Cyberbullying: What is it and how to stop it
What teens want to know about cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying: What is it and how can we stop it?
We brought together UNICEF specialists, international cyberbullying and child protection experts, and teamed up with Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to answer some of the most common questions about online bullying and give advice on ways to deal with it.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include:
- spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos or videos of someone on social media
- sending hurtful, abusive or threatening messages, images or videos via messaging platforms
- impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf or through fake accounts.
Face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying can often happen alongside each other. But cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint – a record that can prove useful and provide evidence to help stop the abuse.
If you are worried about your safety or something that has happened to you online, you can seek help by calling your national helpline. If your country does not have a helpline, please urgently speak to an adult you trust or seek professional support from trained and experienced carers.
COVID-19 update: The global coronavirus pandemic poses it's own challenges to the safety and well-being of children, especially those that are out of school. Visit UNICEF's COVID-19 information center to learn more.
The top questions on cyberbullying
- Am I being bullied online? How do you tell the difference between a joke and bullying?
- What are the effects of cyberbullying?
- How can cyberbullying affect my mental health?
- Who should I talk to if someone is bullying me online? Why is reporting important?
- I’m experiencing cyberbullying, but I’m afraid to talk to my parents about it. How can I approach them?
- How can I help my friends report a case of cyberbullying especially if they don’t want to do it?
- How do we stop cyberbullying without giving up access to the internet?
- How do I prevent my personal information from being used to manipulate or humiliate me on social media?
- Is there a punishment for cyberbullying?
- Technology companies don’t seem to care about online bullying and harassment. Are they being held responsible?
- Are there any online anti-bullying tools for children or young people?
1. Am I being bullied online? How do you tell the difference between a joke and bullying?
All friends joke around with each other, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is just having fun or trying to hurt you, especially online. Sometimes they’ll laugh it off with a “just kidding,” or “don’t take it so seriously.”
But if you feel hurt or think others are laughing at you instead of with you, then the joke has gone too far. If it continues even after you’ve asked the person to stop and you are still feeling upset about it, then this could be bullying.
And when the bullying takes place online, it can result in unwanted attention from a wide range of people including strangers. Wherever it may happen, if you are not happy about it, you should not have to stand for it.
Call it what you will – if you feel bad and it doesn’t stop, then it’s worth getting help. Stopping cyberbullying is not just about calling out bullies, it’s also about recognizing that everyone deserves respect – online and in real life.
2. What are the effects of cyberbullying?
When bullying happens online it can feel as if you’re being attacked everywhere, even inside your own home. It can seem like there’s no escape. The effects can last a long time and affect a person in many ways:
- Mentally – feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even afraid or angry
- Emotionally – feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things you love
- Physically – tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches
The feeling of being laughed at or harassed by others, can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. In extreme cases, cyberbullying can even lead to people taking their own lives.
Cyberbullying can affect us in many ways. But these can be overcome and people can regain their confidence and health.
3. How can cyberbullying affect my mental health?
When you experience cyberbullying you might start to feel ashamed, nervous, anxious and insecure about what people say or think about you. This can lead to withdrawing from friends and family, negative thoughts and self-talk, feeling guilty about things you did or did not do, or feeling that you are being judged negatively. Feeling lonely, overwhelmed, frequent headaches, nausea or stomachaches are also common.
You can lose your motivation to do the things that you usually enjoy doing and feel isolated from the people you love and trust. This can perpetuate negative feelings and thoughts which can adversely affect your mental health and well-being.
Skipping school is another common effect of cyberbullying and can affect the mental health of young people who turn to substances like alcohol and drugs or violent behavior to deal with their psychological and physical pain. Talking to a friend, family member or school counsellor you trust can be a first step to getting help.
The effects of cyberbullying on mental health can vary depending on the medium through which it happens. For example, bullying via text messaging or through pictures or videos on social media platforms has proven to be very harmful for adolescents.
Cyberbullying has the potential of having a negative impact on people's mental health. It's why it's so important that you reach out to someone you trust – whether it's a parent, teacher, friend or caregiver – and let them know what you're going through so that they can help you. Our Bullying Prevention guide includes a list of resources that can help you find support.
We've also created a Guardian's Guide on digital safety for caregivers so they can help their teens learn about digital safety in order to manage their online presence. It includes tips that we created in partnership with parents and teens on the type of support that teens really value from trusted adults.
4. Who should I talk to if someone is bullying me online? Why is reporting important?
If you think you’re being bullied, the first step is to seek help from someone you trust such as your parents, a close family member or another trusted adult.
