Cyberbullying: How to Take Action Against It & Know It When You See It

Cyberbullying is extremely damaging, but you can do several things to prevent it. Learn how to spot cyberbullying and take action against it right here!

Did you know that around 65% of adults report cyberbullying, or being harassed online?

Typically you’ll find educational and inspirational content on this site. This article, though, shines a spotlight on this crucial issue that affects young people from all walks of life. It will also give you the tools to recognize and deal with it.

Cyberbullying is most often associated with school-age children and teenagers. Yet it can also occur among adults, including college students and young professionals.

This post discusses how to take action against online bullying. It covers what to do not only if you’re the victim of cyberbullying, but what to do if you witness it happening to someone else.

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What is Cyberbullying?

The definition of cyberbullying is “the use of electronic communication to bully a person.” This could include harassing, intimidating, or humiliating them.

Examples of this would be sending hurtful messages online, posting negative comments about someone, or spreading rumors about them. Cyberbullying can also involve sharing private information or images without consent.

Cyberstalking (harassing someone online) also constitutes online bullying. Online activity designed to harm another person, either emotionally or physically, is cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying encompasses a particularly large range of behaviors online performed with ill intent. For this reason, cyberbullying can sometimes be more subtle or harder to spot. In these instances, it is no less damaging though.

What Are The Effects of Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying affects all facets of the victim’s life. It can impact their mental health, academic performance, social and professional life.
Cyberbullying can have a range of serious effects on the victim, which can include:

The effects of cyberbullying can be long-lasting and even permanent. They can also be as damaging as traditional bullying, if not more so.
People who experience cyberbullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who don’t. Cyberbullying victims are more likely to suffer from eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.

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Cyberbullying Statistics

Staggeringly, cyberbullying is now the most common form of bullying. The most common offense is derogatory name-calling. This is followed by false rumors spreading and sending offensive images.

That’s far from the most shocking fact about cyberbullying.

19 out of 20 teenagers in the United States are online, most commonly accessing the internet via their phone. This makes it the most common medium for online bullying. Cyberbullying on social media is also particularly common.

6 out of 10 young people have also seen others being the victim of cyberbullying, but a majority of these witnesses do not intervene. To make matters worse only about 10% of victims will tell a trusted adult about the bullying.

Two-thirds of cyberbullying victims report it impacting not only their ability to learn but to feel safe. People experiencing bullying are also twice as likely to report physical problems like nausea.

Who’s Being Targeted?

While cyberbullying can affect anyone, there are certain groups that are more likely targets. These include:

  • LGBTQ+ youth
  • People with disabilities
  • Minorities

Cyberbullying happens more to females than males. Although, females tend to be the cyberbullies themselves more.

Cyberbullying Facts for Young Professionals and College Students

Cyberbullying can affect anyone. Certain things though make young professionals and students particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.
For one, young people are more likely to use technology than any other age group. They’re more active on social media and in online communities, which makes them easy targets for cyber bullies.

Additionally, many young people are still developing their sense of self and may not have the same coping mechanisms as adults. This can sadly make you more susceptible to the effects of cyberbullying.

It’s not just teens and tweens experiencing this online abuse. College students are not immune to cyberbullying. In fact, one study indicated 22% of college students experienced cyberbullying.

Unfortunately, this kind of bullying is also not only a remnant of your school years and can happen in professional settings. This may be sending mean or threatening emails. Posting defamatory statements about someone on a professional networking site is considered cyberbullying. Cyberstalking also falls into this category.

Cyberbullying in the workplace is usually motivated by a desire to advance the bully’s own position or personal agenda. It involves subtle behaviors designed to emotionally and psychologically control or undermine others.

Because the signs can be hard to spot, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with what a hostile work environment can look like.

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What Does Cyberbullying Look Like?

Cyberbullying has taken on many different forms in the digital age. Some activities are similar to those that occur offline, such as spreading rumors or sending hurtful messages. Others are unique to the online world.

Unlike traditional and face-to-face bullying, physical threats are less common in cyberbullying. Perpetrators tend to prefer emotional attacks.

Cyberbullying can look different across different mediums. Below is by no means an exhaustive list of examples.

Examples of Cyberbullying on Social Media

Social media encompasses a range of platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat. Social media is also the place where cyberbullying is most likely to occur.

Some examples of cyberbullying behavior on social media include:

  • Posting unkind or hurtful comments on someone’s profile or pictures
  • Sending mean messages privately or through direct messaging
  • Creating fake profiles or groups to cyberbully someone

Of all social platforms youth experience cyberbullying most on Instagram at 42%. Facebook follows closely at 37% of users experiencing abuse and 31% on Snapchat.

Examples of Cyberbullying in Forums

While the most popular forum site is Reddit, there are thousands out there. Cyberbullying can take place on any online forum, from to Mumsnet.

Forums are places where people often go to have heated discussions or debates about certain topics. This can make them an easy place for cyberbullies to attack their victims.

