For This Bullying Prevention Month, a Bit of Clarity

October 18, 2018

The Pew Research Center just published a surprisingly high figure under a headline referring to “cyberbullying.” The authors report that 59% of US 13-17 year-olds had experienced some form of it.

But it’s important to zoom in on the “some form of” part. Pew’s researchers asked their respondents which of six forms of abusive behavior they had experienced online (the 59% was the number for teens who’d experienced at least one).

Three of the forms of behavior—name-calling (the most common, at 42%), rumor-spreading (32%) and physical threats (16%)—don’t require digital media or devices for delivery and aren’t even technically bullying, though they can certainly be used in bullying.

A fourth, a form of stalking (21% said they’d experienced constantly being asked where they are, what they’re doing, etc., by someone other than a parent), has also been going on for eons, but can be even more constant and extreme with mobile phones involved. It can also be a form of dating abuse.

The final two on the list are forms of what popular culture calls “sexting”: receiving unsolicited explicit images (25%) or having explicit images of oneself shared without one’s consent (7%). Both can be forms of bullying, but not necessarily; and both, especially the latter, are often sexual harassment, and—the better to protect themselves—young people need to understand this digital form of sexual harassment as such.

What cyberbullying is and why that matters

So when can any of these actually be cyberbullying? When they’re inflicted on someone repeatedly (which usually means intentionally) using digital tools or media. So the name-calling, rumor-spreading, etc. would need to be repeated and aimed, usually aggressively, at one person. Traditional definitions of bullying usually also refer to “a power imbalance,” whether physical, emotional or social, but that’s pretty well implied by the repeated aggression, right? If one person isn’t being victimized in a one-sided way, we’re usually talking about plain-old conflict, not bullying. Here’s the latest information on that from the Cyberbullying Research Center and the National Research Council.

Why does any of this matter? Well, because 59% of US teen is a lot, and this is a highly credible research organization with solid methodology. So it’s good to know what we’re talking about, here—so that we know that cyberbullying has not in fact gotten much worse—a conclusion that people who see that figure in the same headline with “cyberbullying” could easily make. We don’t need to believe the worst about our teens’ experiences or behavior. And of course it’s good to remember that people under 18 aren’t the only ones who experience or engage in any of these behaviors!

The latest figure for how many US teens have ever experienced cyberbullying is 33.8%, and that’s from a huge representative sample of 5,700 US teens surveyed by the Cyberbullying Research Center. Their brand-new guide to cyberbullying released today for Bullying Prevention Month can be downloaded here.

Related links

  • It’s important to note that offensive name-calling is the most common form of online harassment that Pew’s respondents experienced. In her work, prominent bullying researcher Dorothy Espelage at the University of Florida has found that addressing content or behavior in social media doesn’t reduce cyberbullying nearly as much as addressing bullying, homophobic name-calling and gender-based harassment. She has also said that homophobic name-calling in upper-elementary and middle school grades predicts sexual harassment in high school, and dating violence at colleges and universities.

This blog previously appeared on on October 1, 2018. Please see the original post here.

Written by

Anne Collier

A writer and youth advocate, Anne Collier has been chronicling the public discussion about youth and digital media since 1997. She is founder and executive director of national nonprofit organization The Net Safety Collaborative (TNSC), which runs NetFamilyNews, and piloted a social media helpline for schools in California in 2016. The project was recognized by the National School Boards Association as one of 6 startups in its Education Technology Innovation Showcase. That year Anne also gave her TEDx talk, “The Heart of Digital Citizenship,” at the ITU’s World Summit on Information Technology in Geneva, Switzerland. She serves on the trust & safety advisory boards of Meta, Roblox and YouTube, based in the US, and Teleperformance and Yubo, based in France. She also advises investors in tech innovation that support youth mental health and wellbeing.

Anne has served on three national task forces on youth and Internet safety, including as co-chair of the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group, which delivered its report to Congress, “Youth Safety on a Living Internet,” in June 2010, and the national Internet Safety Technical Task Force of 2008 at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center. In 2013-’14 she served on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning & the Internet.In 2011 and ’12, she was a member of the curriculum working group that helped launch Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University. For the Foundation’s launch, Anne collaborated on several papers for the Foundation and Berkman Klein Center’s Kinder & Braver World Project. She also helped develop the foundation’s inaugural Youth Advisory Board.

Anne has collaborated with scholars on a number of academic journal articles, most recently “Leveraging Dignity Theory to Understand Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Children’s Rights,” led by researchers at Dublin’s Anti-Bullying Center. Books she has contributed to include Children’s Privacy and Safety (IAPP, 2022), Bullying: Perspectives, Practice and Insights (Council of Europe Publishing, 2017), Media and the Well-Being of Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives (Routledge, 2011). From 2017 to 2020, she worked with Google on its “Be Internet Awesome” safety and citizenship curriculum for elementary students worldwide. With tech journalist Larry Magid, she co-authored MySpace Unraveled (Peachpit Press, 2006), the first parents’ guide to teen social networking, and a number of guides for parents published by ConnectSafely, which she co-founded and co-directed with Magid for nearly a decade. In 2009, they co-authored and published “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth.”

Anne has spoken widely on Internet safety myth-busting and the literacies that afford true safety online as well as offline in a digital age. Between 2011 and ’14, she helped spearhead and facilitate workshops on digital-age citizenship for young people from many countries at Internet Governance Forums in Vilnius, Nairobi, Baku and Istanbul. She appeared on PBS Frontline’s “Growing Up Online” (2008); has been heard on public radio and nationally syndicated commercial radio in many states; and has been quoted in the New York Times, Business Week, the Associated Press, and many other publications.

In addition to her industry advisory work, she serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), the Advisory Board of the Young & Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University and the Global Advisory Board of youth-driven nonprofit Project Rockit in Melbourne. She has also worked closely with fellow youth-focused nonprofits the Family Online Safety Institute, Committee for Children, the International Bullying Prevention Association and the University of New Hampshire’s Family Research Lab and Prior to working in the Internet safety field, Anne worked on print, radio, TV, and Web editions of the Christian Science Monitor, having served as editor of its first Web site in the mid-’90s.A Massachusetts native, Anne holds B.A. and M.A. degrees and currently resides in Salt Lake City.