and what to do if you or someone you know is affected.