3. Cyberbullying

Social media sites have tremendous value and potential for learning, socializing, leisure and development of young people. However, they are not always healthy and problem-free environments. Some potential challenges include interference with cognitive processes such as attention, memory, information processing and emotional processing, “Facebook depression”, sexting, exposure to inappropriate content and cyberbullying.

In this chapter, we will be focusing specifically on cyberbullying as one of the most problematic aspects of social media and communication technology. We will be thinking about how having fun online needs to come with responsibility. Social networking can often be just one click away from cyberbullying. The key to decreasing cyberbullying among young people is to ‘think before they click3, especially as just one click has the power to change someone’s life forever.

The first section of this chapter will define key terminology connected to cyberbullying. An overview of what research tells us about cyberbullying and how it works is followed by information on key risk factors and protective factors. Finally, we will list a few guidelines for addressing cyberbullying and legal considerations that we must keep in mind when working in school contexts.

3.1.1 Bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying is an aggressive behaviour of more powerful individuals against weaker ones, for example hitting, verbally threatening or mocking, spreading rumours, taking the money and other actions. Bullying typically peaks in frequency during adolescence.

Cyberbullying is deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. It can happen through cell phones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices and communication tools like websites, text messages, instant messages, e-mail, social networking sites, applications or chat. Cyberbullying is the most common online risk for teens, can occur to any young person online, and can cause psychosocial outcomes4 such as depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and even suicide.

Cyberbullying can have many forms. It can be a mean, hurtful or threatening message to someone or about someone. It can be an embarrassing post, picture or video. It can be a website or a fake profile. It can be a rumour spread by e-mails, texts or posted on social networking sites and many other things. Cyberbullying is often anonymous (the bully does not use his or her name), public (in open view for other people) and viral (rapidly and widely circulates on the internet or through other media). This video can give you an idea how cyberbullying can spread quickly, much like a virus.

3.1.2 Bullies, targets and bystanders

Cyberbullying usually includes a bully (or bullies), a target and several observers. Cyberbully is someone who engages in cyberbullying. Cyberbullies use the internet and electronic devices to emotionally hurt others by making fun of them or insulting them.

Targets of cyberbullying are individuals who are hurt by such actions. Most often, cyberbullying does not stay limited to the bully and the target. There may be many observers, who can take on many roles: they can be passive bystanders, they can perpetuate the bullying or they can act to stop cyberbullying.

3.1.3 Preventative measures and strategies

Cyberbullying is difficult to stop. However, there are things individuals and communities can do to stop it from happening or limit it from spreading. For example, targets of cyberbullying can temporarily limit their online connection time; avoid opening messages from unknown sources, change passwords or accounts. In extreme cases, authorities may get involved and legal actions may be taken.

Often, cyberbullying becomes a bigger problem than just something between individuals. A community might become aware that cyberbullying has become prevalent and threatens the well-being of its members and develop specific measures to fight it and to relieve negative effects. Such activities can be simple activities or complex strategies.

For example, a school might include a simple five-minute presentation on cyberbullying during a parent meeting. But they could also organize a complex year-long, school-wide project with counselling, workshops, and awareness raising activities for students, parents, and teachers.

With the rise of cyberbullying, certain organizations, initiatives, and projects have been developed to deal specifically with this phenomenon. Their activities can be online-based (some examples include informational and promotional videos, infographics, websites, virtual campaigns, online courses for teachers and youth workers) or done in-person or through other media (workshops, counselling, lectures, research, training, skill building activities, TV shows or magazines articles). Preventative measures to fight cyberbullying often include basic online safety training.

3.1.4 Online safety

Online safety or internet safety is a preventative measure. It includes information, knowledge, and skills that help people (including children and youth) be safer while using the internet and online technologies. This includes personal safety, password protection, privacy, security risks and protection from cybercrime in general. You can learn a few simple tips for internet safety for young people in this video.

3.1.5 Digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is an expression for the norms of appropriate, responsible use of technology. Digital citizenship has nine elements: digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness and digital security. Themes like digital security, etiquette, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness are closely connected to the topic of cyberbullying. Many cyberbullying prevention programs focus on teaching these skills.

