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“I hate you. You’re fat, ugly, and I hope you die. No one likes you, and we all laugh about you behind your back.”
If reading those words seems painful, welcome to the world of cyberbullying! Cyberbullying is a disturbing new trend through which perpetrators harass others, and it is not an isolated event. If you’re a victim of this type of bullying, it can be hard to escape.
Imagine, hateful messages being continually sent to you through your phone, laptop, and online accounts! If you or someone you care about has been cyberbullied, realize that you are not alone and there are steps you can take to stop the unwanted, negative attention.
Most of us use smartphones, computers, games, and social media accounts for connection and fun. Unfortunately, the tools we use to communicate with, both on and offline, are now common platforms to be cyber-harassed and bullied through.
95% of teens in the United States have access to the internet and many “go online” through their media device or smartphone. Social media accounts are frequent offenders for these types of negative messages.
Research shows that teenagers primarily use their cell phones, and the adults in their lives may never even know their children are being bullied. In the early to mid-2000s, many teens frequented chat rooms where bullying became commonplace. Now, a bully’s cyberspace messages will immediately be sent to the palm of your child’s hand, via their phone.
Other forms of cyberbullying involve platforms using games and virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). If you count yourself as one of the 1 billion people to use this image sharing site monthly, you might be surprised to find out that Instagram is one of the apps with the most cyberbullying happening in comments and DM’s (direct messages).
Cyberbullying is so distressing because it is a form of harassment done through digital means. Unlike in-person bullying, it relies on technology to attack its victims and can be done remotely. People who might be civil in person, turn into becoming bullies who write things horrific things. Others harass online and face-to-face.
After receiving these types of messages, the victim(s) often become distraught and feel as if a hate campaign has been waged against them. The ramifications of the cyberbullies’ actions can leave a lasting impact on young and old media users alike, with children and teens being most at risk.
Worst of all, even if you report the crime, you might discover that free speech laws or that police protected the messages don’t take the words seriously. Although law enforcement, schools, and states have made significant strides in preventing cyberbullying, there is more work to be done.
As if being cyberbullied wasn’t bad enough, the torment of being a victim can put you at risk for anxiety, depression, or even suicide or murder.
While children and teens are particularly vulnerable to bullying from classmates, cyberbullies pose a risk to the health and happiness of anyone who has a cell phone, smart device, computer, or goes online. For adults, the stakes can also be devastating with catfishing and revenge porn ruining lives. The next time you receive a hateful message from an anonymous cyberbully, be aware that it could be from anyone, even someone impersonating a friend you trust.
Cyberbullies can be the guy or girl next door, a classmate, a coworker, a stranger, an acquaintance, a foreign spammer (who wants your cash and is mad you haven’t sent it), a group of online haters, a former friend, or catfish trying to conceal their identity and find out the secrets to humiliate you with. Here is everything you need to know to protect yourself and those you love.
According to the government’s Stop Bullying website:
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, text, apps, or online.
Typical cyberbully hotspots used to harass victims are through social media accounts, games, or forums. A cyberbully might message you directly or post content publicly; in hopes of shaming, exposing, or humiliating you.
Reading messages or comments of this kind can be earth-shattering and emotionally painful, especially to young children and teens who may not know what action to take and who they should talk about the bullying. Those already suffering from low self-esteem can experience a drop in their mood and may interpret the bully’s comments as the truth.
The U.S. Department of Education found that most definitions of bullying have these four components in common:
Exactly what will a cyberbully say?
Generally, whatever they can write will hurt you emotionally. Their bullying might include posting, sending, or sharing mean-spirited, hurtful, harmful, false, negative content about you or someone you know. Other cyberbullies expose private, personal, or embarrassing photographs or information about a victim online, in hopes of humiliating them.
While some communications of this type fall under the label of “free speech”, according to StopBullying.gov, “Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.”
Cyberbullies usually know what they are doing is wrong and might get them in trouble. Due to this, they may try to hide their identity behind fake profiles and send you mean messages anonymously.
Others use an impostor or catfish account. More brazen or ignorant bullies will still message you directly from their email address, phone number, or (actual) social media account(s). This is helpful when you take action or involve your school, workplace, or the legal system. You can search your bully’s information online, here:
The exasperating part about cyberbullies is that they are commonly acquaintances, friends (or former friends), classmates, acquaintances, relatives, coworkers, and exes (husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover). Each of us should feel safe at home, work, and school. Being bullied disrupts inner peace. If you’re trying to unmask an anonymous cyberbully, first look to classmates, haters, and online connections.
Which state has the highest reported cyberbullying victims through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media?
