Cyberbullying is variously defined depending on state law and legal glossaries. Generally it involves the use of technology (including texting, social media, instant messaging) with the intention of harming or embarrassing another individual. Though age is generally not a significant factor, cyberbullying generally refers to children and youth. When the same behavior occurs with adults, it is generally known as cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking is usually designed to threaten a victim’s employment, relationships, reputation, or safety. This includes false accusations, making threats, monitoring behavior, and oftentimes includes others, willingly or unwillingly.
Technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, tablets, social media sites, text messages, chat, and Web sites. The tactics people use through these technologies include the following:
- Pretending they are other people online to trick others
- Spreading lies and rumors about victims
- Tricking people into revealing personal information
- Sending or forwarding mean text messages
- Posting pictures of victims without their consent
There are two kinds of cyberbullying; direct and by proxy. Cyberbullying by proxy often gets adults involved in the harassment. Cyberbullying is usually not a one-time communication but rather is something that continues to occur for days, weeks, months or even years, oftentimes using a variety of technologies. In many states cyberbullying is a crime. For those charged or convicted of cyberbullying the penalty could be the individual losing their Internet Service Provide (ISP) or Internet Messaging (IM) accounts as terms of service violation. In cases where hacking, or password and identity theft is involved it can be a felony under state and/or federal law.
Juveniles report being bullied as young as 2nd grade and often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again. There are about 160,000 youths that miss school every day out of fear of being bullied. According to 2010 bullying statistics, there are about 207 million youths being bullied each year by about 2.1 youths taking on the role of the bully. Juveniles have also killed and committed suicide after having been involved in a cyberbullying incident. The Cyberbullying Research Center in its 2013 article “Summary of Our Cyberbullying Research From 2004–2010” found that over 80 percent of youths use a cell phone regularly, making cell phones the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyberbullying. In addition, the research center found that mean, hurtful comments and spreading rumors are the most common type of cyberbullying. Furthermore, female youths are significantly more likely to have experienced cyberbullying and more likely to report cyberbullying than male youths. The center also reported that the type of cyberbullying tends to differ by gender; girls are more likely to spread rumors while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos. Finally, the center reported that all races are vulnerable to cyberbullying victimization and offending; that is, all races were pretty evenly represented as victims and offenders.
There are various motives for cyberbullying. A cyberbully is motivated by anger, revenge, frustration, entertainment, the desire for laughs, the desire to get a reaction, and by accident. There have been four types of cyberbullies identified. These main four types are sometimes broken down into six types for better understanding and education.
First, power-hungry cyberbullies use technology to bully and cause physical harm to their victims solely for enjoyment. They not only harass their victims, but threaten to harass their friends and family as well. Power-hungry bullies may remain anonymous using an alias. Their main goal is to intimidate and frighten their victims into respecting them. Power-hungry cyberbullies do not need a reason to start picking on their victim. These types of bullies are also known as Revenge of the Nerds cyberbullies.
Second, the vengeful angel cyberbully typically acts alone and has one mission, to right a wrong. The vengeful angel also is not upfront about who he or she is and creates an alias or pretends to be someone else. The vengeful angel type goes after those who may be bullying someone else or partaking in behavior they consider wrong. They see themselves as defenders and do not understand that their behavior is just as bad as the wrong they are trying to right. When they begin to bully someone, they make sure to inform that person that they deserve what is coming to them.
Third, there is the mean-girl cyberbully. Meangirl cyberbullies do not threaten any form of physical harm, rather their main goal is to humiliate, embarrass, and make their victims suffer on a social level. These types of bullies generally work in a group and consider their target part of the “uncool” crowd. Finally, the inadvertent cyberbully is someone who is unaware that he or she is a cyberbully and has an eye-for-an-eye mentality. This cyberbully has been a victim and instead of reporting it to an adult or authority figure they react with anger. This angry reaction causes them to lash back at the original bully, thus becoming a bully themselves. Inadvertent cyberbullies do not see themselves as bullies and believe they are simply protecting themselves. This type of cyberbully is similar to the vengeful angel cyberbully, except the inadvertent cyberbully is protecting him or herself, not someone else.
Perhaps one of the attractions of cyberbullying or cyberstalking is the relative anonymity that is available by technology. The bully can remain anonymous by using temporary e-mail accounts, pseudonyms, and instant messaging. The lack of supervision is another support for cyberbullies. Chat rooms, Web sites, even bullies themselves are rarely supervised so they have abundant opportunities to say or do whatever they might choose. Victims, of course can just remove themselves from the chat room or Web site or refuse to respond to the IM or text message. They can also filter out e-mails from certain senders or containing certain words or phrases or simply change their e-mail address. Regardless, the effect of such bullying takes its toll on the victim even with these protective and preventative steps.
The ethical concerns regarding cyberbullying continue to evolve. To a large extent people would argue these bullies are not completely known. As a result the role of the criminal justice system in cyberbullying is also not yet completely known. First and foremost, the criminal justice system must recognize this as a problem and then identify potential solutions. States and the federal government are just now seeking to address this new form of bullying with legislation. It remains to be seen if prosecutions will occur and, if so, the effect they will have.
Legal standards and guidelines are in the process of being developed in Canada and other nations and states. Once these have been fully developed and communicated through the literature, legislative codes and cases people will have a better idea as how the criminal justice system can and should respond. Until then, law enforcement and district attorneys will need to apply current legislation and/ or case law in new and sometimes unique ways to protect those who are victims of this crime.
- Berson, I. R., M. J. Berson, and J. M. Ferron. “Emerging Risks of Violence in the Digital Age.” Journal of School Violence, v.1/2 (2002).
- Patchin, J. W. and S. Hinduja. “Bullies Move Beyond the Schoolyard: A Preliminary Look at Cyberbullying.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, v.4/2 (2006).
- National Crime Prevention Association. “Cyberbullying Among Teens.” http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying (Accessed August 2013).
- “Summary of Our Cyberbullying Research From 2004 –2010 Cyberbullying Research Center.”
- http://cyberbullying.us (Accessed August 2013).
- Ybarra, M. L. and J. K. Mitchell. “Online Aggressor/ Targets, Aggressors and Targets: a Comparison of Associated Youth Characteristics.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, v.45 (2004).
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