Digital etiquette or netiquette is a new word that combines the concepts of ‘internet’, networking and etiquette. It means online etiquette, the rules of online communication. Netiquette covers common courtesy online as well as the informal do’s and don’ts of cyberspace.

Respect, educate and protect (REPs) is another popular concept closely connected to digital citizenship that is often used in cyberbullying prevention. It is a way to present nine elements of digital citizenship in a way that is appropriate even for very young learners (from kindergarten level onwards).

3.2 How is Cyberbullying Different from ‘Traditional’ Bullying?

Hurting someone’s feelings, causing problems for them and making them feel bad are not new phenomena among young people. We would like to believe that we are teaching young people intra- and interpersonal skills that will help them feel confident in themselves as well as emphatic and respectful towards others, but the reality is that peer bullying has been a big challenge for schools, youth organizations, and local communities for many years. Is cyberbullying just a contemporary expression of this?

Studies are beginning to show3 that cyberbullying is very different from traditional schoolyard bullying. Some important differences are shown in the picture below.


Traditional bullying is mostly pre-meditated, cyberbullying is often impulsive.

Research indicates that cyberbullying is rarely premeditated like traditional bullying.3 Cyberbullying is often done impulsively and not planned out like in traditional bullying where the bully plans the attacks.

Traditional bullying is more predictable, cyberbullying can happen anytime and anywhere.

Traditional bullying is usually limited to certain times and places, for example, the playground or the way to school. This gives the target some (although limited) sense of predictability, and there are times and places where he or she can feel safe. In contrast, technology is everywhere: we have our phones and computers around us all the time. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 356 days a year. It can happen in our close proximity or through great distances. It is difficult for the target to find a safe space.

Traditional bullying uses aggression and power to gain control; cyberbullying might not.

Furthermore, traditional bullying is characterized by the need for power and control, aggression and proactively targeting the target. These characteristics may not be present in cyberbullying cases.

Traditional bullying is done face-to-face, cyberbullying can be anonymous.

Cyberbullying is “an easier way to bully because unlike traditional bullying it doesn’t involve face to face interaction.”3 Hiding behind the computer decreases empathy the bully feels toward the target. When we do not see the person’s reaction to what we post or text them, we might not know that we have gone too far. Desensitized by the computer screen, it becomes easier to say or do things we would not do to a person’s face. Furthermore, while “traditional” bullies can mostly be identified, it can be very difficult to find out who the anonymous cyberbullies are, making it easier for bullies to avoid seeing and facing the consequences of their actions.

The roles in cyberbullying are usually not as clearly divided as in traditional bullying.

In traditional bullying, we are usually working with a bully, target or bystander. Although we often find that bullies have previously experienced violence themselves (perhaps when they were younger or by someone with more power), the roles in each case are pretty clear. This is not necessarily the case in cyberbullying. Young people often play multiple roles at once, such as cyberbully, target, and witness. There is also no clear-cut profile of who can be the cyberbully and who can be the target, it can happen to anyone.

Traditional bullying is done in secret; cyberbullying can go public and viral.

An especially problematic aspect of cyberbullying is that it often has many, many onlookers. Traditional bullying is more often done in private than in public. But in cyberbullying, technology makes it easy to quickly spread content to a large number of people. Online bullying can quickly become very public or even viral. This wide audience makes the experience especially difficult and embarrassing for the target.

Traditional bullying seems to have clearer predictors and risk factors than cyberbullying.

Current research in public health indicates that many “social” factors such as education, socioeconomic conditions, access to services and resources, family ties, employment etc. are closely related to the person’s general health and mental health, including the ability to avoid or cope with violence and “traditional” bullying. Such connections with cyberbullying are less clear. It rather seems that there are no ‘typical’ cyberbullies and targets, it can happen to anyone. For example, it is well documented that in traditional bullying males are more likely to become bullies than females; that older adolescents are more likely to bully than preadolescents, and that bullies are more likely to have low than high self-esteem. For cyberbullying, on the other hand, age, gender or self-perception do not seem to be reliable predictors. Interestingly, high-quality relationships with important adults seem to be a strong protective factor in both types of bullying, traditional and cyber.

3.3.1 How does cyberbullying begin?

A big part of cyberbullying does not start out with an intention to deeply hurt someone. Young people post or text something they think is a joke or a random comment, but it may not be all that funny for the receiver. In fact, it could easily cross the line to cyberbullying.