We have detailed below from the CDC’s Youth Online data (where available), most states with the highest cyberbullying victims that teens reported are topped by Maryland (50,138), Vermont (20,467), New Hampshire (11,952), and New York (11,188). You can find your state below:
According to the same CDC Youth Online survey data, the total number of reported cyberbullying victims from ages 13-17 (high-school youth) in 2017 in the U.S. was 190,374.
Of the U.S. Territories:
Spread the word! Everyone needs to hear the memo that cyberbullying is wrong, and no one deserves to be a victim.
If you bully others online, know that you could receive a restraining order against you, a misdemeanor, or even serious jail time (especially if the person you bullied subsequently harms themselves). You can never know exactly how your words will impact someone.
According to The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, in the year 2017, the number of teen students (in grades 9-12) who reported being electronically bullied, over the last 12 months, went down to 15%, versus 20% in prior years. This data is encouraging to cyberbully educators as it shows that public education and awareness about cyberbullying is helpful.
In 2005, reported bullying for that same age range was as high as 25% (the victims the survey evaluated ranged from age 12-18). This same report looked into the demographics of school bullies.
When the statistics were broken down and investigated further, females were the most bullied, at 24%, followed by male students, at 20%. White and black students were bullied equally, at 23%. Hispanic students, 16%. Asian students, 7%. Those who were of two or more races had the most significant decline in reported bullying and dropped from 35% on par with white and black students at 23%.
However, bullying doesn’t only happen to those from public schools. While those who attend public schools reported an 8% decrease in being bullied (from 29% in 2005 to 21% in 2017), private schools did even better! Private school rates of bullying decreased from 23% in 2005 to 16% in 2017.
In urban areas, bullying decreased from 26% in 2005 to 18% in 2017. Lastly, bullying in suburban areas decreased from 29% in 2005 to 20% in 2017.
Although there has been a decrease in school bullying at a cyber level, as evidenced by the data, it is still a significant problem. Public concern for bullied youth has brought trendy social media outlets to the stage.
What steps can we take on social media, and how do we protect ourselves in addition to the victim?
According to data reported by the American SPCC, the power we have to stop bullying should not be underestimated. As many as 160 thousand kids skip school daily, due to fear of being bullied. However, when a classmate, teacher, or bystander helps to stop the bullying, by speaking up, the likelihood of being bullied immediately reduces by 57%.
The same logic applies online. However, most people do not intervene when someone is cyberbullied. Often, a victim’s family and friends may not even know the severity of the bullying as few as 1 in 10 children or teens tell their parent(s) about being cyber-harassed.
When you use social media sites, begin to observe the platforms with new eyes. Be on guard for bullying and then speak up and report any bullying you witness. In one report, 81% of students or 4 out of 5 say they would be “more likely” to speak up and intervene witnessed cyberbullying if their doing so could be anonymous.
Others feel that social media websites are responsible and should do more to address bullying and cyberbullying. Take advantage of anonymous reporting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms or apps.
If you’re uncertain if someone you love is being honest about whether or not they are bullied, do the following:
Ask questions. Give nonjudgmental feedback and inquire how family, friends, and peers are doing. As a parent, develop open communication and role-play the steps your child can take if they are bullied. Let your child know that being bullied is not their fault and that it is illegal to bully others.
The American SPCC says that 28% of children age 6-12 report being bullied. Meanwhile, 20% of teens age 12-18 say the same. Over 70% of youth say that they have seen bullying occur at their school. This percentage appears to be in sync with the 70%+ of school staff members who have witnessed bullying 2x or more in the past month.
While the number of kids who report being bullied ranges from 20+%, depending on age, children who are members of the LGBT community are intimidated at the tremendously high percentage of 55.2%.
That AAP News and Journals Gateway suggests that overweight and obese also face more bullying than others. Obesity Action says that “58 percent of boys and 63 percent of girls experiencing daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size.”
With increased awareness and education, along with the participation of online platforms, the government, and law enforcement (as well as each of us doing our part to stop and prevent cyberbullying) these percentages and the number of people being bullied will decrease.
The personal stories of those who are cyber-bullied are heartbreaking and unforgettable. Being online bullied or bullied through a smartphone or app can cause adults, teens, and children to become depressed and anxious.
Cyberbully victims often question their self-worth, feel unsafe, or struggle with decreased levels of self-esteem. The wounds that a cyberbully leaves are often internal and can cause the bullied person(s) to struggle at home, school, and work. A victim may also have trouble sleeping or isolate and not want to leave the house.
