- Authored by Patricia Neves & Massimo Rocchetta (2009)
- Updated by Kim Melvin (2010)
- Updated by Steph Tobin (2011)
- Updated by Matthew O'Connor and Breanna Lloyd (2014)
- Updated by Andrea Wyness (2015)
- Updated by Elizabeth Webber (2015)
- Updated by Ryan Silverthorne (2017)
Cyberbullying also known as cyber-bullying, cyber bullying, internet bullying, or online bullying can be defined as, "An aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself." Electronic forms of contact include e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, message boards, Educational Blogging, social networking, Video Games, Mobile_Learning, microworlds, and 3D Virtual Learning Environments. Research in the area of cyberbullying has focused on youth but has recently expanded to adult cyberbullying. Turkle (2004) referred to cyberspace as being a place for adolescents to resolve social and identity issues. Since cyberspace is not usually monitored by adults, adolescents who lack the internal psychological and sociological maturity to guide their behaviour, can often be vicious, akin to the behaviour described in the book, “The Lord of the Flies”.
The effects of cyberbullying can be very damaging to one's emotional well-being. Cyberbullying has even resulted in victim suicide. For example, Phoebe Prince, Megan Meier, Ryan Halligan, and Tyler Clementi were all teenagers who took their own lives after being bullied on the internet. Canadian teenagers Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons were both cyberbullied before committing suicide. Despite these tragedies, the vast majority of cyberbullying victims do not kill themselves, and those who do typically have experienced a constellation of stress- ors and other issues operating in their lives, making it difficult to isolate the influence of one specific personal or social problem as compared to others 
Controversy regarding cyberbullying has focused on who is responsible to intervene and end the torment. This type of bullying is often the most complex type because it’s constantly evolving and changing with new technology and social media sites. Youth are still learning to recognize cyberbullying and their responsibilities as bystanders. Schools are still beginning to realize that they are responsible for protecting the children, even if cyberbullying happens off school property. Parents are often unaware that their child is bullying or being victimized. Federal legislation in the United States has "granted broad immunity to Internet service providers" (p.89). Legal systems are still defining what constitutes free speech vs. harassment in court cases that will serve as references for future cyberbullying accusations.
According to Beale and Hall (2007), “Technology has escalated bullying to a new and particularly insidious level” (p. 8). The following characteristics make cyberbullying potentially more appealing and/or damaging than traditional bullying:
- Anonymity - youth can easily hide behind secret identities when cyberbullying;
- Bystanders - cyberbullying often happens on the internet exposed to an infinite number of people who may participate;
- Accessibility - cyberbullying infiltrates the victim's home who could be tormented around the clock;
- Revenge - victims of traditional bullying may be more comfortable retaliating through electronic means than face to face;
- Disinhibition - the impersonal nature of technology often blocks important social cues that students may have otherwise reacted to if tormenting their victims in person. Also, cyberbullies may not feel legally responsible when bullying from the safety of their own home.
Willard (2005) defines the following are the six most common forms of cyberbullying: harassment, denigration, flaming, impersonation, outing and trickery and cyberstalking.
- Harassment - using electronic media to send offensive, rude or insulting messages;
- Denigration - distributing derogatory and false information via electronic media;
- Flaming - online fighting using electronic messages;
- Impersonation - presenting oneself as someone else using electronic media;
- Outing and trickery - exposing private information after obtaining the information from someone in trust;
- Cyberstalking - using electronic media to repeatedly threaten someone, who in turns, feels their safety is jeopardized.
Like traditional bullying, youth aged 11-16 are most likely to be involved in cyberbullying. Migliore (2003) as cited in Beale and Hall (2007) said younger students aged 11-12 are less likely to be involved in cyberbullying. Many cybervictims have been found to also be victims of traditional bullying. Girls are more likely to play a role in cyberbullying. Salmivalli et al. (1996) found that typically 30% of bystanders support bullies instead of victims. Most victims and bystanders do not report the events to adults. Isafeamerica (2006) suggests that youth do not report cyberbullying for fear of having their phone or computer revoked.
Even if cyberbullying happens at home or elsewhere, the significant emotional impact on students can affect their learning and school climate. Schools have a responsibility to protect their students and offer an optimal educational environment. Therefore, cyberbullying needs to be addressed by schools in some sort of policy or code of conduct in order to have clear direction on how to respond. According to research, consequences could include a restorative justice for infringements. .
Research suggests that parents are not connected with what their children are doing online. Parents can best protect their families from online dangers by learning computer and internet skills that will enable them to participate in their children’s internet learning and activities. Parents need to keep open communication with their children about proper netiquette and technologies they use.
Internet service providers
Shariff and Hoff (2007) refer to David A. Myers' (2006) investigation of the American Communications Decency Act of 1996 which states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" (p. 89). Internet service providers (ISPs) are classified as distributors not publishers. Therefore, ISP providers are not obligated to act in cases of cyberbullying. Shariff and Hoff (2007) note that, "The law is slow to change, especially when judges are well aware of the floodgate of litigation that might be unleashed if Internet providers are held liable" (p. 91).