In your school you can reach out to a counsellor, the sports coach or your favourite teacher – either online or in person.
And if you are not comfortable talking to someone you know, search for a helpline in your country to talk to a professional counsellor.
If the bullying is happening on a social platform, consider blocking the bully and formally reporting their behaviour on the platform itself. Social media companies are obligated to keep their users safe.
For bullying to stop, it needs to be identified and reporting it is key.
It can be helpful to collect evidence – text messages and screen shots of social media posts – to show what’s been going on.
For bullying to stop, it needs to be identified and reporting it is key. It can also help to show the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable.
If you are in immediate danger, then you should contact the police or emergency services in your country.
If you’re being bullied online, we encourage you to talk to a parent, teacher or someone else you can trust – you have a right to be safe and supported.
We also make it easy to report any bullying directly within Facebook or Instagram.
You can always send our team an anonymous report from a post, comment, story or DM on Facebook or Instagram.
We have a team who reviews these reports 24/7 around the world in 50+ languages, and we’ll remove anything that’s abusive or bullying. These reports are always anonymous.
On Facebook, we have a guide that can help lead you through the process of dealing with bullying – or what to do if you see someone else being bullied. For Instagram, we have a Parent’s Guide that provides recommendations for parents, guardians and trusted adults on how to navigate cyberbullying, and you can also learn more about our safety tools and our anti-bullying tools.
Everyone has the right to feel safe and to be treated with respect and dignity. Bullying and harassment are incompatible with the inclusive environment we foster on TikTok.
If you ever feel someone is bullying you or otherwise being inappropriate, reach out to someone you trust - for example, a parent, a teacher or a caregiver – who can provide support.
We deploy both technology and thousands of safety professionals to help keep bullying off TikTok. We also encourage our community members to make use of the easy in-app reporting tools to alert us if they or someone they know has experienced bullying. You can report videos, comments, accounts and direct messages so that we can take appropriate action and help keep you safe. Reports are always confidential.
You can find out more in our Bullying Prevention guide for teens, caregivers, and educators on how to identify and prevent bullying, and provide support.
Being the target of bullying online is not easy to deal with. If you are being cyberbullied, the most important thing to do is to ensure you are safe. It’s essential to have someone to talk to about what you are going through. This may be a teacher, another trusted adult, or a parent. Talk to your parents and friends about what to do if you or a friend are being cyberbullied.
5. I’m experiencing cyberbullying, but I’m afraid to talk to my parents about it. How can I approach them?
If you are experiencing cyberbullying, speaking to a trusted adult – someone you feel safe talking to – is one of the most important first steps you can take.
Talking to parents isn’t easy for everyone. But there are things you can do to help the conversation. Choose a time to talk when you know you have their full attention. Explain how serious the problem is for you. Remember, they might not be as familiar with technology as you are, so you might need to help them to understand what’s happening.
They might not have instant answers for you, but they are likely to want to help and together you can find a solution. Two heads are always better than one! If you are still unsure about what to do, consider reaching out to other trusted people. There are often more people who care about you and are willing to help than you might think!
6. How can I help my friends report a case of cyberbullying especially if they don’t want to do it?
Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying. If you see this happening to someone you know, try to offer support.
It is important to listen to your friend. Why don’t they want to report being cyberbullied? How are they feeling? Let them know that they don’t have to formally report anything, but it’s crucial to talk to someone who might be able to help.
Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying.
Remember, your friend may be feeling fragile. Be kind to them. Help them think through what they might say and to whom. Offer to go with them if they decide to report. Most importantly, remind them that you’re there for them and you want to help.
If your friend still does not want to report the incident, then support them in finding a trusted adult who can help them deal with the situation. Remember that in certain situations the consequences of cyberbullying can be life threatening.
Doing nothing can leave the person feeling that everyone is against them or that nobody cares. Your words can make a difference.
We know that it can be hard to report but everyone deserves to feel safe online.
Reporting content or accounts to Facebook or Instagram can help us better keep you safe on our platforms. Bullying and harassment are highly personal by nature, so in many instances, we need a person to report this behavior to us before we can identify or remove it.
Reporting a case of cyberbullying is always anonymous on Instagram and Facebook.
You can report something you experience yourself, but it’s also just as easy to report for one of your friends using the tools available directly in the app. More information on how to report something is included in Instagram’s Help Center and on Facebook’s Help Center.
You could also let your friend know about a tool on Instagram called Restrict, where you can discreetly protect your account without having to block someone – which can seem harsh for some people.