If these symptoms sound similar to those of depression, it is possibly because those who are cyber-bullied are more likely to be depressed, Live Science reports that a review of multiple studies, by pediatric researcher Michele Hamm from the University of Alberta, focused on the health of teens in the 12-18 age range and the effect that being cyberbullied had on teens, although some research has pointed to Instagram as the top offender for cyberbullying, Hamm’s study looked at a combination of social media sites, with Facebook accounts being the most reviewed.
Her research found a median of 23% of kids are bullied, and 15% bullying others online. Some teens (who were both bullies themselves and bullied by others) fell into both categories. These teens were more likely to have struggled with their mental health. Her review and study called those who bully and are bullied, “bully-victims”, at a range of 5.4% to 11.2%, depending on which research was reviewed.
There is no doubt that suicide can sometimes be connected to being bullied. There have been many instances when cyberbully victims make a lethal sad, desperate choice, and the adults who loved them either didn’t know their child was being bullied or underestimated its effect. Adults also face a higher risk of self-harm when they are cyberbullied.
While Hamm’s study didn’t return extensive data on the link between cyberbullying and suicide, other studies clearly show the added risk of self-harm. One study of this type, led by Professor Ann John from Swansea University Medical School and the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham, reviewed over 150 thousand youth spanning 30 countries over 21 years.
Few studies of this length have looked at cyberbullying as extensively. According to that research, children and young people (under age 25) are more than 2x as likely to engage in harm (self-harm) and enact suicidal behavior. This led researchers from the study to suggest that preventative measures and intervention are needed.
There are many examples of cyberbullying, and regardless of which type you have experienced, it can be challenging to handle a bully without support. If you are struggling with a bully and need someone to talk to, call the support number for your area, found at the Cyber Smile Foundation page.
Common types of cyberbullying are:
“Outing” occurs when a cyberbully reveals personal information about someone, without their consent. Their goal is to expose sensitive information about the victim doesn’t want to be shared publicly. This might be information about dating history, personal life, sexuality, or relationships.
What is the cyberbully’s goal?
To humiliate and embarrass the victim. However, empowered allies of cyberbully victims can speak up in solidarity with the victim.
One tragic example of this type of bullying occurred in 2010 when a talented violinist named Tyler Clementi was filmed having sex with a man in his dorm room. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a friend, Molly Wei, (from the same dorm floor) used a computer to access a webcam and observe Tyler’s date.
This footage was streamed to 150 of Ravi’s followers. Ravi posted, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
Within a day, Clementi was dead. Clementi gave a direct clue to his intention to commit suicide when he posted, “Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.” Thankfully, not all cyberbullying cases end so tragically, but this is just one example of how serious “outing” can be.
A catfishing cyberbully pretends to be someone else. They might be someone you know or a stranger, but the tools they use are the same. They create a fake profile and collect personal information about you. Catfish use someone else’s photographs that they stole from the web.
If you do a reverse image search, you can sometimes find out who the images belong to and uncover their catfish con. Other times, a catfish might try and lure you into giving them money, then cyberbully you if you refuse.
This happens when a former or current lover (someone you met in person or online), uses private photographs and video of a sensitive nature to blackmail and harass you. This frequently happens when someone ends a relationship, and one partner wants to “get back” at the other. If the images shared are of a teenager, the bully may receive an additional child pornography charge.
Some revenge porn is done by catfish who act like an online love interest, but actually, aren’t who they claim to be. They get you to take or share sexual or nude photographs and video, then share it with the web anonymously.
They will threaten to send the images to your classmates, boss, coworker, or spouse or blackmail you for cash. Children are sometimes bullied by peers who lie or tell details about the victim’s physical and sexual past.
Someone is watching you. You may or may not know who they are, but they observe everything that you do online. They might cyber-stalk you and make threats, post or send negative comments about you, or even create fake catfish profiles to trick you into adding or following them online. If that sounds like the plot of a thriller or the Netflix series, “You”, know that it also happens in real life, and a threatening stalker is a concern.
An online or internet troll’s comments and words can be painful to read. However, an online troll post negative comments wherever they see fit. They find it fun and don’t hold back. Often, they post insults or remarks that they would never say to someone’s face and may even use fake troll accounts which masquerade as real accounts.
Although you may or may not know the troll, you can feel harassed, threatened, and embarrassed when an online troll’s mean comments come for you. You might worry if the troll is someone you know.
A “shaming” cyberbully hits you wherever it hurts most, online that is. They might send you messages, text, or post comments, putting you down about the things you are proud of. This problem even happens to adults and celebrities, who often speak out about being “shamed”.
Recently, Jessica Simpson found herself being cyber shamed for allowing her daughter to dye the ends of her hair purple and pink. The singer Pink has disabled comments from her posts about her children, due to this reason. Sometimes you will be “shamed” by an online troll, other times it’s a regular person or someone you know, who speaks up and puts you down.