In a recent online pilot study, young people who engage in cyberbullying behaviour reported the following reasons for their actions: posting without thinking they could hurt anyone (72%), to get back at someone (58%), the target deserved it (58%), for fun or entertainment (28%), to embarrass the target (21%), to be mean (14%), to show off to friends (11%) and other reasons (16%).

We will be exploring who is especially at-risk of becoming a cyberbully or a target in one of the following sections. For now, it is important to know that cyberbullying can happen to anyone. Relatively little can be said about a typical cyber target or a typical cyberbully: they can be rich kids or poor kids, left-out kids or popular ones, A-students or struggling students, majority or minority students, someone who has been bullied before or someone who has never experienced violence, someone who is online much too much or someone who rarely uses technology, it can be someone who uses technology to pass their free time by browsing and chatting, but also someone who mostly uses it for online learning, research, time management or school.

Nevertheless, there are some things young people can do to protect themselves online: 3

  • Keep privacy settings on. Secure all online information.
  • Protect their usernames and passwords. Do not share them with friends.
  • Choose friends wisely, including virtual contacts.
  • Only accept close friends on social networking sites.
  • Do not share personal information online.
  • Do not open anything from someone they don’t know.

3.3.2 What happens next?

After the hurtful messages, comments or pictures have been posted recipients are likely to respond inwardly with feelings of fear, sadness, and anxiety. Even if cyberbullying is done jokingly or unintentionally, it does not change the fact that this action can deeply hurt the targeted individual.

Signs that someone is being cyberbullied are similar to signs of being victimized in other ways. Some emotional, academic, social and behavioural indicators to look out for are listed in the chart below12.

Outward responses of cyberbullying recipients can also vary. Some recipients may just ‘shake it off’ and not let it bother them; others may react aggressively or retaliate. Some might respond, but be assertive but polite and others may stay passive and not do anything about the problem.  Some might plan steps and actions to take. Some might respond emotionally. They might tell someone or hide what is happening from others or do a range of other things.

In prevention work with young people, it is important to teach them how different kinds of responses are likely to impact the outcome of cyberbullying. For example, retaliation or aggressive response has been shown to make the situation worse, whereas passive avoidance could lead to serious psychological consequences for the targeted individual.

Some basic tips for young people who encounter cyberbullying are:

  • Tell a trusted adult if they are being cyberbullied.
  • If they know someone who is being a cyberbully tell them to stop or report it.
  • Contact host/site providers if inappropriate material is being posted on their site.
  • Save all evidence if they are being bullied online. Do not delete anything without keeping a copy for yourself.
  • Do not respond to rude messages. Rude comebacks only make things worse.
  • Do not post anything online that they would mind their parents and friends seeing.
  • Most importantly, treat others as they want to be treated. Consider what they are posting or uploading and ask themselves: “Would I want someone saying or putting that about me online?”

3.3.3 How does cyberbullying end?

Cyberbullying might die out on its own in time. However, if not stopped, cyberbullying can go on for a long time, and due to its public and viral nature, it can be especially damaging. Prolonged exposure can lead to serious consequences, so it is not advisable to wait. Cyberbullying often stops only through the involvement of outside support, either by contacting the social media used that takes down the offending content and informs the cyberbully of the consequences or through parental and teacher involvement.

Prevention and intervention work for combating cyberbullying should include some simple strategies An example of a useful, simple four-step strategy for dealing with cyberbullying is presented in this video and this worksheet.

After the cyberbullying has stopped, follow-up work needs to be done with targets of cyberbullying as well as the bullies. Targeted young people need support to work through feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, fear, isolation, sadness and anxiety. Counselling is often useful.

Cyberbullies, on the other hand, need to be shown the impact of their action and strengthen their social and communication skills, moral reasoning, empathy and conflict resolution skills. Non-judgemental and restorative approaches have been shown effective to stop cyberbullies repeat their behaviour.

3.4 Who is At Risk?

What does it mean to be at-risk of cyberbullying? This means that it is quite likely that someone might become involved in cyberbullying; either as a target, as a bully or as a bystander. In the last subchapter, we already mentioned some things that might put someone at risk of or protect them from bullying or cyberbullying.

