Heidi Finigan | Updated: 6 Jul 2021
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With rising social media usage comes the problem of online harassment and bullying. How is cyberbullying happening on the internet during the current 2021 year, and what exactly are its consequences?
The fast pace of technological advancement has transformed every part of our lives, but one of its biggest impacts has been on the way we communicate with each other. With social media and the internet keeping us connected, it has never been easier to stay updated and interact with friends, family and perhaps even total strangers. But this ease of communication has also given rise to a new type of harassment, one growing at a worrying pace globally: Cyberbullying.
The first things which come to mind with the word “bullying” might be schoolyard fights or stolen lunch money. Or maybe a group ganging up to tease and shove around a victim who doesn’t “fit in”. Cyberbullying is simply this sort of behavior shifted online to social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook – think hurtful comments or embarrassing rumors about a victim being posted as public comments on these sites. The prevalence of such harassment is shocking, especially for youth: Over 59% of teenagers in the US have experienced cyberbullying, and globally 33% of parents report having or knowing a child within their community who had been cyberbullied.
Cyberbullying is not only limited to children and teenagers however. 41% of adults in the US report having personally experienced online harassment, with 66% reporting that they have seen this negative behavior directed at others. High profile cases of celebrities being harassed online often end up on the news, with South Korea in particular seeing a recent tragic wave of celebrity suicides linked to cyberbullying. It is clear that both adults and children all over the world can be affected by cyberbullying, which sometimes lead to disturbing consequences.
Below are some of the most important facts and statistics you need to know about this troubling phenomenon, broken down into 11 key takeaways about Cyberbullying Facts and Statistics:
While cyberbullying can come in all sorts of different forms, the above chart summarizes the main types of harassment faced by US teens, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. In all, 42% of the teens surveyed report having experienced offensive name-calling online, followed by:
The same survey found that 60% of girls experience cyberbullying compared to 59% of boys, which are highly similar rates for both groups. However, they suffer from different types of cyberbullying. Girls are more likely than boys to have rumors spread about them (39% for girls compared to 26% for boys), more likely to receive explicit images they did not ask for (29% vs 20%), and more likely to be targeted several different forms of cyberbullying. Cyberbullies also more often target a girl’s physical appearance, according to a separate Swedish study.
And while gender does not appear to influence rates of being cyberbullied, the survey also details that children of lower economic status, those who are LGBTQ and those who spend more time online are more likely to suffer from cyberbullying.
Like traditional bullies, cyberbullies are often their victim’s peers, classmates who are similar in age to them. 12% of teens admitted to cyberbullying in a study by the Florida Atlantic University, with boys more likely to be bullies than girls.
While rare, cyberbullying can also come from unlikely sources. A 50-year old mother in the US state of Pennsylvania was recently charged with cyber harassment for sending faked videos and offensive messages to her daughter’s classmates, in an effort to get them kicked off the school cheerleading team. There was also a prominent US case in 2014 where a high schooler was convicted for sending repeated messages to her boyfriend urging him to commit suicide.
The same Florida study stated that an overwhelming 83% of students who experienced cyberbullying had also been bullied at school in the past 30 days. This relationship holds true on the flip side as well, with 69% of school bullies also participating in bullying online. This reinforces the idea that technology has become a troubling tool for traditional bullies to extend their harassment even when they are no longer in the victim’s physical presence.
Instagram is the number one platform where the most cyberbullying occurs, with 42% of online bullying occurring on Instagram. This comes as no surprise due to its size, being one of the largest social media platforms around with over one billion monthly users. Other platforms follow close behind, with Facebook and Snapchat taking up 39% and 31% of the cyberbullying share respectively. The one outlier here is Youtube, which despite being the most-utilized platform, only accounts for 10% of cyberbullying.
To their credit, Instagram has been rolling out a series of features to combat harassment. In 2016 they introduced the ability to disable comments on posts and, more recently, the ability to restrict certain users from commenting publicly on their posts, without that other user’s knowledge. Only time will tell whether these measures will eventually prove effective in solving its cyberbullying problem.
64% of those cyberbullied reported feeling unsafe and unable to learn effectively at school. Little wonder there, since victims also report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, according to a published review of existing research on the subject. Additionally, cyberbullying is linked to poorer physical health. Victims are more likely to have headaches, stomach aches, poor appetites and sleep disturbances, possibly as a result of all the mental pressure they are under.
But perhaps the most concerning consequence of cyberbullying is the effect it has on suicidal thoughts. While traditionally bullied youth are 1.63 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-bullied youth, cyberbullied youth are 3.44 times more likely to try taking their own lives! It might be tempting to downplay cyberbullying as just hurtful words and mean rumors, but its very real consequences should not be ignored.