Forums also by their nature provide anonymity. Unlike a platform like Facebook which displays your personal details, forum users can hide behind a username.

Bullying in forums can take the form of starting arguments with the intention of provoking someone. It could also look like deliberately posting inflammatory or offensive material. Another example would be posting personal information about the victim.

Examples of Cyberbullying in College

College represents a time in your life filled with new obstacles, possibilities, and a variety of changes. Many students live away from their homes and families for the first time. You may also be under pressure to make new friends while also learning more about who you are as a person.

This period represents a time of identity formation. This means bullying has longer-lasting impacts. Also, bullies may be more likely to carry these behaviors over to their professional lives.

Some of the most common forms of cyberbullying that happen in college include exclusion, outings, and trolling.

Exclusion involves excluding certain people from online discussions intentionally. Outing refers to the release of private information. This might personal details, sexual images, or anything that might humiliate them. Trolling involves provoking victims online. “Trolls” typically by focusing on controversial topics and personal attacks.

Examples of Cyberbullying in the Workplace

The increasing use of technology in workplaces has made it a common place for cyberbullying to occur. Workplace Bullying Institute found that over 48 million Americans experienced workplace bullying.

Some examples of cyberbullying in the workplace include:

  • Sending abusive emails or instant messages
  • Posting derogatory comments about someone on social media
  • Spreading rumors about someone through email or IM
  • Hacking into someone’s email account to send out embarrassing information
  • Cyberstalking

Unfortunately, cyberbullying by professional adults can often be much harder to properly define. This makes it harder to address, especially in work settings. Subtle bullying in corporate environments could be constantly undermining people in corporate communications. Maybe it’s “forgetting” to invite colleagues to meetings, or deliberate failure to CC them.

There are ever-increasing professional forms of inter-office communication, like Slack. Deliberate exclusion or failure to communicate is a subtle but very real form of cyberbullying.

As office environments and high-pressure jobs by their nature can put a lot of pressure on people they may be inclined to behave in less savory ways. Unfortunately, some industries see more workplace bullying than others. You might like to have a read of these best low-stress jobs, which tend to create less anxious environments.

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Why Does Cyberbullying Occur?

There is no one answer to this question, but rather a range of factors. One of the most common reasons cyberbullies bully is to get revenge on someone they dislike. It also might make them feel better to put someone else down.

Another reported reason is to have power and control over another person. Some perpetrators also report it’s simply for entertainment or to provoke a reaction.

Often, cyberbullying stems from the cyberbully feeling insecure about their own life. This can be important to take into account when addressing the issue.

Signs to Look Out For: How to Spot Cyberbullying

A majority of young adults have witnessed cyberbullying. There are some tell-tale signs someone is being harassed online.

Some may be obvious, but others are more subtle.

As An Onlooker

Signs a friend or colleague may be experiencing cyberbullying include:

  • Being upset after using the internet or a mobile device
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities they used to enjoy
  • Having physical symptoms, such as headaches or nausea, after being online
  • Changing their passwords often or deleting their social media accounts
  • Showing signs of low self-esteem
  • Being unusually secretive about their online activity

Subtle signs someone may be the bully in an educational or professional environment:

  • Frequently excluding people from emails and communications or group chats
  • Privately sending cruel or rude messages about another person
  • Sending overt or veiled threats to another person

As The Victim

It might be easy to pass off the signs as the simple careless choice of words, or the other person is in a bad mood. While this may sometimes be the case, recognizing signs of malicious intent in a person’s behavior toward you is essential.

Another’s actions may constitute cyberbullying if:

  • They regularly make unkind or hurtful comments about you or to you on social media
  • They post derogatory comments about you online publicly or privately
  • Their actions repeatedly leave you doubting yourself or feeling insecure or anxious
  • They frequently ignore or exclude you in online group communications
  • Your self-confidence and happiness are affected by their behavior

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How To Stop Cyberbullying As A Victim

If you are a victim of cyberbullying there are a few steps you can take to try and address the situation. Addressing cyberbullying will never be comfortable, but it is necessary.

Talk to An Authority Figure

This authority figure will look different depending on the environment you’re in.

In high school, it may be a parent or teacher. In college, you may want to talk to a faculty member or guidance counselor. In the workplace, address the concerns with your supervisor or a trusted colleague.

Keep Detailed Records

Save the evidence. Keep any screenshots of mean messages, emails, or posts, and keep a record of the times cyberbullying occurred.

For exclusion behavior, also make sure you keep a record. This should be of the conversations or meetings you were left out of, as well as the date and time.

If a peer or colleague has evidence of repeated emails or messages you’re excluded from, or cruel messages about you, ask if you can get physical evidence of these.

Block The Person

In a scenario where you don’t have to engage with the person offline, remove them from any and all forms of social media and ways of contacting you.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. In work and academic settings where you have to see the person – or even work with them – on a regular basis this may not be an option.

