Cyberbullying is a growing problem in our hyperconnected world where smartphones and the internet rule. In 2019, 36% of middle and high school students in the United States reported that they have been cyberbullied in their lifetime (Patchin, 2019). This is just one of the many surveys and data points that demonstrate the prevalence of cyberbullying in the U.S.
In this article, we will provide a background of why cyberbullying can be an even more devastating experience for the victim than traditional bullying. We will also highlight some important points to consider about cyberbullying, especially when it comes to its various effects on a victim’s social and mental wellbeing.
Prevalence of Cyberbullying in the US: Table of Contents
- Important Cyberbullying Statistics
- Negative Effects of Cyberbullying
- Anyone Can Be a Cyberbully
- Things You Can Do to Protect Your Child
Compared to traditional (physical and relational) bullying, cyberbullying happens using electronic mediums; thus there are certain features that make it potentially more distressing for the victim. First, it is easier to carry out cyberbullying because the perpetrator does not need to confront the victim in person. This means that harassment can take place at any time of the day in the virtual world. It becomes harder to avoid attacks and the victim can feel that there is no escape.
Second, cyberbullying has a wider audience reach due to the global use of social media and the fact that it is not only adults who have access to digital devices. Even teenagers and children use smartphones and the Internet. In fact, 95% of teenagers can easily have access to smartphones and 45% of them are online throughout the day. Also, 88% of teens say they have access to a desktop or laptop computer (Anderson and Jiang, 2018).
Because of this virtually limitless number of people who can see posts and conversations online, the victims might feel that they do not have control over the situation. Attackers can also be anonymous, so the victims might not even know who is harassing them and cannot approach them to tell them to stop.
Third, the permanency of online messages and its potential to go viral are other features that make cyberbullying a serious issue. It can be very difficult to remove posted content online, viewers can easily share harmful content to other social media or messaging apps, and content can also be searched through search engines.
Souce: Pew Research Center 2018 Designed by
Important Cyberbullying Statistics
Looking at some important cyberbullying statistics will help provide a better perspective on just how serious the problem has become.
- Teenage cyberbullying statistics show that among middle and high school students in the U.S., 37% have experienced online harassment.
- Moreover, 90% of teens agree that cyberbullying is a problem that has a negative impact on their peers, while 63% believe it is a major problem (Anderson, 2018).
- Sadly, the problem does not go away as people get older as 41% of American adults said they have experienced cyberbullying and 67% think that it is a major problem in society (Duggan, 2017).
Cyberbullying also varies between genders and age groups. Young people, ages 18-29, are the most likely to experience cyberbullying, while men are more likely to be cyberbullied than women. However, women are the most likely to experience severe forms of online abuse (Duggan, 2017).
- 67% of young people, ages 18-29, have been targets of online harassment—41% have experienced severe cyberbullying.
- On the other hand, 49% of adults ages 30-49 have experienced online harassment.
- And 22% of people ages 50 and above reported that they have been targets of hostile behaviors online.
- When it comes to gender, 44% of adult men experienced cyberbullying compared to 37% of women.
- 21% of young women, ages 18-29, reported experiencing online sexual harassment compared to 9% of men.
- 60% of teen girls and 59% of teen boys have been targets of online harassment, which tells us that both genders in this demographic equally experience cyberbullying (Anderson, 2018).
There can be many forms of cyberbullying. In a survey of 743 teens ages 13-17, the most common type of online harassment was name-calling, followed by rumor spreading (Anderson, 2018).
- 42% of teens reported that they have been called offensive names online or on text messages.
- 32% said they have been the targets of false rumors.
- 25% received explicit images they didn’t ask for.
In a separate survey of adult internet users, name-calling was also the most common online harassment, followed by shaming or deliberately embarrassing someone (Duggan, 2014).
- 27% of respondents have been called offensive names.
- 22% have experienced online shaming.
- 8% have received threats pertaining to physical harm.
- Another 8% experienced online stalking.
- 7% said they were continuously harassed.
- 6% reported they have been sexually harassed.
These statistics provide information on the extent of cyberbullying. But where does it occur the most? In a 2020 survey of different online environments such as instant messaging apps and social media, it was found that Facebook is where most online harassments take place. Other online environments where cyberbullying occurs include the comments sections of websites, email, and gaming sites (Duggan, 2017).
- 77% of survey respondents said at least some of the cyberbullying they experienced happened on Facebook.
- Twitter was the second platform where most online harassment took place at 27%.
- Video-sharing platform, Youtube, and social networking service, Instagram, followed with 18% and 17%, respectively.
- Adults ages 18-49 are more likely to be cyberbullied on social media and online gaming, while older adults ages 50 and older experience more harassment via email (Duggan, 2014).
When it comes to why people get cyberbullied, the reasons range from political views to personal characteristics and race (Duggan, 2017). Among those who encountered any type of harassment online:
- 14% said that the attacks they experienced were mostly in connection with their political views.
- 9% were connected to physical appearance, followed by gender at 8%.