If you believe another member of the TikTok community is being bullied or harassed, there are ways you can provide support. For example, you can make a confidential report on TikTok so that we take appropriate action and help keep your friend safe.
If you know the person, consider checking in with them and encourage them to read our Bullying Prevention guide so they can find out more information about how to identify bullying behaviour and take action.
If your friends are experiencing cyberbullying, encourage them to talk to a parent, a teacher or an adult they trust.
If a friend of yours does not want to report their experience, you can submit a bystander report on their behalf. This can include reports of private information, non-consensual nudity or impersonation.
7. How do we stop cyberbullying without giving up access to the Internet?
Being online has so many benefits. However, like many things in life, it comes with risks that you need to protect against.
If you experience cyberbullying, you may want to delete certain apps or stay offline for a while to give yourself time to recover. But getting off the Internet is not a long-term solution. You did nothing wrong, so why should you be disadvantaged? It may even send the bullies the wrong signal — encouraging their unacceptable behaviour.
We need to be thoughtful about what we share or say that may hurt others.
We all want cyberbullying to stop, which is one of the reasons reporting cyberbullying is so important. But creating the Internet we want goes beyond calling out bullying. We need to be thoughtful about what we share or say that may hurt others. We need to be kind to one another online and in real life. It's up to all of us!
The safety of our community – and the safety of young people in particular – is our most important responsibility. That’s why we’re committed to leading the fight against cyberbullying.
On Instagram, comments that our artificial intelligence (AI) flags as potentially offensive or intended to harass people will automatically be filtered out with our “Hide Offensive Comment” filter, which is defaulted on for all people. This includes things like hiding comments containing attacks on a person's appearance or character, as well as threats to a person's well-being or health.
We are also encouraging people to reconsider potentially offensive comments and posts. When someone writes a caption for an Instagram post or writes a comment that our AI detects as potentially offensive, they will receive a prompt informing them that their caption is similar to those reported for bullying, and they will have the opportunity to edit their caption before it’s posted.
You can always block or mute an account that is bullying you, and that account will not be notified. If you don’t feel comfortable taking those actions, Restrict is a tool designed to empower you to discreetly protect your account while still keeping an eye on a bully.
For more tips and ideas, visit this Guide on @instagram on how to take charge and have a positive experience on Instagram.
Our priority is to foster a welcoming and safe environment where people feel free to express themselves authentically. Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not tolerate members of our community being shamed, bullied or harassed.
We use a combination of technology and moderation teams to help us identify and remove abusive content or behaviour from our platform.
We also provide our community with an extensive range of tools to help them better control their experience – whether it's control over exactly who can view and interact with your content or filtering tools to help you stay in control of comments. You can find out about them on our Safety Centre.
Since hundreds of millions of people share ideas on Twitter every day, it’s no surprise that we don’t all agree with each other all the time. That’s one of the benefits of a public conversation in that we can all learn from respectful disagreements and discussions.
But sometimes, after you’ve listened to someone for a while, you may not want to hear them anymore. Their right to express themselves doesn’t mean you’re required to listen. If you see or receive a reply you don’t like, unfollow and end any communication with that account. If the behaviour continues, it is recommended that you block the account. If you continue receiving unwanted, targeted and continuous replies on Twitter, consider reporting the behaviour to Twitter here.
We are also working proactively to protect people using our service through a combination of human review and technology. Learn more about how to feel safer on Twitter here.
8. How do I prevent my personal information from being used to manipulate or humiliate me on social media?
Think twice before posting or sharing anything on digital platforms – it may be online forever and could be used to harm you later. Don’t give out personal details such as your address, telephone number or the name of your school.
Learn about the privacy settings of your favourite social media apps. Here are some actions you can take on many of them:
- You can decide who can see your profile, send you direct messages or comment on your posts by adjusting your account privacy settings.
- You can report hurtful comments, messages, photos and videos and request they be removed.
- Besides ‘unfriending’, you can completely block people to stop them from seeing your profile or contacting you.
- You can also choose to have comments by certain people to appear only to them without completely blocking them.
- You can delete posts on your profile or hide them from specific people.
On most of your favourite social media, people aren't notified when you block, restrict or report them.
9. Is there a punishment for cyberbullying?
Most schools take bullying seriously and will take action against it. If you are being cyberbullied by other students, report it to your school.
People who are victims of any form of violence, including bullying and cyberbullying, have a right to justice and to have the offender held accountable.
