Division of Criminal Justice Services

Missing Persons Clearinghouse
1-800-FIND-KID (1-800-346-3543)

Cyber Bullying

General Information

Bullies are notorious for tormenting their victims face to face - usually at school - on the playground or in the cafeteria. But in recent years the Internet has not only increased the ability to bully at school, but has brought the problem into our homes and elsewhere - actually just about anywhere - at any time.

Cyber bullying is the repeated use of information technology, including e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, chat rooms, pagers, cell phones, and gaming systems, to deliberately harass, threaten or intimidate others. Unlike physical bullying, where the victim can walk away, technology now allows for continuous harassment, from any distance, in a variety of ways.

While cyber bullying is often done by children who have increasing access to these technologies, it is by no means confined to children. The problem is compounded by the fact that bullies are often anonymous and never have to confront their victims. This makes it difficult to trace the source, and encourages bullies to behave more aggressively than a traditional “physical world” bully.

The full scope of cyber bullying is difficult to measure.  However, according to a recent survey, 42% of children have been cyber bullied and 35% have been threatened online. Peer approval is very important to children. This means that cyber bullying can have a negative or even destructive emotional effect on victims, ranging from hurt feelings to intense anger. It can also result in significant depression and in the most severe cases has even resulted in suicide. Unfortunately, children rarely report occurrences to an adult.

Cyber bullying is accomplished in many ways, including*:

  • Flaming is a type of online fight. It is an act of sending or posting electronic messages that are deliberately hostile, insulting, mean, angry, vulgar or insulting, to one person or several, either privately or publicly to an online group.
  • Denigration also known as "dissing,” occurs when a person sends or publishes cruel rumors, gossip or untrue statements about a person to intentionally damage the victim's reputation or friendships.
  • Bash boards are online bulletin boards where people post anything they choose. Generally, the postings are mean, hateful and malicious.
  • Impersonation can be particularly harmful and occurs when someone pretends to be or poses as another person. This is usually accomplished by breaking into someone’s account, by stealing a password and perhaps changing it, or by maliciously using that information provided by a friend (one reason to never give a password to anyone but a trusted adult). Once the impersonator has access to the victim's information, considerable damage can occur. By sending out emails supposedly from the victim or by posting material online, the victim’s reputation or friendships can be irreparably harmed.
  • Outing occurs when someone sends or publishes confidential, private, or embarrassing information, online. Private email messages or images meant for private viewing, is then forwarded to others.
  • Trickery is when a person purposely tricks another person into divulging secrets, private information or embarrassing information, and publishes that information online.
  • Exclusion is an indirect method of online bullying, intentionally excluding someone from an online group or community.
  • Harassment is when the electronic bully repeatedly sends insulting, hurtful, rude, insulting messages.
  • Happy slapping is a relatively new type of bullying. This occurs when an unsuspecting victim is physically attacked, in person, as an accomplice films or take pictures of the incident. The image or video is then posted online or distributed electronically. Often the attackers will say it was only a prank or joke, hence the term "happy slapping". Happy slapping is becoming more common, especially since many cell phones now include cameras.
  • Text wars or attacks are when several people gang up on the victim, sending the target hundreds of emails or text messages. Besides the emotional toll it can take on the victim, the victims' cell phone charges can be costly.
  • Online polls ask readers to vote on specific questions, often very hurtful and demeaning, such as "Who is the ugliest person in 8th grade" or "Who do you love to hate?"
  • Sending malicious code intentionally, to damage or harm the victim's system or to spy on the victim.
  • Images and videos are a rapidly growing concern. Due to the prevalence and accessibility of camera cell phones, photographs and videos of unsuspecting victims, taken in bathrooms, locker rooms or other compromising situations, are being distributed electronically. Some images are emailed to other people, while others are published on video sites such as YouTube.
  • Griefing involves chronically causing grief to other members of an online community, or rather, intentionally disrupting the immersion of another player in their game play. http://www.microsoft.com/protect/family/activities/griefers.mspx

Amanda, 14, reported some girls in her eighth-grade class for stealing a pencil case filled with make-up that belonged to her. As soon as she got home, instant messages started popping up on her computer screen. She was a tattle-tale and a liar, they said. That evening, Amanda went to a basketball game with her family. But the barrage of electronic insults did not stop. Like a lot of other teenagers, Amanda has her Internet messages automatically forwarded to her cell phone, and by the end of the game she had received 50 - the limit of its capacity. "It seems like people can say a lot worse things to someone online than when they're actually talking to them," said Amanda.

Read Amanda's full story in the New York Times article
"Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound From Afar" (Harmon 2004)

Warning Signs

Cyberbullying Warning Signs: Red flags that your child is involved in cyberbullying (PDF)

Signs that your child is the victim of cyber bullying:

  • Avoiding the computer, cell phone, and other devices.
  • Appearing stressed when receiving e-mail, instant messages or text messages.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends, or acting reluctant to attend school and other activities.
  • Avoiding conversations about computer and other device use.
  • Increased sadness, anger, frustration, reduced tolerance and worry.
  • Declining grades.
  • Eating and/or sleeping changes.

Signs that your child may be cyber bullying others:

  • Prior involvement in bullying, or the target of bullying..
  • Avoiding conversations about computer and cell phone activities.
  • Switching screens or closing programs when you, or others, are nearby.
  • Laughing excessively while using the computer or cell phone.
  • Using multiple online accounts or an account that is not his or her own.
  • Excessive use of a computer and/or cell phone.
  • Agitation if access to a computer or cell phone is restricted or denied.

