Bullying involves deliberate and repeated acts of verbal, physical, or social aggression toward another person. When this occurs in a digital space, such as by text message or on social media, it is called cyberbullying.

Bullying can have severe effects on mental and physical health, leading to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and sleep disturbances.

Unwanted, ongoing aggression from one person to another is bullying. In the modern age, it is not always possible to avoid these behaviors by staying away from the person displaying bullying behavior. Cyberbullying happens when people engage in aggressive actions through social media, websites, text messaging, and mobile devices.

This article explains the differences and similarities between traditional bullying and cyberbullying.

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About 20% of high school students in the United States report that they have experienced bullying in school, and 17% say they have experienced cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs through digital devices, including cellphones, tablets, and computers. Cyberbullying actions might include:

  • sending people abusive, targeted content
  • posting negative comments about someone without directly addressing them
  • sharing false and harmful content that other people have posted
  • revealing private information about someone to embarrass, humiliate, or demean them

This often occurs in the following online locations:

  • social media sites and apps
  • text messaging
  • instant messaging apps
  • message boards and online forums
  • chat rooms
  • email
  • online gaming chats and communities

Read about the effects of cyberbullying.

Bullying involves a power imbalance. The person displaying bullying behavior may have (or seem to have) more power than the person they bully. They may be physically stronger, have a larger group of friends, or know compromising facts about the person they are bullying.

People who have experienced bullying report that those who have bullied them have done the following:

  • spread rumors about them
  • insulted them or called them names
  • deliberately excluded them from activities
  • pushed, shoved, or tripped them
  • spit on them
  • forced them to do something they were not comfortable with
  • destroyed their property
  • threatened them with physical harm
  • encouraged others to engage in bullying acts against them

A person may not feel comfortable telling friends, family, or a partner that they are experiencing bullying. However, they may be experiencing symptoms such as:

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Most reported bullying occurs inside the school building, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, many incidents happen on the playground, on the bus, or in a young person’s neighborhood. Workplace bullying among adults can also occur when there are power imbalances.

Learn about why people bully.

Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in important ways.


Cyberbullying can continue day and night. According to data from 2021, children in grades 8 and 10 spend about 3.5 hours on social media each day, which means they have many hours of potential exposure to cyberbullying.


Harmful, false rumors or spiteful posts are permanent and often searchable, although people can report and remove them. This means that cyberbullying content may remain publicly viewable and affect college admission, employment prospects, and personal relationships for people who engage in cyberbullying and people who experience it.


A person can disguise their identity with a username or avatar while bullying someone on an online platform or through a cellphone.

Lack of visibility

Cyberbullying may not be visible to parents, teachers, and caregivers. It does not leave physical marks, and people usually cannot see or overhear cyberbullying in action. This can make it more difficult to detect.

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying. It may involve similar tactics, such as name-calling, rumor-spreading, and threats. It can also have similar effects.

According to a 2022 study, cyberbullying can contribute to depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation that continue into adult life.

A 2020 research review reported that people who experience cyberbullying may have symptoms such as abdominal pain, headaches, disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation — all hallmark effects of bullying.

If a person feels comfortable taking action on bullying that is disrupting daily life, there are several steps they can take:

  • Assertiveness often catches bullies off guard, as they depend on a perceived power imbalance. Calmly and firmly tell them to stop.
  • Trying to laugh off the bullying may also disarm a bully.
  • If it is not possible, comfortable, or safe to speak up, walk away. Children should find an adult who can intervene. Adults who are enduring workplace bullying can report the incident to human resources or a manager if they are uncomfortable speaking up. Keeping a diary of evidence of workplace bullying can support the case later on.

People can also take preventive measures specific to cyberbullying:

  • Never let other people have access to account passwords, even if they seem to be close friends.
  • Use privacy settings to keep posts visible to family and friends only.
  • Avoid responding to messages.
  • Save and store the messages as evidence, including screenshots. It is important to record the dates and times of cyberbullying incidents.
  • Report negative, targeted, or harmful posts.
  • Block the person who is carrying out the cyberbullying. Each site or app may have a different policy on reporting posts.

Several states classify cyberbullying as a crime if it involves the following:

  • violent threats
  • sexually explicit messages or images
  • images or videos of a person in a usually private place, such as their home
  • stalking
  • hate speech

Consult state laws and report these actions to the police if this applies.

Read about youth and social media.

Stepping in to help someone who has experienced bullying can empower them and help them feel less alone. Immediate steps might include:

  • questioning bullying behavior immediately after it happens
  • changing the subject
  • using humor to redirect the conversation
  • intervening with other people as a group
  • walking with the person who is experiencing bullying to reduce the risk of bullying
  • checking in privately to ask how the person feels and to offer support

People who believe that a bully has committed a crime, such as a physical assault, should call 911 or their local emergency number.

If a parent or caregiver has concerns that their child is experiencing bullying at school, they should contact their child’s teacher or another authority figure at the school, such as a counselor, coach, principal, or superintendent.

If bullying occurs in the neighborhood or on the playground, parents or caregivers can inform a local Neighborhood Watch group, playground security, community police, or a sports team coach.

If the school does not address the bullying, parents should speak with the local board of education, the state department of education, or the superintendent.

Bullying can take a heavy toll on mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a tool for finding a local counselor. If a person is experiencing symptoms due to bullying, they may want to use this tool to find support.

Read about social media and mental health.

People often ask the following questions about cyberbullying.

Is sexting a form of cyberbullying?

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, sexting often features in cyberbullying legislation and is illegal in some states.

What are three mental effects of cyberbullying?

The American Psychological Association reports that cyberbullying can contribute to depression, anxiety, and stress.

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying. It involves similar repetitive, aggressive acts of targeted spite, but it can occur day and night. It might be harder for others to see or overhear cyberbullying than in-person bullying. People who engage in bullying online can often stay anonymous by using an avatar.

Cyberbullying is also more permanently visible than verbal, physical, or social bullying. Employers or college administrators can often find cyberbullying-related posts for years after people publish them.

People who notice any form of bullying should intervene or report it to the relevant digital or physical authority and provide support for the person who is experiencing the bullying.