Laws against bullying, particularly on cyberbullying, are relatively new and still do not exist everywhere. This is why many countries rely on other relevant laws, such as ones against harassment, to punish cyberbullies.
In countries that have specific laws on cyberbullying, online behaviour that deliberately causes serious emotional distress is seen as criminal activity. In some of these countries, victims of cyberbullying can seek protection, prohibit communication from a specified person and restrict the use of electronic devices used by that person for cyberbullying, temporarily or permanently.
However, it is important to remember that punishment is not always the most effective way to change the behaviour of bullies. It is often better to focus on repairing the harm and mending the relationship.
Our Community Guidelines define a set of norms and common code of conduct for TikTok and they provide guidance on what is and is not allowed to make a welcoming space for everyone. We make it clear that we do not tolerate members of our community being shamed, bullied or harassed. Any such content will be removed and, where necessary and appropriate, we will suspend or delete the account.
We strongly enforce our rules to ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely. These rules specifically cover a number of areas including topics such as:
- Child sexual exploitation
- Hateful conduct
- Suicide or self-harm
- Sharing of sensitive media, including graphic violence and adult content
As part of these rules, we take a number of different enforcement actions when content is in violation. When we take enforcement actions, we may do so either on a specific piece of content (e.g., an individual Tweet or Direct Message) or on an account.
You can find more on our enforcement actions here.
10. Technology companies don’t seem to care about online bullying and harassment. Are they being held responsible?
Technology companies are increasingly paying attention to the issue of online bullying.
But it is true that more is needed. Many young people experience cyberbullying every day. Some face extreme forms of online abuse. Some have taken their own lives as a result.
Technology companies have a responsibility to protect their users especially children and young people.
It is up to all of us to hold them accountable when they’re not living up to these responsibilities.
11. Are there any online anti-bullying tools for children or young people?
Each social platform offers different tools (see available ones below) that allow you to restrict who can comment on or view your posts or who can connect automatically as a friend, and to report cases of bullying. Many of them involve simple steps to block, mute or report cyberbullying. We encourage you to explore them.
Social media companies also provide educational tools and guidance for children, parents and teachers to learn about risks and ways to stay safe online.
Also, the first line of defense against cyberbullying could be you. Think about where cyberbullying happens in your community and ways you can help – by raising your voice, calling out bullies, reaching out to trusted adults or by creating awareness of the issue. Even a simple act of kindness can go a long way.
The first line of defense against cyberbullying could be you.
If you are worried about your safety or something that has happened to you online, urgently speak to an adult you trust. Many countries have a special helpline you can call for free and talk to someone anonymously. Visit United for Global Mental Health to find help in your country.
We have a number of tools to help keep young people safe:
- You can use Instagram's Restrict tool to discreetly protect your account without that person being notified.
- You can moderate comments on your own posts.
- You can modify your settings so that only people you follow can send you a direct message.
- On Instagram, we will send people a notification when they’re about to post something that might cross the line, encouraging them to reconsider.
- Hidden Words on Instagram, helps filter out comments and message requests that don’t go against our Community Guidelines but may be considered inappropriate or offensive. You can also create your own custom word list.
Alongside the work that our safety teams do to help keep bullying and harassment off our platform, we provide an extensive range of tools to help you control your TikTok experience. You can find these in full on our Safety Centre. Here are a few highlights:
- You can restrict who comments on your videos to no one, just friends or everyone (for those aged under 16, we've removed the everyone setting)
- You can filter all comments or those with specific keywords that you choose. By default, spam and offensive comments are hidden from users when we detect them.
- You can delete or report multiple comments at once, and you can block accounts that post bullying or other negative comments in bulk too, up to 100 at a time.
- A comment prompt asks people to reconsider posting a comment that may be inappropriate or unkind, reminding them of our Community Guidelines and allowing them to edit their comments before sharing.
We want everybody to be safe on Twitter. We continue to launch and improve tools for people to feel safer, be in control and manage their digital footprint. Here are some safety tools anyone on Twitter can use:
- Select who can reply to your Tweets – either everyone, only people you follow or only people you mention
- Mute – removing an account's Tweets from your timeline without unfollowing or blocking that account
- Block – restricting specific accounts from contacting you, seeing your Tweets, and following you
- Report – filing a report about abusive behaviour
- Safety mode – a new feature that temporarily blocks accounts for using potentially harmful language or sending repetitive and uninvited replies or mentions.
To anyone who has ever been bullied online: You are not alone
TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D'Amelio open up about their personal experience of being bullied and share tips on how to make the internet a better place.