How Kids Cyberbully

Verbal or emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of bullying online. Social bullying, another pervasive form – particularly with girls – includes social exclusion and spreading gossip and rumours.

Making public content that was meant to be private – such as photos or videos – is another frequent bullying activity, and is particularly common in the context of relationships. Finally, bullying may take the form of impersonation or spoofing, in which the perpetrator actually represents him or herself as the target. These forms of psychological bullying can be even more devastating when conducted through digital media.

Not surprisingly, social networks – particularly Facebook – are where youth report being bullied most often. Texting and instant messaging services are second, with YouTube well behind in third place. [1] Built-in digital cameras in cell phones are adding a new dimension to the problem. In one case students used a camera-enabled cell phone to take a photo of an overweight classmate in the shower after gym. The picture was distributed throughout the school email list within minutes. The emerging trend of sexting also exposes teenagers to cyberbullying: personal messages and photographs, even those sent to real friends or boyfriends/girlfriends, could end up being embarrassing if the relationship sours and private photos are made public.

On social networking sites, you can tag images with the names of people who are in the photo. This simple act can lead to cyberbullying, as these photos will appear in any search into this person’s name and it could be that misappropriated profile settings do not protect access to them.

Multiplayer online games and virtual worlds can be venues for harassment and cyberbullying when kids are playing or using the chat features to talk to other players. According to a 2008 Pew Internet & American Life Project report, more than half of teens who play games report seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing”; a quarter of them report that this happens “often.”


[1] Cross, E.J., R. Piggin, J. Vonkaenal-Platt and T. Douglas. (2012). Virtual Violence II: Progress and Challenges in the Fight against Cyberbullying. London: Beatbullying.


Resources for Youth

Stay on the Path

Stay on the Path: Teaching Kids to be Safe and Ethical Online is a series of resources that aims to promote and encourage ethical online behaviours with young people. The resources include a four-lesson unit on search skills and critical thinking; a self-directed tutorial that examines the moral dilemmas that kids face in their online activities and strategies for helping youth deal with them; and three tip sheets for parents on how to teach kids to be safe and ethical online.

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