Your entire school, church, workplace, or other institution is talking about something a cyberbully said you did, but the problem is, it’s a lie! A cyberbully could reveal the name(s) of someone you had a fictitious affair with, accuse you of theft, or sexual acting out, or make up an array of hurtful comments about you.
You will feel upset and shocked. You may not know how to protect yourself, and law enforcement might tell you the comments are protected by free speech, even if you think they are libelous or harassing.
Whether you have worked hard in your career or are just starting out, workplace politics affect everyone. A workplace cyberbully might be anonymous and post negative remarks about you online.
This harassment can impact your career, or risk your job and your chance at promotion. If your life is being affected by workplace cyberbullying, don’t be afraid to speak up. Speak to your HR department or boss about what can be done.
No child or teen deserves to be bullied, whether it is on or off-line. Although the comments that a cyberbully, or a group of cyberbullies, makes can feel hurtful and humiliating, teach youngsters to speak up and get help. Talk to parents, teachers, a school counselor, or a private psychologist. If you have any thoughts of self-harm, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Violent threats from a cyberbully require immediate actions! Physical threats can be terrifying for young and old alike. Violent threats from a cyberbully may be made only to scare the victim but could indicate a real danger. If you receive violent threats from a cyberbully, contact the police (via 911) and ask to file a police report or restraining order immediately.
This occurs when someone is bullied in person and also cyberbullied, online. The combination can be emotionally crushing, and victims may experience enhanced worry about their physical and mental safety.
The laws regarding cyberbullying differ depending on which of the 50 U.S. states you live in. The same is true for U.S. territories or the District of Columbia. According to the government site, StopBullying.gov:
Most state laws, policies, and regulations require districts and schools to implement a bullying policy and procedures to investigate and respond to bullying when it occurs. A handful of states also require bullying prevention programs, inclusion of bullying prevention in health education standards, and/or teacher professional development. These state laws generally do not prescribe specific consequences for kids who engage in bullying behavior, and very few classify bullying as a criminal offense. Further, states may address bullying, cyberbullying, and related behaviors in a single law or across multiple laws. In some cases, bullying appears in the criminal code of a state that may apply to juveniles.
To find out the specific laws in your state or territory, use this map:
By clicking on the state where you reside, you will be able to read your states’ anti-bullying laws and regulations. Some states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Hawaii, and North Carolina, only have laws about bullying. The rest of the 50 states have laws in addition to the policy.
While these actions are a step in the right direction, you will have to review your state to see if it is one of the states that has some laws but lack a prohibiting statement, (explicitly stated) protected groups, definition, communication of policy, consequences, reporting, and investigations, etc.
Discussion about how to prevent cyberbullying occurs in 3 parts. First, there is awareness about what cyberbullying is and isn’t. Next, comes prevention, or the steps we can take to protect ourselves and our friends/family. Finally, comes the crucial stage of the actions we can take.
If you have a disagreement with a friend and they say something unkind to you, by text, email, or on social media, you may choose to forgive them, or not. If their comment was painful to you, talk to someone you love and trust.
When it comes to cyberbullying, a victim receives ongoing harassment from an individual or individuals, and the bully is repeatedly cruel and unkind. When this happens, the behavior has made the crossover into cyberbullying and needs to stop and be addressed.
Remember that you do not deserve to be cyberbullied. If you are a witness to cyberbullying happening to someone you know, let them know that you care about what is happening to them.
Listen to their pain and frustration with empathy and avoid judgment. Help them get connected with teachers, support staff, their parents, a therapist, a doctor, law enforcement, extended family, and clergy.
Although many people use social media and apps to connect with others, keeping your accounts private will limit who can message you and prevent others from reading your posts or commenting on your page. Next, block anyone who makes you uncomfortable online (after you save screenshots, explained below).
Many websites, social media sites, and apps have built-in features to report problem accounts. Use them, as needed. Any user who receives many complaints may have their account access revoked. Keep your passwords safe and change them regularly, especially if you share your passwords with current or former friends.
Avoid connecting to unsecured public WiFi, such as a public hotspot in a coffee shop, as this could give strangers access into your accounts. If you are a minor, tell your parents, even if it is scary or you’re worried about how they will react. It is easier to set boundaries with cyberbullies when you have the support of family. This will also allow you to seek out professional support and help.
When you receive messages from a cyberbully, the first thing you should do is take screenshots of any messages. This will help if you need to file a police report or ask for a restraining order.
Next, do not engage with the cyberbully. It may be tempting to try and defend yourself, but the only message you should ever send is one that tells the bully to stop and explain that their comments are unwanted bullying or harassment.
