Understanding Cyberbullying in College Tips, Tools & Solutions for Recognizing and
Stopping Bullying on Social Media and Online

College cyberbullying can make simply leaving the dorm a nightmare. Understanding what it is and what drives bullies to do what they do can go a long way toward helping students figure out how to curtail the problem.

Most people know cyberbullying when they experience it, mainly because of how it makes them feel. But it can be tough to put the action into words. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.” In order to meet this definition, the action must be deliberate, not accidental; it must be a pattern of behavior, and not just one isolated incident; it must lead to harm or perceived harm on the part of the victim; and it must be done through electronic means, which is what makes it different from traditional bullying. But make no mistake: Cyberbullying is just as devastating to the victims as traditional bullying is.

Cyberbullying: The Facts
  • In 2011, 22% of college students reported being cyberbullied; 15% reported traditional bullying.

  • 38% of students believe their school, college or university does not take bullying seriously.

  • 70% of those between the ages of 13 and 22 have been the victim of cyberbullying.

  • Of those who had been cyberbullied in college, 25% said it was through social networking sites, 21% through texting, 16% through email and 13% through instant messaging.

  • 81% of young people believe bullying is easier to get away with online than in person.

  • Females are twice as likely as males to be victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying.

Sources: Antibullyingpro.com, Dosomething.org, Nobullying.com US News

Cyberbullying in Depth

Though bullying used to be considered the bane of middle school or high school students, today the reach of the Internet allows many more people to bully, including college students and adults. In fact, online harassment has been the subject of many high-profile court cases in recent years, such as a 49-year-old Missouri woman convicted on charges related to creating a fake MySpace account to attack her daughter’s middle-school nemesis, or a 40-year-old man charged with posting defamatory remarks about an ex-girlfriend on Craigslist.

When it comes to college cyberbullying, students are at the mercy of social media, where a rumor can easily be started in 140 characters or less. But sometimes cyberbullying is more subtle than personal attacks, and students might not realize they have been pulled into the web until they are dealing with serious issues related to it. In addition to saying mean or cruel things to someone online, cyberbullying also takes these other common forms:

  • Hacking into someone’s account to pose as them and post embarrassing things

  • Tricking someone into revealing personal information

  • Creating websites or accounts that are designed to make fun of someone else


Cyberbullying can take place in many places, all of which are related to the Internet. Social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, are among the most common places where bullying happens. But students might also receive nasty emails, threatening text messages, rude or cruel instant messages, or even entire websites devoted to tearing them down.


Sometimes college cyberbullying only lasts as long as the individual allows it to; for instance, they might shut down their social media accounts and block texts and IMs from offending parties, nipping the problem in the bud. But not all victims of bullying can take such steps; an example is someone who must use a particular social media account for work or school, or who deals with a persistent bully creating more profiles in order to get around being blocked. Sometimes the bullying becomes a game for the perpetrator, who will continue their actions unchecked for years.


Cyberbullying usually doesn’t have the component of physical threats, as traditional bullying does. However, the psychological effects of bullying online might be much worse. Cyberbullying is frightening in that the person being bullied never knows when another attack will come, and where it might come from. They often have little protection, as bullies will change user names and hide behind anonymous posts. The result is often serious issues with self-esteem and trust, a greater risk of depression, and even suicide.


As with most bullies, there are issues of low self-esteem and insecurity at play. But cyberbullying is a bit different, because the perpetrator doesn’t have to physically confront their victim. They can hide behind an anonymous username and proceed to bully someone who might never have any idea who is doing such a horrible thing to them. This anonymity can create many more potential targets, and might even embolden those who would never dream of bullying someone in the more traditional sense.

College Cyberbullying Resources

Cyberbullying can be a terrible thing to deal with, and far too many college students deal with it every day. Fortunately, the problem is increasingly recognized on college campuses, and there are resources out there dedicated to stopping it. The following resources are excellent places to begin when trying to put a stop to college cyberbullying.

Facebook Bullying Prevention Hub

This comprehensive section of Facebook explains a great deal about online bullying and how to prevent it, including ways to report and block on Facebook.