3.4.1 What puts someone at risk and what protects them?

When we talk about at-risk groups for any problems that children and youth face, we like to think in terms of risk factors and protective factors: what puts someone at risk of unwanted things happening to them? What protects them from the problem or at least from suffering serious consequences? We understand many risk factors and protective factors that influence the physical and mental wellbeing of children and youth, their educational success, their relationships, their self-esteem, their future happiness, job prospects and their resilience to difficult events or other challenges.

For example, we know that children and young people, who face higher risks of becoming involved in ‘traditional’ bullying, often feel lonely, perceive their parents as distant and have problematic relationships with other adults in their lives like their teachers. They might have personal experience with violence in the family, peer group or other immediate environment. Many also have low self-esteem, poor social skills and communication skills. Traditional bullies are more likely to be male than female and more likely to be older adolescents than preadolescents. Targets of ‘traditional’ bullying, on the other hand, are likely to have low self-esteem, distinct physical features are also very common (for example short and weak, glasses, obesity, disability), they are also often less popular among their peers. A very strong protective factor for someone that is a target of traditional bullying, for example, is having a trusted adult that they can talk to about what is happening, or growing up in an environment where information and support are available.

This short sampling of risk factors and protective factors probably seems so self-evident that we do not even need to mention them! However, it is worth mentioning them because something interesting happens when we take a closer look at cyberbullying.

3.4.2 What are risk factors and protective factors in cyberbullying?

A number of studies and scholarly papers investigate which children and adolescents are most and least at risk of experiencing cyberbullying. Results are interesting and unexpected: when it comes to cyberbullying, there are almost no common risk factors except opportunity. Online access and unsupervised online time and technology use is clearly a ‘prerequisite’ for cyberbullying. However, not all forms of media usages raise the risk of experiencing cyberbullying. Children and adolescents who spend more time using their cell phone are more likely to report receiving aggressive or threatening electronic communication, but no such relationship seems to exist between time spent on the internet and either form of online bullying6.

There are no common risk factors except opportunity.

Most studies find that age and gender do not have a very clear predictive role in cyberbullying. Some early research findings suggested that cyberbullies are often kids who were themselves bullied in real life. But later research found that cyberbullies and targets can just as well be popular, well-adjusted kids who have not been exposed to peer-aggression before. Whereas low self-esteem is usually linked to traditional bullying, many cyberbullies demonstrate a high perception of self-esteem in perceiving their relationships with peers as satisfying. However, feelings of loneliness and a perception of unsafety at school were often linked to cyberbullying.

In short, there seem to be very few common risk factors and even fewer protective factors that would prevent children and young people from becoming involved in cyberbullying. It really can happen to anyone. Research findings suggest that the most important protective factors against cyberbullying are strong parent relationships and positive experiences at school. Restrictions on media use enforced by adults were far less effective in fighting cyberbullying.6

It really can happen to anyone.

However, although there are few risk factors that can help us predict involvement in cyberbullying and very few protective factors that would prevent children and young people from becoming involved, there are some important protective factors that can help them respond to cyberbullying resiliently. We might not be able to prevent cyberbullying from happening, but we can do things to minimize the damage so that the children and young people do not suffer prolonged or even life-threatening consequences. This can make a key difference in outcomes of cyberbullying both for the bullies and the targets.

Again, strong relationships among children and adults and positive school experiences are the strongest predictors of resilient response for children and adolescents who have faced cyberbullying. More specifically, students tended to behave resiliently if they:

  • they could find an environment that felt emotionally and physically safe,
  • had a trusted adult to talk to about problems,
  • had parents of caretakers with basic digital competencies and awareness of online safety,
  • experienced peer support and felt they are not alone in their experience,
  • had access to practical information on what they can do to stop cyberbullying,
  • had strong self-esteem, empathy, and social skills,
  • were able (or given support) to cope with emotions, especially feelings of shame, guilt, sadness and fear.
Finally, an alarming statistic is that being a passive observer of cyberbullying, especially if there are no consequences or if the behaviour is not challenged, raises the likelihood of acting as a cyberbully in the future.

Children and young people who have been onlookers are often at risk of perpetuating such behaviour. This is why it is so important to build healthy, empowering communities where cyberbullying does not go unrecognized, where such behaviour is talked about and challenged and where solutions for better relationships are found and invested in.

