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Cyberbullying

— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Usually, it is repeated over time. Traditionally, bullying has involved actions such as: hitting or punching (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling (verbal bullying), or intimidation through gestures or social exclusion. In recent years, technology has given children and youth a new means of bullying each other.

Cyber bullying, which is sometimes referred to as online social cruelty or electronic bullying, can involve:

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images;
  • Posting sensitive, private information about another person;
  • Pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad;
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group (Willard, 2005).

Children and youth can cyberbully each other through:

  • E-mails,
  • Instant messaging,
  • Text or digital imaging messages sent on cell phones,
  • Web pages,
  • Web logs (blogs),
  • Chat rooms or discussion groups, and
  • Other information communication technologies.

How common is cyber bullying?

Although little research has been conducted on cyber bullying, recent studies have found that:

  • 18% of students in grades 6-8 said they had been cyberbullied at least once in the last couple of months; and 6% said it had happened to them 2 or more times (Kowalski et al., 2005).
  • 11% of students in grades 6-8 said they had cyberbullied another person at least once in the last couple of months, and 2% said they had done it two or more times (Kowalski et al., 2005).
  • 19% of regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 reported being involved in online aggression; 15% had been aggressors, and 7% had been targets (3% were both aggressors and targets) (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004).
  • 17% of 6-11 year-olds and 36% of 12-17-year-olds reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them through e-mail, instant messages, web sites, chat rooms, or text messages (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006).
  • Cyber bullying has increased in recent years. In nationally representative surveys of 10-17 year-olds, twice as many children and youth indicated that they had been victims and perpetrators of online harassment in 2005 compared with 1999/2000 (Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2006).

Who are the victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying?

In a recent study of students in grades 6-8 (Kowalski et al., 2005):

  • Girls were about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
  • Of those students who had been cyberbullied relatively frequently (at least twice in the last couple of months):
    • 62% said that they had been cyberbullied by another student at school, and 46% had been cyberbullied by a friend.
    • 55% didn't know who had cyberbullied them.
  • Of those students who admitted cyber bullying others relatively frequently:
    • 60% had cyberbullied another student at school, and 56% had cyberbullied a friend.
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