How to Cope with Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place on the internet as opposed to in person. A cyberbully uses similar tactics to a bully in person, but instead of harming someone physically, they use digital platforms to threaten, shame, embarrass, or harass their target online.

While cyberbullying takes place in digital spaces, the effects are very real: it can have many of the same negative impacts on the target’s mental health as in-person bullying, including higher levels of stress or anxiety, feeling unsafe at school, and withdrawing from friends and family. If you are being bullied or harassed online, there are ways to cope and help prevent cyberbullying from happening to you and others.

How to Recognize if You are Being Cyberbullied

It’s very common for teens and young adults to live their lives online. We use online spaces to connect with friends, collaborate on school assignments, play games, and share our feelings and experiences. But if you are starting to feel unsafe online, isolated from your friends, or stressed every time you look at your phone, you may be the target of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying and online harassment includes when someone is:

  • Posting rumors or mean messages about you on social media
  • Messaging you to call you names, make derogatory comments, or threaten to hurt you
  • Making fake accounts of you and pretending to be you on online forums or social media sites
  • Asking you for personal details or keeping tabs on you digitally. For example, if someone is constantly asking who you are with, what you’re doing, or where you are
  • Creating mean webpages or social media profiles about you
  • Sending unwanted explicit messages or images to you

If you’re not sure if the behavior you’re experiencing online is cyberbullying or just someone being rude or insensitive, you can also think about how someone else’s behavior online makes you feel. If you answer yes to any of the questions below, you may be the target of cyberbullying:

  • Do you feel upset about the messages you are receiving through your phone or computer?
  • Have you noticeably increased, or decreased, your technology use because interacting with people online is causing you stress or anxiety?
  • Do you hide your screen from friends or family members because you are embarrassed or ashamed about the messages you are receiving or the people with whom you are interacting?
  • Do you avoid social situations in person because of something upsetting happening to you online?
  • Are you withdrawing from friends and family, or losing interest in your activities outside social media?

What to Do if You Are Being Cyberbullied

If you are the target of any of the bullying behaviors from others that are listed above, or if you’re feeling stressed about your interactions online, there are things you can try to help you stop engaging with the cyberbullying behavior in the moment and prevent future cyberbullying incidents. Here are some recommended steps to take if you are the target of cyberbullying:

  • If you feel comfortable doing so, try messaging the person directly to let them know their behavior is making you feel uncomfortable and ask them to stop.
  • If their behavior escalates, disengage immediately. Don’t respond to direct messages from the cyberbully, and don’t try to engage with them in public spaces online.
  • Show the messages to someone you trust. Take screenshots of threatening or embarrassing messages and show them to someone you trust. If you’re in school, you can show a parent or caregiver, school counselor, or coach. If you’re older, you can show a friend or HR professional at work.
  • Block the person on all platforms where they may be able to continue cyberbullying you.
  • Put distance between you and your devices. In addition to blocking the person, you can disconnect from social media sites or keep your phone in another room to help you get some space from the incident.
  • Report the incident to the platform on which the bullying took place. If the bullying behavior took place on a public site or online forum, administrators may be able to deactivate or restrict the cyberbully’s account to prevent future incidents.

What to Do if You Are the Cyberbully

Sometimes when someone feels frustrated, angry, annoyed or hurt, they may slip into behaviors that they recognize as hurtful. If you become aware that you are using any of the tactics listed above to bully someone else, or if someone has told you that your behavior online is making them uncomfortable, it is important to stop and check in with yourself about what is happening for you. Once you figure out what is happening to make you so upset that you act out at others, you have choices about what else you might do to more healthfully express your feelings.

One of the main causes of bullying is a diminished sense of empathy. This can come from lack of experience feeling empathy, or it can sometimes be caused by a history of trauma or having been bullied yourself. If you’re not sure whether your behavior is something that another person would experience as bullying, it can be helpful to ask people who you trust to be honest with you about what they notice in your behavior. You can also take an empathy test online to assess how you respond when others are struggling emotionally. Empathy can be practiced and learned, so even if you score lower than you would like, you can improve with a little effort and practice.

It’s important to understand what is causing you to bully others. Working with a mental health professional like a school counselor or therapist can help you get to the root issues that cause the feelings of anger, frustration, fear, or unhappiness that can lead to bullying behavior.

When You See Others Being Cyberbullied, Be a Cyber-Upstander

Sometimes we are not the target or the perpetrator of cyberbullying—sometimes we are the bystander seeing our friends or classmates being bullied online. When you notice someone else being bullied, instead of watching it happen as a bystander, you can be an upstander and do something about the incident. Here are some ways you can stop cyberbullying when you see it happening to others:

  • Encourage the victim to take the steps listed above to disengage from the behavior and seek help from someone you trust. If you’re a teenager, find a trusted adult like a counselor, coach, parent or caregiver. If you’re a young adult, you can reach out to a friend, college advisor, or manager at work.
  • Tell someone in authority, such as a teacher, parent, coach, or other trusted adult, about what you’re observing. They may be able to intervene on the target’s behalf.
  • Report what you are observing to the security team of the site where the bullying is happening.

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You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.