3.5 Types of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has many forms and can include a variety of acts. It can be sending a mean text message, making online threats, sending unwanted provocative photos, posting insults or hate speech, attempting to infect the target’s computer with a virus, flooding an e-mail inbox with messagesor sending harmful material and any other form of social aggression using the Internet or other digital technologies. Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics are briefly described below.

Cyberstalking: a bully repeatedly and intensively harasses, denigrates or threatens the target, enough to create fear. When Annie broke up with Sam, he sent her many angry, threatening, pleading messages. He spread nasty rumors about her to her friends and posted a sexually suggestive picture she had given him in a sex-oriented discussion group, along with her e-mail address and cell phone number.

Cyberthreats: a bully makes threatening remarks on the internet or implies violent behaviour. It can also be threatening with suicide. Greg set up an anonymous IM account and sent a threatening message to his older sister suggesting that she would be killed the next day at school.

Denigration: a bully starts rumours about a person to damage their reputation. “Dissing” someone online. Some boys created a “We Hate Joe” Web site where they posted jokes, cartoons, gossip, and rumors, all dissing Joe.

Exclusion: a group of bullies excludes someone from online conversations, groups or from events shared online to hurt their feelings. Millie tries hard to fit in with a group of girls at school. She recently got on the “outs” with a leader in this group. Now Millie has been blocked from the friendship links of all of the girls.

Flaming: a bully starts or fuels online fights exchanged through emails, instant messages, chat rooms or comments. There is often harsh language directed towards a specific person. Joe and Alec’s online exchange got angrier and angrier. Insults were flying. Joe warned Alec to watch his back in school the next day.

Harassment: a bully repeatedly sends or posts mean, hurtful or insulting messages or comments. Sara reported to the principal that Kayla was bullying another student. When Sara got home, she had 35 angry messages in her e-mail box. The anonymous cruel messages kept coming—some from complete strangers.

Masquerading/impersonation: a bully creates a fake identity to harass someone anonymously or impersonating somebody else to him send malicious messages or post material to get that person in trouble or danger or to damage that person’s reputation or friendships. Laura watched closely as Emma logged on to her account and discovered her password. Later, Laura logged on to Emma’s account and sent a hurtful message to Emma’s boyfriend, Adam.

Outing: a bully shares someone’s secrets or embarrassing photos online. Greg, an obese high school student, was changing in the locker room after gym class. Matt took a picture of him with his cell phone camera. Within seconds, the picture was flying around the phones at school.

Trickery: a bully tricks someone to share private information or photos with them and then shares this online. Katie sent a message to Jessica pretending to be her friend and asking lots of questions. Jessica responded, sharing really personal information. Katie forwarded the message to lots of other people with her own comment, “Jessica is a loser.”

Of course, this is just one way of classifying cyberbullying. You might find another model that helps you and the young people you are working with even better. But it is always useful to have some language and tools to think and talk about a problem. Take a look at some real life examples below and think about them. Can you identify types of cyberbullying in the following examples? What would you do if you came across one of these messages in real life? How could you talk to a sender of these messages? How could you talk to the recipient?



Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D., Educator’s Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet

3.6 Case studies

Educators, youth workers, parents and other adults working with children and young people are likely to come across cyberbullying incidents. To successfully deal with cyberbullying we must first learn to recognize it, analyse it and understand what exactly is going on. Secondly, we need to be aware of effective strategies to support the victim and challenge the bullying behaviour.

Our reactions will often determine the outcomes of cyberbullying incidents: what will be the consequences for the victim, the bully, and the onlookers; how will the community and relationships be shaped by this experience; will children and young people learn from it or be harmed by it? Furthermore, when faced with cyberbullying cases we might want to think about how to prevent similar events in the future and how to help children and young people develop skills for healthy, positive use of online media and communication technology.

In the following section, we have compiled short descriptions of six real-life cyberbullying cases that are also available on the internet in even more detail. We would suggest you take the time to read through them, think about them and try to propose solutions or guidelines for intervention. For the first three cases, we have already outlined some bullet points to help you think through them. However, these are suggestions rather than definite solutions. You might find solutions that are even more appropriate for your school, your community, your group of children or young people.