If you are afraid that doing so will make the situation worse, involve a parent, teacher, therapist, principal, or HR personnel for help and let them message the bully or contact the authorities.
Next, block their account and, if the cyberbully continues to message you after you (or someone on your behalf) have firmly asked them to stop, allow law enforcement to take over. Law enforcement should always be contacted if serious or violent threats are made to a victim of cyberbullying.
When it comes to bullied children and teens, ask for school support. This should facilitate faster action and make sure that everything goes according to the book. Review any messages you have sent to the cyberbully. When we feel attacked at the moment, it can be easy to say things we don’t mean.
The website Connect Safely urges those who are cyber-bullied to “Respond thoughtfully, not fast.” This doesn’t mean ignoring professional help, but not sending angry messages back to scare a cyberbully away, which might only make things worse.
Ceaseless or ongoing harassment may lead to charges for the cyberbully, punishment at school, disciplinary action at work, or help you to obtain a restraining order.
Based on U.S. government guidelines, these are the actions you should take to stop a cyberbully and report them to the correct parties. Call 911 if there has been a crime or a cyberbully has threatened to harm you or your child. If there is ever any immediate risk of harm, call 911.
If a victim of cyberbully is talking about the thought of suicide, you can call 911 and connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline which will redirect your call to a nearby crisis center for 24-hour counseling: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If necessary, head to the nearest emergency room. Calling “211” can provide you with outpatient support in your area. Consider also getting additional crisis support though a counselor or mental health practitioner.
Contact the following school personnel (in this order) teacher, school counselor, principal, superintendent, and the State Department of Education. Go further down the list if your concerns are not responded to and acted upon.
If you still do not receive the assistance you need for your child, contact the Office for Civil Rights, through the U.S. Department of Education and the Civil Rights Division, through the U.S. Department of Justice. Save copies of all the messages your child was sent and notes about any in-person bullying. Provide those to the school staff and take notes on how they handle your concerns.
Save copies of the messages you have been sent. Block and report the messages and user to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Ask.fm, Kik, etc. For Ask.fm, the number of suicides linked to cyberbullying on the site is staggering. Reports show ask.fm has cyberbullying related suicides in the double digits.
Speak with the H.R. department, if you have one, and ask for help. Tell the cyberbully to stop, in writing, and save the evidence. Talk to your boss. Get outside legal advice. If the problem continues or becomes threatening, file for a restraining order or file a complaint based on your states law.
Immediately make all your accounts private. Use 2-factor authentication on all of your accounts and change your passwords. Delete social media, app, and gaming friends you do not know from your accounts and block anyone who harasses you. Do not send threatening cyberbully money, as this will not make them go away. Report their financial request to the IC3.
While a cyberbully’s goal is to make you feel bad, remember that many people who bully others are also bullied and may have additional mental health issues. People who bully others are not happy people, or they wouldn’t waste their time trying to make others feel bad.
Cyberbullying is wrong, and decisive action should be taken to stop the bully from contacting you or your bullied family member. No one should ever be shamed into staying home from school or work based on the negative things a cyberbully says.
It is okay to share the pain that cyberbullying has caused you with trusted support persons. Becoming an empowered advocate, who knows how to handle bullies of all types, helps to set the tone for those around you who may be victimized.
By working together to stop cyberbullies, we can arrange a precedent for how others report and respond to bullying. The last decade has seen a dramatic drop in cyberbullying crimes, even with the emergence of numerous new social media sites and apps.
Cyberbullies are getting the message that cyberbullying isn’t okay and won’t be tolerated. The presence of cyberbullied on the web can now be searched out using a specialized algorithm-based search engine to help you unmask their identity!
Watching someone, you love to experience the pain of cyberbullying can be heartbreaking, especially when the victim is your child, niece or nephew, sibling, friend, partner, or relative. You might even be the one harassed by a cyberbully or cyberbullies.
If this is happening to you or someone you care about, don’t let embarrassment and shame keep you from protecting yourself. No one deserves to be attacked online, and you have the right to know who is sending you hurtful, cruel, or threatening messages, and stop the harassment.
If you have followed our recommended steps to stop and report cyberbullies, but are still facing difficulties, try a Social Catfish search. People turn to our proprietary reverse searches engine when they can’t afford to hire a private investigator or to get more evidence while law enforcement pursues their case.
On Social Catfish, you can search a cyberbully by name, username, profile photographs and images, phone number, and email address. Once you discover who is really behind the hateful emails, messages, texts, comments, or pictures, you can provide that information to law enforcement and the government, and have peace of mind.