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center

Bullying that includes serious threats should be dealt with appropriately, including a report to the FBI center for Internet crime reporting.

Information about Cyberbullying Laws

This constantly updated site offers information on what can be expected from laws in each state, as well as how those laws might help with reporting, blocking or otherwise stopping the bullies.

Instagram: Report Bullying

Offensive or inappropriate behavior on Instagram can result in the user being blocked. This is how to report the problem.

How to Report Cyberbullying

This comprehensive guide to approaching cyberbullying is offered through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Report Cyberbullying: List of Sites and Apps

Almost any app or social media site is listed here, along with information on how to report issues with cyberbullying there.

Twitter: Reporting Abusive Behavior

Those who are being abused or threatened through twitter can take these steps to ensure that the problem stops as soon as possible.

Campus Security

Harassment and stalking are illegal, which means it’s time to get security involved. Take the issues to campus security, with clear details, dates and times of what is happening.

Local Law Enforcement

Sometimes campus security or student services don’t have the proper tools to bring charges against those who are threatening you. Local law enforcement, however, just might be able to help.

Student Services

When you’re not sure what to do to feel safe and secure again, turn to student services with the problem. If they don’t have plans in place for how to help you, they can certainly guide you to those who do.

IT Department

Cyberbullies often hide behind anonymous screen names. The IT department at the college might be able to get through all those layers of security to determine who is truly behind the problem.

Campus Safety

This online magazine offers a wealth of information on staying safe at school, including how to fight back against bullying, both traditional and over the Internet.

Cyberbullying Research Center

This site offers an enormous amount of information on cyberbullying, designed for those of any age.

End to Cyberbullying Organization

This site is dedicated to keeping anyone safe online; points on prevention, statistics and how to help others are included here.

How to Remove Stolen Photos Online

This in-depth guide by Who is Hosting This? provides students with an opportunity to remove photos that might have fallen into the wrong hands.

Megan Meier Foundation

Founded in honor of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who took her own life after being bullied online, this site offers information, resources and hope.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

When the pressure of cyberbullying becomes too much, reach out to someone here, who can help at anytime, day or night.

National Youth Advocacy Coalition

This group is dedicated to young people, and includes advice, resources and reassurances that can help students through tough times.


Powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance, this offers tips on how to stay safe online, especially on social media networks.

The Trevor Project

This site focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.

Anti-Cyberbullying College Spotlight

There are numerous colleges out there taking cyberbullying very seriously.

  • Clemson University is creating an app to help screen against cyberbullying by looking for offensive images and language in social media exchanges.

  • The University of Iowa is also fighting the good fight, taking cyberbullying to the stage with a play designed to show the consequences of attacking someone online.

  • At Texas A&M, a family who lost their son to cyberbullying is stepping up to push for legislation that would impose jail time and fines on those who bully others online.

To join the fight, make sure your school has a policy against cyberbullying. If it doesn’t, approach administrators about what it would take to create one. Give them a few points to start on, such as what punishment should be in place for those who do cross the line. Whether you create a play, push for legislation, design a new app or do something completely different, the point is to make cyberbullying a center-stage problem that involves the entire school community.

Types of Cyberbullying

Though the definition of cyberbullying means that it happens online or through electronic means, there are various types of cyberbullying. Here are the most common types of cyberbullying that students might experience at college.

Type of Cyberbullying What it Entails

Often happening on message boards or other public online spaces, this usually entails one or more bullies attacking a particular person for their views or comments. The attacks can include harsh images, cruel language and even threats.


This is a singling-out of the person who is being targeted. They are left out from chats or ignored on message boards, but to add insult to injury, those who are ignoring that person will often make nasty comments about them, or otherwise harass them.


This happens when a bully or bullies attack one particular person over and over. The harassment might be done in one online space, such as a message board, or it might spill over to other areas, such as text messaging and various social media.


This is a type of harassment that involves one or more bullies going to great lengths to gather information about a particular person, continually threatening them, following them around social media and other sites, and potentially crossing the line into physical stalking.