3.6.1 How to use case studies

Case studies are a helpful tool to practice and apply concepts and skills that we have learned in Chapter 3 of this manual. What is a case study? It is a form of problem-based learning. A case study describes a situation that needs a solution, an idea, an intervention, a strategy. You may want to do this by yourself or with the discussion in small groups. Case studies are a wonderful tool to help you understand key concepts in much more depth. This is more important than finding perfect solutions. They are also great team-building opportunities. To solve a case, team members will have to work through different opinions, ideas, perspectives, and ways of working. This is why we recommend you use the following case studies in your training sessions for school staff, parents and youth workers.
To facilitate a training session using case studies, you might follow these steps:

  1. Greet the group and introduce yourself.
  2. Briefly, present the topic of a session (e.g. types of cyberbullying and effective strategies for each type).
  3. Present the case study:

    • Introduce the situation in a sentence or two.
    • Give a print of the case (and perhaps some thought-provoking discussion questions) to each participant.
    • Have participants quietly read through the text.
    • Have the group summarize the key points; make sure everyone understands the basics of the case.
    • Divide participants in pairs or small groups. Have them talk about the case and the discussion questions. Have them brainstorm and discuss possible solutions and strategies.
    • Ask each pair or small group to contribute one or two important ideas.

  4. Address open questions and dilemmas. But remember: you are not expected to have all the answers. Your job is to help participants think deeply about this important topic, not to give answers and recipes.
  5. Review key concepts of the training session together with participants.

Case studies are also a very helpful tool to work with children and young people. Real cases and specific situations are something they can understand and relate to. Experience helps them learn. You can use case studies during cyberbullying awareness workshops, mediation club meetings and in conflict-resolution training sessions. You might want to have the students read and discuss the cases or even use role-play to act them out.
However, a word of caution: students might perceive these cases very differently than adults. Make sure the case descriptions are age-appropriate, understandable, short and concise. A very important point is also NOT to overburden students emotionally: for example, it might be very difficult for them to process stories about cyberbullying resulting in suicides of young people. We also strongly encourage you to use case studies with happy or open endings when working with students.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you have enough time and skills to process any emotional and cognitive processes that selected activities might evoke in students.

3.7 Case study 1: Ashley’s new website, unknown to her

Ashely-11Ashley lives in Colorado and has been growing up like any other teen, being influenced by her peers as much as she’s influenced by her parents’ guidance. However, she never expected how invasive the Internet could be without her knowing about it or even having a say in the matter. In Ashley’s case, the bullying that occurred may seem benign on the surface, but it had the potential to be far more.

Unknown to Ashley at the time, a classmate when she was 11 began taking photos of her. The images were then made part of a portfolio of information posted on the Internet with a fake social media page. The topic was Ashley and the website page was made to look as if Ashley posted everything herself. It was only through friends and third parties that Ashley became aware of the existence of the online information. The data was detailed as well; it included her school name, her home address, her family information, birthdays and more. Worse, all the data was set to be wide open to the public without any filtering or restriction. The creator of the page was confronted but denied the act. In the meantime, Ashley began to be ostracized by her friends at school. To break the freeze-out cycle Ashley had to enrol in a different middle school to regain a “clean slate.”

In Ashley’s case, the damage was limited and constrained to the loss of a few friends. However, it could have been far worse. Further, the damage was caused by another child who simply had the time and access to post whatever was desired on the Internet for anyone to read.


Type of cyberbullying:

Masquerading (creating a fake identity or impersonating someone)

The  (we try to avoid an ascription like typical because anyone can be affected) victim profile:

Could be anyone. Likely to be an outsider

The  cyberbully profile:

Could be anyone. Likely does it for fun or out of revenge.

How to promote constructive use:

  • Work on social skills and communication skills.
  • Work on empathy.

prevent-01 How to prevent it from happening:

  • Raise awareness about cyberbullying.
  • Teach kids how to be good bystanders.
  • Look for signs of cyberbullying and intervene as soon as possible.
  • Build a relationship of trust among teens and adults (so if something happens, they will tell).

react-01 How to react if it happens: 

  • Document it (PrintScreen, save it).
  • Do not reply.
  • Tell an adult.
  • Contact the website provider and ask for the site to be taken down.
  • Get the authorities involved to find out the identity of the cyberbully (IP address).
  • Work with the victim, the bully and the bystanders ( – mediation is not an appropriate tool in case of (cyber)bullying, no blame approach, individual counselling, group counselling, and workshops).