Cyberbullying is a global issue. While globally, cyberbullying may take on similar forms, countries have varied mandates and laws pertaining to the act of cyberbullying.
Willard (2007) observes, “as this (cyberbullying) is a new concern, there is not extensive case law to guide decision-making” (p. S64). The most relevant court case for cyberbullying is “Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist. 393 U.S. 503 (1969)” (p. S64). The Tinker Standard upholds that if cyberbullying has the potential to cause substantial disruption of the ability for an individual to participate in educational activities or shows a significant negative impact on the school environment, schools have a legal right to intervene and take action against students even if the bullying did not occur on school property. Shariff and Hoff (2007) cite past rulings on cyberbullying cases from the judicial system that could affect future cyberbullying claims. “Until the courts provide schools and internet providers with policy directions that specifically address cyberbullying, these rulings at least provide reasonable guidelines to inform educational policy and practice” (p. 107).
In Canada, cyberbullying can be addressed under civil law or criminal law, based on the specific situation.
Civil law is the branch of law that deals with property rights, personal dignity and freedom from injury. Under civil law, there are three approaches to cyberbullying:
- A cyberbully may be engaged in defamation. This is when the bully causes harm to someone’s reputation by spreading false information about that person .
- A perpetrator may be creating an unsafe environment by making the target feel that she or he cannot go to school without facing violence, teasing or exclusion. Schools and workplaces are required to provide a safe environment for their students or employees, and must take any appropriate action to do so. A school, therefore, might punish a student for online behaviour that is making it hard for other students to learn in a safe environment. A school or workplace that does not do everything it can to provide a safe environment can be sued by the target(s) .
- Finally, a person is responsible for any consequences that he or she might reasonably have guessed would happen. Therefore, a perpetrator who suggests that a depressed student should kill herself would be liable if the student actually did kill herself, as long as the perpetrator had reason to believe it was a likely result .
Criminal law is the branch of law which determines which actions are crimes against the state . In criminal law, there are two approaches to cyberbullying:
- Harassment is a crime under the Criminal Code. Harassment is when something a person says or does makes someone fear for his or her safety, or for the safety of others. Even if the perpetrator did not intend to frighten someone, she or he can be charged with harassment if the target feels threatened. Criminal harassment is punishable by up to 10 years in prison .
- Defamatory libel is a crime under the Criminal Code. It is most often treated as a crime if the libellous statement is directed against a person in authority and could seriously harm his or her reputation. Defamatory libel is punishable by up to five years in prison .
Canada's Bill C-13
Bill C-13 aims to address a gap in the Criminal Code by making it illegal to distribute an intimate image of a person without their consent. If the proposed Bill C-13 is passed, it could give police more power to fight cyber crime. Bill C-13 combines a proposed new offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images to address cyberbullying with judicially-authorized tools to help police and prosecutors investigate the proposed new offence and other existing offences that are committed via the Internet or that involve electronic evidence. The 2014 conviction of a 17-year-old girl in a Victoria, British Columbia case is highlighting the challenges the legal systems face. The youth, who cannot be named, sent naked images of another girl electronically as a form of retaliation. “The only charge that fit this particular offence is distribution of child pornography,” said Fort St. John RCMP spokeswoman Corporal Jodi Shelkie. “There wasn’t enough to fulfill a charge of harassment.” Bill C-13, the proposed federal cyberbullying bill expected to pass this spring, would eliminate the need for such a severe charge in similar cases.
Preventative measures like education programs about digital citizenship for students, teachers, and parents are recommended in cyberbullying literature as the best way to combat cyberbullying. The span of bullying prevention programs need to be school wide as most students have the possibility to become affected by cyberbullying. Schools should also promote a safe and caring environment by creating a positive school climate. This could be done with various character education programs, school spirit assemblies, and the modelling of desired behaviour by adults. Shariff and Hoff (2007) suggest that education programs reconnect young people “to their sense of ethics so they can think critically about the impact of their online actions and attitudes” (p. 109).
Youth view technology as a means to interact and connect with their community. While Social Software technologies can provide benefits like instant communication, they are also avenues for harassment, intimidation, and defamation. "Thus, the effective online learning teacher (and designer) is constantly...providing safe environments for them to increase their sense of Internet efficacy".
Suggestions for designers to prevent cyberbullying
- Know who the target audience is;
- Be clear with expectations and policies concerning inappropriate use;
- Allow the user to have control over their privacy settings;
- Oversee the interactions on the design;
- Install filters and tracking software that can screen disrespectful language and track other problematic behaviour;
- Access existing applications for popular sites that allow the user to report abusive behaviour directly to site officials (i.e. Find Help for Facebook);
- Develop affordances with the unique learners' characteristics in mind.