This is the malicious release of personal and private information about a person, usually with the intent to embarrass or humiliate. The outing might take the form of pictures, videos or screenshots, or it could be malicious rumors about someone’s personal life, sexuality or other very private information.


This happens when a bully creates a fake identity in order to harass someone anonymously, or impersonates someone else, such as pretending to be a significant other. The bully might also sign up on various social media sites and masquerade as the victim themselves, creating a negative online reputation for the victim.

Sexual Harassment Cyberbullying

This type of bullying includes anything that might be considered sexual harassment, such as asking sexual questions, making comments about someone’s body, sending inappropriate text messages or videos, or otherwise using sexual comments or situations to deliberately make someone else feel uncomfortable. Here are a few important points to remember:

  • Sexual harassment is not limited to women. Men can suffer from sexual cyberbullying as well.

  • Sexual harassment is illegal, even if it happens only online.

  • Remember that sending a compromising photo of yourself over the Internet or text, even to someone you trust, doesn’t necessarily mean that picture will remain in trusted hands. Sexual harassment online often involves sending or posting photos of the victim.

  • Depending upon the particular facts of the bullying, the perpetrators might be in violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; these are taken very seriously by schools.

  • Always report sexual harassment, whether it happens in person or online. Though online perpetrators can be tough to track, escalating the problem to law enforcement can improve the chances of them being caught.

LGBT Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying often happens to those who are considered “different” or “unique.” This tends to describe many LGBT youth, whose openness about certain issues of gender and sexuality can lead to an undeserved backlash. Here’s what you need to know about this special kind of bullying:

  • 82% of LGBT youth in 2011 had been the victims of bullying based on their sexual orientation.

  • LGBT youth are three times more likely to suffer from cyberbullying.

  • 50% of bullies do not understand the depth of suffering their discriminatory language can cause to someone who identifies as LGBT.

  • LGBT teenagers who are bulled are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide.

  • About 30% of all completed suicides have been related to a gender identity crisis.

Quiz: Is it Cyberbullying?

Are you being bullied online? This quiz can help you determine whether what just happened was someone accidentally hurting your feelings, or someone deliberately trying to do something to upset you.

  • 1

    Someone you thought was a friend just blocked you on social media.

    Not necessarily a bully. If there is no other sign of strife, it might be a simple mistake.


    Someone passed an embarrassing picture around on social media.

    That’s bullying! Your photographs should not be passed around without your permission, especially if it is something a reasonable person might find embarrassing.


    An anonymous user made fun of you on various social media accounts.

    That’s bullying! And it might be stalking, too. This is when you take steps to block the perpetrator.


    You just had a heated argument on a message board.

    Not necessarily a bully. If the argument was respectful and focused on the issues, that’s not bullying. But if it devolved into name-calling or threats, then it was a bully.


    A group of friends has cut you out of their discussions and now they are talking about you behind your back.

    That’s bullying! Your friends are no longer treating you like a friend. Their exclusion of you from the group constitutes bullying.

Effects of Cyberbullying in College

College is tough enough; add cyberbullying to the mix and the college dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. The effects of online attacks are far-reaching and long-lasting, causing serious problems for those who are targeted.

  • Girls who are cyberbullied are three times more likely to be clinically depressed

  • If the cyberbullying includes sexual advances, the odds of depression went up sixfold

  • Cyberbullies themselves are more likely to be depressed and abuse alcohol

  • College-age women were just as likely to suffer the same negative effects as adolescent girls when they are bullied

  • Those who are bullied tend to have lower grades and achievement test scores

  • Those who are bullied report feeling angry, sad, intense levels of stress and a loss of productivity.

  • Bullying tends to grow with the perpetrator; the same person who bullies in high school will probably bully others in college and later, in the workplace.

Help for College Students Affected by Cyberbullying

Are you the victim of cyberbullies? Do you dread looking at your text messages, logging onto social media or using certain message boards for fear of what will be said to you or about you? If you are being attacked online, there are things you can do to protect yourself.