3.8 Case study 2: Nude photo leaked online

Jessica-18Jessica Logan was an 18-year-old high school senior who sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend. After the couple broke up the boyfriend sent the photo that was meant for his eyes only to hundreds of other teenagers via group chats. The photo sharing led to name calling and taunts at school. Phrases like “slut, porn queen, and whore” were regularly spoken referring to Jessica by schoolmates. The taunting continued via Facebook and through text messages.

Jessica was feeling miserable and depressed. She was afraid to go to school and started skipping classes. Jessica’s mother only learned of a problem at all when she started getting letters from school reporting that her daughter was skipping school. Jessica’s mother took away her daughter’s car and drove her to school herself, but Jessica still skipped classes. She told her mother there were pictures involved and a group of younger girls had received them and were harassing her and calling her vicious names. Unfortunately, the mother didn’t realize the full extent of her daughter’s despair.

When the school officials became aware of the harassment they offered to go to one of the girls who had the pictures and tell her to delete them from her phone and never speak to Jessica again. Jessica’s mother saw the solution in talking to the parents of the girls who were bullying Jessica, but her daughter said that would only open her to even more ridicule.

2 months later Jessica committed suicide.


Type of cyberbullying:

Outing (sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing photos online).

The victim profile:

  • Can be anyone. Might have low self-esteem, people pleasing, in abusive relationships.
  • Likely to need help with developing a positive self-image, body image, boundaries.

The  cyberbully profile:

  • Revenge, anger, hurt, highly emotionally invested, low empathy.
  • Needs help with emotional development (emotions, recognizing, dealing with, expressing…)

How to promote constructive use:

  • Teach teens about good behaviour online (»netiquette«).
  • Work on self-esteem, body image, personal boundaries.

prevent-01 How to prevent it from happening:

  • Teach teens (especially girls) to know their boundaries and how to communicate them.
  • Raise awareness on cyberbullying, sexting etc.
  • Teach kids to be good bystanders (do not forward, tell someone, show empathy…).
  • Try to catch the signs early. If possible, work with the bully before it is leaked to try to prevent it from happening, work with the girl to prepare her for the worst case scenario (, no blame approach, individual counselling).

react-01 How to react if it happens: 

  • Do not waste time! Work with the victim (dealing with shame), the bully, the bystanders.
  • Limit the damage if you can. Stop the spreading if possible.
  • Document it (prtscreen…), but get kids to delete it from their devices.
  • Help the victim to block the abusers. Report abusers to social platforms, phone companies…
  • Get the schools or the authorities involved. But be sensitive, respect the privacy.
  • Keep the media out.

3.9 Case study 3: Emails from an unknown sender

SaraAt the beginning of the school year, Sara moved into a new school. At first, things were great and Sara was very popular. However, after a couple weeks at her new school, her parents noticed that she seems depressed and anti-social. They observe that she rarely socializes with her friends. Sara’s parents are worried about her and suspect that something is not quite right at school. They try to talk to Sara, but she is reluctant to talk. She tells them that she and her friends had an argument and are not getting along. Sara’s parents do not realize the problem is more dangerous than a disagreement between friends.

One day as Sara arrived at school, other students began to giggle and laugh at her. Some even made strange remarks about her eating lunch in the lunchroom. Sara was embarrassed and confused. She did not mention this to anyone that day and thought that it would just go away.

After returning home from school, Sara decided to check her email. She had one email from a person that she did not recognize. Inside the email, was an embarrassing picture of Sara in the lunchroom eating. Immediately, Sara realized that this picture was the reason that all the students had been laughing at her when she arrived at school that day. Another student must have taken this picture in the lunchroom at school and sent it to everyone in her class. Sara was alarmed and began to cry. She immediately deleted the email and did not tell anyone about the email.

As the weeks passed, the incidents escalated. Sara received more and more embarrassing and sometimes even threatening emails from the person. She deleted each and every one. Sara was too humiliated to tell her parents or her teachers. Her teachers noticed that she had begun to fall behind in school and seemed to be very depressed.


Type of cyberbullying:

Outing & Harassment (sending or posting nasty, mean, embarrassing messages).

