Cyberbullying and Internet Safety

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Gone are the days when online dangers consisted of porn and unknown older predators. The biggest threat to teens online today comes from their own peers.

Cyberbullying and Internet SafetyA simple sext (naked picture, generally distributed via text message) can spread to thousands of students in minutes. A taunt online can quickly become a “game” that drives the target to the brink of suicide.

Tyler Clementi, a talented violinist Freshman at Rutger’s University, was one of seven young people who killed themselves in 2010 after bearing the brunt of vicious cyberbullying. Clementi was gay, and his roommate video-taped him on a date in their dorm room. This video circulated online, and three days later Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. The roommate, like so many cyberbullies, thought it was fun and did not intend to “kill.”

While LGBTQI students are especially vulnerable to cyberbullying, any student can become a target. Because cyberbullying happens in isolation (such as the victim is at his or her computer or receiving messages on his or her phone), abuse can escalate exponentially without adult or law enforcement intervention. This stands in contrast to in-person bullying, where several factors contribute to a quicker end: the bully sees the victim’s response, making the effect of abuse harder to ignore; a parent, teacher or other adult may see and intervene; peers may step in to end abuse; bystanders are more likely to take action when they see physical harm.

Online, it is far too easy for bullies to frame abuse as “joking” – and for bystanders to pretend the same thing. Ryan Halligan was just 13 when he killed himself in 2003 as a result of cyberbullying. His tormenters, in typical tormentor fashion, were shocked and surprised that their “teasing” had such an ill effect. As far as anyone knows, Halligan was straight, but the cyberbullies targeted him as gay. Clearly, mainstream homophobic culture makes schools unsafe for young people of all orientation



  • 42% of young people have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once.
  • 35% of young people have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once.
  • 21% of young people have received mean or threatening e-mail.
  • 58% of young people admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
  • 53% of young people admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
  • 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.


  • Suicide rates among 10 to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades.
  • In 2005 (the last year nationwide stats were available), 270 children in the 10-14 age group killed themselves.


  • Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 44% have experienced physical harassment.
  • 22% have experienced physical assault.
  • 61% of harassment and assault victims never reported the incident to the school.
  • Of those who did report the incident, nearly one-third said the school staff did nothing in response.


      Online bullying and in-person bullying go hand-in-hand. In many states, schools have the right and responsibility to prosecute cyberbullies, even when the bullying does not originate on campus. Students who are bullied online suffer socially at school to great effect, sometimes to the point of taking their own lives.

This situation is dire, but not without hope. Around the country and the world, students, parents, educators and mental health professionals are teaming up to combat cyberbullying and make school environments safer for everyone.

We recommend our article on Cyberbullying: Definition, Prevalence, Consequences, and Prevention

Also, see our ever-growing resource list of multimedia sources on the
Psychology of Technology, Internet, Online Gaming, and Digital Divide.

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