What to do if you’re being bullied

When cyberbullying happens, it can seem a bit surreal at first. Why would someone attack like that? Why would they say those horrible things? But eventually the reality sinks in, and you can quickly come to feel trapped and hunted by those who want to drag you down.

It is vitally important to remember that there is recourse. Even if the bullies remain anonymous, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be caught. Here’s how to take positive steps to make it stop.

Keep the evidence

As soon as the bullying starts, compile evidence. This can include text messages, emails, screenshots, instant message conversations, IP addresses, and anything else that you can garner. Keep note of dates and times as well.

Talk it out

Being attacked in any way is not cool. Talking about it with someone you trust can help you find the courage to make it stop.

Block them

Cyberbullies who can’t get in touch with you can’t do much to hurt you. Block them immediately when the bullying starts. If they create new accounts, block those too.

Go private

Many social media accounts allow you to go private, which means you control who sees what you write or post. Keep them private until the bullies back off.

Don’t retaliate

Though it might be tempting to give them a taste of their own medicine, this only opens up you up to more problems. Take the high road and ignore them.

Report their actions

Many sites will not tolerate bullying; report the bullies to the site administrators, along with the evidence you compiled. Point out the sections of the terms of service that are pertinent.

Contact the school

Your campus security or other offices should know about the bullying. Give them as much information as you can, even if the bullies are anonymous.

Contact law enforcement

If things escalate, go to local law enforcement and file a formal complaint.

If someone you know is being bullied

Most events of cyberbullying are noticed by those who are not the target. Friends and family might notice the problem when cruel posts begin to appear on social media, or notice their loved one becoming withdrawn and nervous when they receive a text or email. Sometimes the bullying is quite clear to those who are on message boards and the like, as they will see it happening right before their eyes. Here’s what to do when it happens.

Be there

Those who are being cyberbullied often feel hunted or unsure of themselves. Talking to them, inviting them to spend time with you and otherwise being a friend can help them feel better about the situation.

Step up

Tell someone about the cyberbullying. Talk to your friend about why they should not keep quiet about it.

Never bully anyone

Never jump into the fray when someone is being bullied; this makes you no better than the rest of them.

Stand up

Tell the bullies that what they are doing is not okay. Make it perfectly clear, in no uncertain terms. Sometimes being called out on their activity will be enough to make them stop.

How can you report cyberbullying

Remember that it is important to report cyberbullying, even if the perpetrators are seemingly anonymous. Start right now with these steps:

Start Immediately!

Don’t engage with the bullies

Make copies of texts, emails, screenshots of message boards and instant messages, and anything else that supports your case

Block the person who is bullying you

Report to the site

Read the term of service from online providers to determine how to proceed

Report the bullying by following the site’s procedures

Report to the school

Send the pertinent information to campus security, student services, or other offices that handle cyberbullying (you can find this in the student handbook)

Report even if you don’t have the names of the perpetrators

Do not notify the bully that you are reporting them

Go to law enforcement

If the bullying includes threats, stalking, hate speech, or sexually explicit content, it might be a job for law enforcement

Look into state laws and get in touch with local law enforcement about how to file a complaint

Don’t retaliate

Though it might be tempting to give them a taste of their own medicine, this only opens up you up to more problems. Take the high road and ignore them.

Report their actions

Many sites will not tolerate bullying; report the bullies to the site administrators, along with the evidence you compiled. Point out the sections of the terms of service that are pertinent.

Contact the school

Your campus security or other offices should know about the bullying. Give them as much information as you can, even if the bullies are anonymous.

Contact law enforcement

If things escalate, go to local law enforcement and file a formal complaint.

From the Expert

Claire K. Hall, J.D., a higher education attorney and Principal of UECAT Compliance Solutions, discusses college cyberbullying.

Interviewwith Claire K. Hall, J.D.

It can be tough to know what to do about cyberbullying, especially if the bully is anonymous. What steps can college students take to protect themselves?

Even if the cyberbullying is anonymous, students should still report the cyberbullying to a trusted administrator at their college or university. Reporting it to a resident assistant, faculty member, advisor, or better yet, campus security is a really good idea. When I worked in higher education, there were occasions when our campus security and IT department were able to determine who was behind the cyberbullying even though it was anonymous. Or, there are times when they will be able to ascertain who it is by examining the content of the posts.