The  (we try to avoid an ascription like typical because anyone can be affected) victim profile:

Likely to be an outsider (new kid, shy, different…), but could be anyone.

The  cyberbully profile:

  • Likely to do it for fun, out of boredom. Could also be out of anger or revenge, unresolved conflict.

How to promote constructive use:

  • Help teens to be included. Be attentive to kids who are isolated. Build empathy and respect among peers.
  • Build a culture where online activities are encouraged, but monitored (still respecting privacy).

prevent-01 How to prevent it from happening:

  • Raise awareness about cyberbullying.
  • Teach conflict resolution skills, tolerance, and empathy.
  • Help new students (and isolated students) feel included.
  • Get the opinion leaders among teens on your side. Use them as role models.
  • Teach parents to limit the online time and monitor their children’s online activities (to a realistic extent).

react-01 How to react if it happens: 

  • Document it (print or save the messages). Then delete.
  • Do not reply. Block sender(s).
  • Report sender to his/her e-mail provider (give evidence).
  • If it escalates, sometimes a very formal short reply from an adult helps. If you do this, introduce yourself as an adult figure (authority), keep it polite but firm, show that you have evidence, tell the bully to stop or you will report him, tell the bully that in similar cases, authorities could find out identities of the bullies by tracking which computers they use. Tell them to stop or you will take action. Only do this once. If it continues, take action (no empty threats!).
  • If it escalates, get the e-mail provider or the authorities to find out the sender’s identity (IP address).
  • Work with the victim, help them feel better about themselves and help them to be included.
  • Understand that if the cyberbully is unknown, there can be a lack of closure for the victim. Help them deal.

3.10 Case study 4: Hateful texting

Gina 14Gina, an exuberant and spirited high school freshman, had a falling out with a girlfriend over a boy they both liked at school. It wasn’t long before Gina began getting rude text messages to her phone at all hours, calling her names and saying inappropriate things such as, “I hope you die soon.” The angry friend had enlisted others to text hateful remarks to Gina too.

Gina’s parents had never talked to her about bullying, or how to handle such behaviour when you become the victim. The 14-year-old was completely unprepared to face such a major assault on her self-esteem. She was devastated, and soon began to withdraw from her friends and active social life. She spent more and more time alone in her room. Her mom grew concerned when Gina would no longer talk about what was going on at school or in her life. So she reached out to one of Gina’s closest friends and learned about the hateful texts her daughter was receiving.

Gina’s mom took action before the emotional toll became worse. She told Gina she knew about the cyberbullying, and together, they discussed the situation with the school counsellor and principal. With support from her family and teachers she trusted, Gina found the strength to talk to the girlfriend she had argued with, apologized for the quarrel and asked her to call off the texting campaign. While their friendship was over, the cyberbullying stopped.


3.11 Case study 5: Rumours and exclusion

Ryan13Ryan Halligan was a 13-year-old middle schooler from Vermont who first experienced bullying in the fifth grade because of his poor physical condition. By the time he made it to seventh grade Ryan was begging his parents to home school him or if they could move. His parents contacted the school and tried to work out the issues. Boys at school started rumours that he was gay. Over the summer he worked on establishing a relationship with a popular girl from his school online. When he returned for his eighth grade year, and went to approach his girlfriend in real life, where she told him in front of all her friends he was a loser and that everything she had said to him online was a lie. The girl had copy/pasted all of their instant messages and sent them to a friend for a laugh at Ryan’s expense. Humiliated, Ryan took his life.


3.12 Case study 6: The New Kid at School

Henry 12Henry was a shy sixth-grader who recently arrived at school from out of state. One day as he was browsing a social media site he came across a page about the school with pictures of students, including one of him labelled “The Fat Nerd.” Upset, he posted a reply expressing his dismay.

The postings became nastier, and soon some students were making loud comments in the lunchroom and on the playground. Henry had to endure many weeks of feeling humiliated and hurt before anyone realized what was going on. His parents didn’t even know because Henry was too embarrassed to tell them. Finally, a teacher overheard some of the names and asked Henry what was going on. He described the social media page and cyberbullying.

The school, which had trained its teachers and had a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, responded quickly. They identified the ringleaders, and with the help of their parents, had the creator of the unauthorized school page take it down from the social media site. School officials hosted sessions for parents and students about cyberbullying and how to prevent it.