Dealing with Cyber Bullying

Information for Parents

  1. Discourage your child from responding to the cyber bullying.
  2. Preserve evidence. This is crucial for indentifying the bully and making a case.
  3. Try to identify the cyber bully. Even if the cyber bully is anonymous (e.g., is using a fake name or someone else’s identity) there may be ways to track the person through the Internet Service Provider. If you suspect that the cyber bully is a involved in criminal activity, ask police to investigate.
  4. Sending inappropriate language may violate the “Terms and Conditions” of e-mail services, Internet Service Providers, websites, and cell phone companies. Consider contacting providers and filing complaints.
  5. If the cyber bullying is coming through e-mail or a cell phone, it may be possible to block future contact. Of course, the cyber bully may assume a different identity and continue.
  6. Contact your school. If the cyber bullying is occurring through a school district system, school administrators have an obligation to intervene. Even if the cyber bullying is occurring off campus, make school administrators aware of the problem.
  7. Consider contacting the cyber bully’s parents, if known. They may be very responsive, effectively putting a stop to it. On the other hand, they may become defensive, so proceed cautiously. If you decide to contact a cyber bully’s parents, communicate with them in writing, rather than face-to-face. Present proof of the cyber bullying (e.g., copies of e-mail messages) and ask them to intervene.
  8. Consider contacting an attorney in cases of serious cyber bullying. Civil law may provide for a remedy, if other efforts fail.
  9. Contact the police to pursue criminal remedies if cyber bullying involves acts such as: threats of violence; extortion; obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages; harassment, stalking, or hate crimes; or child pornography.
Image of Hands on Screen

"A kid from school sent me a message on the Internet saying, 'Hey Dave, look at this website'. I went there and sure enough, there's my photo on this website saying 'Welcome to the website that makes fun of Dave' and just pages of hateful comments directed at me and everyone in my family." (Quote from Dave)

Read David's full story in the CBC's "Indepth Report on Cyberbullying" (Leishman 2005).

Information for Teens

  1. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If someone contacts you and says something mean or confrontational, don’t respond. Cyber bullies don’t deserve your attention - and if you refuse to participate, they might decide to move on.
  2. Make sure it’s really a cyber bully. If you don’t reply and the person continues to harass you - or does other things like contacting your friends to talk about you, or writing bad things about you on a web page or social networking site - chances are good that you’re dealing with a cyber bully.
  3. Don’t keep this to yourself. No one likes to think of themselves as a victim, but cyber bullies can be dangerous if they are not stopped. That’s why it’s really important to share this information - right away - with a parent, a teacher, or another trusted adult. Show them everything received. If this is related in any way to school, report the problem to a teacher or the principal.
  4. Say “Stop!”  This is where you ignore rule #1, but just once. With the help of an adult, contact the cyber bully once and tell him or her to stop bothering you. Simple as that. No explanations, no questions, just say “stop.” After you do this, don’t contact the cyber bully again. If you’re bullied through IM or chat, block the person.
  5. Save every contact from the cyber bully.  It might be tempting to delete comments that are mean or threatening, but it’s important to save each contact from a cyber bully; e-mail, copies of IM, chat logs, web pages…everything. This is evidence that you are being harassed. Be sure to keep the note you sent telling he cyber bully to stop.
  6. Check your rep online.  If a cyber bully is writing nasty e-mails to you, don’t assume that’s all there is. Enter your name in a search engine and see what you find. If someone is writing about you online, you should try to find out what they are saying. Be sure to use at least a few different search engines since each one can provide different types of information.
  7. Still being harassed? Take your case to the authorities.  If ignoring the cyber bully doesn’t stop the harassment, start complaining. If you’ve been contacted by e-mail, notify the cyber bully’s ISP. If you’re harassed in a chat room, tell the person who runs the server. IM and similar services all have harassment policies, and they provide information about what to do and who to contact if you’re having problems with another user.
  8. If you receive a threat, contact the police.  It is bad enough when someone says mean things about you, but if a cyber bully threatens you with harm; it’s time to alert the police. This is where saving all the cyber bully’s messages will come in handy, because it provides the evidence needed to make a case.

Information for Children

  • Don’t give out personal information such as name, address, phone number, e-mail address or passwords - personal, family or friends.
  • Don’t exchange pictures or e-mail addresses with people you meet online without getting your parents permission first.
  • Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say offline. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, you probably shouldn’t say it online.
  • Don’t post comments or send messages when you are angry.
  • Delete messages from people you don’t know, or that seem angry or mean.
  • Remember that online conversations aren’t private. Others can copy, print and share your conversations, photos and messages.

Prevention Techniques: Avoiding Cyber Bullies Online

Information for Teachers

  • Review the school’s Computer and Internet AUP with students and don’t let students get away with violations.
  • Supervise students as closely as possible when they are online, especially if your school allows instant messaging, blogs and chats.
  • Help children understand the consequences of cyber bullying; harassment and threats can be become the basis for civil litigation and criminal action. This can include parents being sued if their children violate civil statutes relating to invasion of privacy, defamation and so on..
  • Instruct children on what to do it they encounter cyber bullying.
  • Emphasize that those who are being cyber bullied are not responsible for what is happening, they are victims.
  • Encourage students to stand up for others who are being bullied.
  • Look for signs that students are being bullied.
  • Continually promote positive use of technology. 

Disclaimer: Many of the links on this page take you to other Internet sites. They are intended to be helpful to persons viewing this site. The presence of these links on this site is not intended to be an endorsement of such sites, and unless specifically indicated to the contrary elsewhere on this site, the Division of Criminal Justice Services does not sponsor, or have any affiliation with these organizations.