Even if they can’t determine who the cyberbully is, they can offer the student resources they may need at the time. Most college campuses have access to counseling services and other resources that can help a student understand and deal with cyberbullying. Also, if colleges know that there is cyberbullying occurring on campus, they can take measures to prevent it, which includes educational programming at orientation, or in the residence halls, etc.

Most colleges and universities have some type of disciplinary process or student conduct office, and also have rules against any form of bullying or harassment. If administrators or campus security can locate the cyberbully, they can pursue disciplinary action if the cyberbully is a student; or, if the cyberbully is a non-student, they can help the victim get in touch with local law enforcement or seek other types of interim measures like restraining orders through the courts. Cyberbullying is serious, and sadly, has resulted in students taking their own lives (like Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd, etc.). Colleges and universities understand this and should be proactive if the student reports the behavior.

Some states have initiated legislation that fights against bullying, but what about cyberbullying? Are there any promising court cases or legislation on the horizon?

Every state has some form of anti-bullying law or policy, but each state is different, each state defines bullying in different ways, and many of them apply to elementary and secondary schools, not colleges and universities. In many cases, it is the behavior that will be examined and not whether the bullying is occurring in person or through some form of technology. The analysis will be whether the behavior meets the elements defined by the state law or policy. However, some states are being more proactive and actually adding the term “cyberbullying” or “electronic bullying” into their laws and policies.

Also, if the cyberbullying is a result of harassment based on a protected class (i.e, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, etc.) then the behavior will constitute a violation of federal law, which all colleges and universities that receive federal funding must comply with. It is important for students to know what their college or university policies are regarding bullying and harassment, and to take some type of action when they see cyberbullying happening. Unfortunately, in many cases, there are other people who know that the cyberbullying is occurring. This is why bystander intervention is so important. If a person knows that someone is the victim of cyberbully, that person should take some type of action to stop the behavior. Types of action they can take may involve reaching out to the victim, telling a friend or family member, or reporting the cyberbullying to campus safety.

*It is important to note that some will take the position that cyberbullying is a form of free speech and to prevent it would be a violation of our constitutional right under the First Amendment. Public colleges and universities have to deal with this argument. Private colleges and universities do not.

What can colleges do to reduce the problem of cyberbullying?

Many colleges and universities are grappling with whether they should take steps to ban certain social media apps that allow anonymous posts because of the detrimental impact they have on students. Some have banned certain apps, while others have determined that banning the apps is not the answer and that the best course of action is preventative programming and education. Programs designed to educate students about what constitutes bullying and the long lasting impacts it can have on the victims are critical. Bystander intervention programming is also critical. Posters and bulletin boards in the residence halls and in commuter lounges, etc. that are designed to educate and also inform students about where they can go or who they can talk to if they are the victim of cyberbullying is really important.

The students need to see the colleges and universities take action to stop cyberbullying when it is occurring. If students know that the school takes it seriously, that it has policies and procedures designed to prevent the behavior, the students will be more likely to report cyberbullying when they see it or when it is happening to them.

Colleges and universities also have to educate their faculty and staff about the perils of cyberbullying. As hard as it may be to hear about, schools need to talk openly about cases like Tyler Clementi, Jessica Logan, Hope Witsell, etc. so that faculty, staff and students know about the dangerous consequences that can result because of cyberbullying. Schools need to have trained counselors available to talk to faculty, staff and students who may be triggered during educational programming because they too may have been the victim of cyberbullying.

Anything else you might like to add about cyberbullying of college students?

Suicide is the most severe consequence of cyberbullying, but there are many other symptoms that can result when a person is the victim of cyberbullying. Victim’s are at greater risk for depression. They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Therefore, it is critical that college students understand that they do not have to handle cyberbullying alone, and that there are so many people on their campus who can help them, if they just reach out. Students need to be reminded that talking to someone is the first step to making the pain associated with cyberbullying go away.