- Race (8%), religion (5%), sexual orientation (3%), occupation (3%), and disability (1%) were other common reasons for getting harassed online. (Note: Total may not add to 100% since respondents could select multiple answers.)
Negative Effects of Cyberbullying
No one is immune to the negative effects of cyberbullying. Though individual reactions may vary, the effects of cyberbullying on teenagers and children can be most damaging since they are still learning how to control and manage their emotions.
Past studies reveal the relationship between cyberbullying and affective disorders. Among adolescents, for example, cyberbullying has been connected to depression with 93% of cybervictims reporting mixed feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and powerlessness (Raskauskas and Stoltz, 2007, as cited in Nixon, 2014).
Moreover, victims of cyberbullying also complained about a number of physical and mental health problems such as difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fear, and suicidal tendencies (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010, as cited in Nixon, 2014). Somatic symptoms and poor academic performance also correlated to cyberbullying (Kowalski and Limber, 2012, as cited in Nixon, 2014). More long-term negative effects of cyberbullying were also observed. These include substance abuse, alcoholism, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, and trust issues (Selkie et al., 2015).
Between the genders, women become more upset about their cyberbullying experience. Eighteen percent of women compared to 9% of men said their experiences were “extremely upsetting,” while 20% said they were “very upsetting” compared to only 8% of men (Duggan, 2014).
Sixty-six percent of American adults have seen others being cyberbullied. True to the findings on the most common type of cyberbullying, 53% said they have witnessed others being called names, and 43% said they’ve seen others deliberately embarrass somebody else (Duggan, 2017).
It is not only victims who experience the negative effects of cyberbullying. The people who witness them can also be profoundly impacted by the hostile behaviors they witness online. Among adults who witnessed cyberbullying, for example, 8% said they felt “very anxious” and 26% felt “mildly anxious” after seeing others get harassed online. For young adults ages 18-29 who witnessed cyberbullying, 12% felt “very anxious” and 36% felt “mildly anxious” (Duggan, 2017).
Anyone Can Be a Cyberbully
Among those who experienced cyberbullying, 34% said the attacks came from a stranger, while 31% said they do not know the perpetrator’s real identity. Another 26% said the person who harassed them online was their acquaintance; 18% reported it was their friend; 11% said it was a family member; 7% said it was an ex-romantic partner; and 5% reported they were cyberbullied by a coworker (Duggan, 2017).
As we can see, it can be hard to tell who is a cyberbully. It can also be equally hard for young people to report cyberbullying to their parents or other adults, but there are signs that can determine whether someone is being cyberbullied (“Cyberbullying Warning Signs,” n.d.):
- the person seems to be angry, frustrated, or sad after going online
- becomes withdrawn from friends and family
- becomes overly secretive, especially about activities online
- appears jumpy or nervous when using their digital devices
- avoids school or becomes uneasy talking about school
- suddenly stops using their devices
- is oversleeping or having difficulty sleeping
- shows an increase or decrease in eating
- appears to be regularly depressed
- makes passing remarks about the meaninglessness of life and suicide
- loses interest in things that they enjoyed before
- frequently messages to say they want to go home from school
- wants to spend more time with parents than peers
Based on a study by Pew Research Center, more than half—56%—of the 41% of Americans who experienced cyberbullying faced their experience alone. For those who did receive help, 29% said it came from family and friends. Seventeen percent said support came from other people online (Duggan, 2017). This suggests that a great deal of support for cyberbullying victims still involves the help of kin.
Things You Can Do to Protect Your Child
Some things you can take to help your child or friend who is a victim of cyberbullying:
- Talk to your child or friend. Some people might find it hard to report cyberbullying, so if you see any signs, talking to them can help them open up about the problem.
- Resist the temptation to ban your children from any online activity. This might only push them to be more secretive and not tell you when another cyberbullying happens.
- Tell your child or friend that retaliation or responding to online harassment might just make things worse and provide satisfaction to the cyberbully who is out to seek attention and provoke people.
- Remind your child or friend that any hurtful messages online is wrong and that they are not to blame for other people’s malevolent behavior.
- Encourage your child or friend to document the cyberbullying incidents they encounter. Save URLs or take screenshots of the messages. Keeping records of the harassments can always help once you report to teachers, school officials, or law enforcement.
Staying vigilant is still one of the most effective ways to combat cyberbullying. The sooner you can detect hostile behavior online, the better you can address it and protect your loved ones from the potential long-term negative effects of cyberbullying.
- Patchin, J. (2019). Cyberbullying victimization. Cyberbullying Research Center.
- Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
- Anderson, M. (2018). A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
- Duggan, M. (2017). Online Harassment 2017. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
- Duggan, M. (2014). Online Harassment. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
- ADL (2020, June). Online Hate and Harassment: The American Experience 2020. New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League.
- Nixon, C. (2014). Current perspectives: The impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 5, 143-158. https://doi.org/10.2147/AHMT.S36456
- Selkie, E., Kota, R., Chan, Y., & Moreno, M. (2015). Cyberbullying, depression, and problem alcohol use in female college students: A multisite study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18 (2), 79-86. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0371