Parents are an importance source of support for cyberbullied children, and according to the Pew Research Center 60% of parents do worry about their own teen being harassed online, showing that many are aware of this issue. They seem to do a good job supporting their children too, with 59% of US teens believing that their parents are doing an excellent job in addressing online harassment. However, this number drops when they are asked to evaluate the efforts of other groups and organizations: Only 44% consider Law Enforcement officers to be doing an excellent job, and that number drops further for teachers (42%), bystanders (34%), social media sites (33%) and elected officials (20%).
Clearly, teens feel strongly that not all groups involved are doing enough to combat cyberbullying. Elected officials in particular seem to put a low priority on cyberbullying, and teens feel let down by their efforts.
Yes, you read that correctly. After going through all of the negative effects of cyberbullying above, it might seem incredible how there are teens who are actively harassing themselves online. Yet according to this 2019 study on middle and high school students in Florida, 10% of these teens had posted offensive comments about themselves online using fake accounts in the past year!
Sometimes, these actions are just a cry for attention, meant to attract sympathy and praise from others in response to the fake offensive comment. However, it can also be a sign of mental distress, like the action of traditional self-harm. Online self-harm is sometimes a way for teens to cope with negative experiences, and kids who are cyberbullied are also more likely to turn to self-cyberbullying. Parents should address this behavior by trying to understand why their children are harming themselves online, and take action to resolve the root causes of this digital self-harm.
Most of the research above present US data, since that is where the bulk of in-depth research on cyberbullying has been conducted. However, the table below summarizing data from an Ipsos Global Advisor report on cyberbullying shows that cyberbullying is very much a global issue, and is becoming an increasingly common problem.
Cyberbullying is present in each of these 28 countries, albeit to varying degrees. The number of parents who have a cyberbullied child has also been rising since 2011 for most countries.
40% of US adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2017 report being cyberbullied, compared to 60% of US teens. Similar to teen cyberbullying, the most common type of harassment experienced is offensive name calling, but adults are much more likely to be targeted for their political views.
While older adults do not experience as much cyberbullying as children according to various research, including this New Zealand study which found that those aged 18-25 experienced the most cyber-bullying while those aged 66 or higher experienced the least, adult cyberbullying can be even more damaging to its victims. Because the bullies are often cunning enough to stay unidentified and act with specific goals of destroying the victim’s reputation and career, adult cyberbullying can escalate into very serious situations.
For instance, a Canadian blogger has had lawsuits filed against him by his cyberbully, a stalker who also harassed him for years with offensive messages on his social media profiles. This New York Times article details a woman who posted false information online claiming that her previous employer committed crimes such as theft, fraud and sexual assault, greatly damaging their reputation and potentially even their career.
The laws pertaining to cyberbullying offer differ widely from country to country. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen Government all around the world step up and review their cyberbullying laws and monitoring in response to the increased online time by under-18’s during COVID-19.
The most recently released data by the eSafety Commisioner in Australia, reveals some alarming statistics in relation to cyberbullying.
The Australian Government’s NSW Police Force advised that there are in fact no specific laws pertaining to cyberbullying. However, they did encourage victims of cyberbullying to keep a detailed log of the bullying that has taken place, as there may be an option to prosecute bullies under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, 1955. Division 474, subdivision C. which relates specifically to Telecommunications Offences.
Coronavirus lockdowns across the world have made it necessary for many to work or attend classes from home. This rise in online activity have unfortunately led to a corresponding increase in cyberbullying. 81% of cyberbullying support organizations reported an increase in online harassment activity during the lockdown period, according to a survey conducted by the New York Times in July of 2020.
On online platforms, “Anti-Online Toxicity” organization L1ght described there being a 70% increase in hate and abusive speech between children and teens during coronavirus lockdowns. Notably, they also observed a 900% increase in racial hate speech towards Asians on Twitter, targeting and accusing them of spreading the coronavirus.
Greater knowledge of cyberbullying and making more people aware of this issue would go a long way towards minimizing online harassment. The Australian Government outlines the seriousness of this issue, and points to a need for more research into the topic, and we tend to agree: While there is substantial existing research on cyberbullying, most of it is focused on the US population, while online harassment is clearly a global problem. Additionally, most research on this topic relies on survey data, which can be biased.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue with grave consequences, and it can affect children and adults alike across the globe. Each one of us should be vigilant for signs of cyberbullying on online platforms, and call out harassment when we see it happen. It’s also important to spread awareness of this growing problem. There is clearly much more that each of us can do to limit cyberbullying reduce the number of victims.