Don’t Retaliate

This may seem tempting, especially because cyberbullying impacts your emotions and may make you more prone to lash out.

In a purely social setting, this can just escalate the bullying. In an educational or professional environment, you could also just end up incriminating yourself as well.

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How To Stop or Prevent Cyberbullying As An Onlooker

If you witness cyberbullying, there are a few things you can do to try and help the victim. A lot of the support you can offer will ultimately be determined by how well you know the victim.

Talk To The Victim

The first step is to talk to the victim about what’s going on. Show that you’re there for them. Listen without judgment, and don’t share any of the information with anyone else. The exception would be a professional or trusted authority figure.

This is a confidential conversation, and the victim may not want anyone else to know about what’s happening to them.

Report Cyberbullying To An Authority Figure

If you feel like cyberbullying is escalating or it’s having a serious impact on the victim’s health, report it to an authority figure.

This could be a teacher, guidance counselor, or administrator. Talk to whoever is in charge of handling such incidents in your educational institution or workplace.

While the victim may want to keep quiet about the online abuse it is important to get professional help. Left unchecked cyberbullying can have severe consequences for the victim.

Keep A Record Of What You Saw

If you can, keep a record of the cyberbullying behavior you witnessed. This will help if you need to provide evidence later on.

This evidence could be important if the cyberbullying is severe or impacts the victim’s ability to study or work.

Talk To The Bully

If you feel confident in taking a stand, you can talk to the perpetrator.
This will likely be an awkward conversation.

You may want to consider talking to an authority figure before attempting this.

Address Poor Behavior When You See It

By not engaging with poor behavior and addressing it when you see it you’re setting a standard for the community.

This could be as simple as letting people know you won’t be engaging in the conversation if they start gossiping about another person. Or it could be politely reminding someone to invite an excluded person to an event or chat.

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What If You’re The Bully?

It’s a grim reality and one you might not want to think about. Your online behavior could be intentionally or inadvertently hurting others.

Behavior as simple as gossiping about a peer, or posting mean comments anonymously about “your annoying co-worker” might seem harmless. They can have lasting effects though.

The percentage of people that report engaging in cyberbullying is about the same as those that report being cyberbullied themselves.
This does not inherently make you a bad person, but undeniably cyberbullying behavior itself is, you guessed it, bad.

If You’re Cyberbullying Others

The first step is to stop. It can be difficult to do, but it’s important. Motivations for cyberbullying others are rarely black and white.

Talk To Someone You Trust About What’s Going On

It’s likely that you’re engaging in cyberbullying because you’re feeling some kind of pain or anger inside yourself. Talking about what’s going on can help start the healing process.

Examine Your Motivations

Take a critical look at what you’re trying to achieve from your behavior towards others. This can help you identify any issues and better coping mechanisms.

You may cyberbully others because you’re feeling insecure about your own academic or work performance. Talking to teachers or advisors about your concerns and where you can improve may help. There are many productive ways to advance yourself academically and/or professionally.

Get Professional Help

Cyberbullying can have severe consequences for both the victims and the perpetrators, which is why professional help is essential. If you’re cyberbullying others, you’re likely engaging in other harmful behaviors as well.

There is no shame in admitting that you need help – it only proves that you have the strength to recognize and address your issues.

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Starting A Dialogue About Cyberbullying

One area perpetrators, witnesses, and victims alike can work on when addressing cyberbullying is improving their interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills involve self-awareness, empathy, respect, and conflict resolution, amongst others. It’s often remarked millennials and Gen Z have lost many of these skills – the accuracy of that statement is questionable but it never hurts to be aware of your own personal skill set. 

Conflict resolution skills can be extremely beneficial for both witnesses and victims when addressing the situation with a bully.

By regularly practicing empathy and respect, bullies may also better understand how their actions make victims feel, and thus refrain from them. Self-awareness can also make people more aware of their negative behavior in the first place.

Like hard skills, interpersonal skills take practice but can be learned and bettered.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying and Deal With Cyberbullies

Cyberbullying is a significant issue that can affect anyone, of any age and profession.

If you’re experiencing cyberbullying just know that you’re not alone and there are ways to deal with it. Opening up a discussion with a trusted authority figure, friend or colleague is the first step to combat cyberbullying.

While conversations about cyberbullying are unlikely to be comfortable, they are necessary for both mental and physical health. Nobody should have to live as a victim of harassment of any form.

Even if you aren’t experiencing cyberbullying yourself, make sure you’ve familiarised yourself with what it looks like and prepare to report cyberbullying if you see it happening.

Keep working on and improving yourself – and a big part of that can be standing up for yourself and others.

Cyberbullying can take a massive hit on your confidence. But, it’s important not to let it dissuade you from your personal, academic, and professional goals.

If you’re looking for a community of like-minded and motivated individuals, we know just the place. Join Goodwall to connect with people of similar interests and discover your next academic or professional opportunity.

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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