Suggestions for e-learning instructors to prevent cyberbullying
- Instruct students about Digital Citizenship;
- Bring attention to social networking policies regarding privacy and ownership;
- Interact often with the learners;
- Oversee student-student interactions;
- Foster a positive learning environment and participate in discussions;
- Encourage a level of online anonymity by reminding students not to disclose personal photos or share personal information;
- Inform students about the school policy for cyberbullying and subsequent consequences;
- Delete and document offensive material;
- Create a positive atmosphere inspiring a community of learners who collaborate on common goals;
- Respect different genders, cultures, and experiences
Wiki Stop Motion Artifact:
Resources for students, parents and educators
Current research by Andrea Wyness
- Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: Its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376–385. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x
- Turkle, S. (2004). Whither psychoanalysis in computer culture. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(1), 16-30.
- Shariff, S., & Hoff, D. (2007). Cyber bullying: Clarifying legal boundaries for school supervision in cyberspace. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 1(1), 76-118. Retrieved from: http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/
- Collins, L. (2008, January 21). Friend Game: Behind the online hoax that led to a girl’s suicide. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/01/21/080121fa_fact_collins
- Schwartz, J. (2010, October 2). Bullying, suicide, punishment. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/weekinreview/03schwartz.html
- Halligan, J. (2005, August 17). Death by cyber-bully. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/08/17/death_by_cyber_bully/
- Russell A. Sabella, Justin W. Patchin, Sameer Hinduja (2014). Cyberbullying myths and realities. Computers in Human Behavior 29(6):
- Willard, N. E. (2007). The authority and responsibility of school officials in responding to cyberbullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S64–S65. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.013
- Beale, A. V., & Hall, K. R. (2007). Cyberbullying: What school administrators (and parents) can do. The Clearing House, 8(1), 8-12. doi:10.3200/TCHS.81.1.8-12
- Beran, T., & Li, Q. (2005). Cyber-harassment: A study of a new method for an old behavior. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(3), 265-277. Retrieved from: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~qinli/publications.html
- Li, Q. (2005). Cyberbullying in schools: Nature and extent of Canadian adolescents’ experience. Paper presented at the annual American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference, Montreal. Retrieved from: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~qinli/publications.html
- Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 5, 1-35. Retrieved from: http://umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/brown_jackson_cassidy.html
- Kowalski, R. M., and Limber, S. P. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S22–S30. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.017
- Shariff (2005) as cited in Bhat, C. S. (2008). Cyber bullying: Overview and strategies for school counsellors, guidance officers, and all school personnel. Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling Volume, 18(1), 53–66. doi:10.1375/ajgc.18.1.53
- Harmon (2004) as cited in Shariff, S., & Hoff, D. (2007). Cyber bullying: Clarifying legal boundaries for school supervision in cyberspace. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 1(1), 76-118. Retrieved from: http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/
- Markward, Cline, & Markward (2002) as cited in Beran, T., & Li, Q. (2005). Cyber-harassment: A study of a new method for an old behavior. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(3), 265-277. Retrieved from: http://people.ucalgary.ca/~qinli/publications.html
- Willard (2003) as cited in Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 5, 1-35. Retrieved from: http://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/currentissues.htm.
- Jackson, M., Cassidy, W., & Brown, K.N. (2009). “you were born ugly and youl die ugly too”: Cyberbullying as relational agression in education, University of Regina: 1-8. doi:http://hdl.handle.net/10294/2958
- Li, Q. (2007). New bottle but old wine: A reseach of cyberbullying in schools. Information Communication Technology, 1(2). Retrieved from: http://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs/demo/present/index.php/jce/article/view/177/6
- Bhat, C. S. (2008). Cyber bullying: Overview and strategies for school counsellors, guidance officers, and all school personnel. Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling Volume, 18(1), 53–66. doi:10.1375/ajgc.18.1.53
- Shariff & Strong-Wilson (2005) as cited in Shariff, S., & Hoff, D. (2007). Cyber bullying: Clarifying legal boundaries for school supervision in cyberspace. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 1(1), 76-118. Retrieved from: http://www.cybercrimejournal.com/
- Canadian Teacher's Federation (n.d.). Cyberconduct and cyberbullying policy. (PDF document) Retrieved from: http://www.ctffce.ca/Documents/Priorities/EN/cyberbullying/FINALcyberbullying%20policy.pdf
- Campbell (2005) as cited in Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 5, 1-35. Retrieved from: http://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/currentissues.html
- MediaSmarts (2014). Cyberbullying and the Law Fact Sheet. MediaSmarts. Retrieved from:http://mediasmarts.ca/backgrounder/cyberbullying-law-fact-sheet.
- Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/news-nouv/nr-cp/2013/doc_33010.html
- Bell, J. (2014, January 9). Teen girl guilty of distributing child pornography in ‘sexting’ case - Times Colonist. Retrieved from http://www.timescolonist.com/teen-girl-guilty-of-distributing-child-pornography-in-sexting-case-1.784439
- White., P. (2014, March 4). Police seek to charge B.C. teen with child porn distribution. The Globe and Mail [Toronto]. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/police-seek-to-charge-bc-teen-with-child-porn-distribution/article17311532/
- Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. (2004). Towards a theory of online learning. Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University. Retrieved from:http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/ch2.html