Social Media Bullying – Definition, Effects, And Prevention

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated November 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
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How Do You Support Your Child With Bullying?
Social media is an increasingly dominant presence in society, with an estimated 4.9 billion people using various platforms to connect with other users and even earn a living. Alongside the many benefits of technology and social media, however, new issues have arisen—one of which is cyberbullying.

While social media provides a forum for connection, it also gives people the opportunity to engage in potentially harmful behavior. Social media bullying can be unnamed, persistent, and difficult to avoid; and it can have serious effects, such as academic or professional struggles and mental health-related concerns. This form of bullying can also, however, be addressed and even prevented with the right approach. Below, we’re discussing social media bullying, its effects, and how you can address it if it’s occurring in your life.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a behavior in which one person intentionally and repeatedly causes another harm or pain (including emotional pain). The intimidating or cruel person can be anyone, not just a stereotype of a tough playground bully hurting a small, weak child, for example. Typically, the target of bullying behavior has not done anything to “cause” the attacks. They may have difficulty knowing how to defend themselves.

According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is behavior in which one person “intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort”. Bullying can be verbal, physical, emotional, or virtual, and it can take place in a variety of contexts. Both online and in-person bullying can have lasting negative effects on the person who is bullied.

What Is Social Media Bullying?

Social media bullying, a form of cyberbullying, takes place digitally through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok. Social media bullying can include sending someone threatening messages, spreading false information about them, giving their personal details without consent, and a variety of other actions.

Social media bullying—and cyberbullying more broadly—is a pervasive concern. According to surveys by Pew Research Center, 59% of teens and 41% of adults have experienced online harassment at some point.

Social media bullying often takes the form of threatening, demeaning, or harassing comments. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok allow users to communicate with one another in a variety of ways, whether through direct messages, comments, or posts. While this can encourage further connection and the exchange of ideas, it can also engender bullying. Some users may spread false information through posts, repeatedly message an individual against their will, or make threatening comments. 

Some people bully others by posting pictures on social media platforms that are meant to embarrass or demean another person. Others post personal details about an individual online without consent. Doxing—using the internet to reveal sensitive information about someone—is a common form of social media bullying. The internet can also be used to stalk others.

Social media bullying can be harder to recognize or track than other forms of harassment. Users can set up fake accounts, allowing them to bully others namelessly. It can also be a more persistent form of bullying. Because people can get internet from almost anywhere now, and social media sites are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, people who are being bullied may have a hard time getting away from this behavior. 


What Are The Effects Of Social Media Bullying?

Social media bullying can impact people in the same ways that other forms of bullying do while also prompting unique challenges. Children who are bullied are more likely to experience mental and physical health concerns, including depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, changes in eating patterns, feelings of sadness, loneliness, isolation, and a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. Cyberbullying is also associated with an increased risk of suicide in young people. Children and adolescents who have experienced bullying are more likely to have lower grades and drop out of school.

When perpetrated against adults, cyberbullying can lead to challenges with an individual’s career, social life, and mental health. Social media bullying may also involve blackmail or fraud, which can lead to financial duress. Cyberbullying has been linked to higher levels of anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and decreases in work performance. Additionally, there is a connection between growing social media use and an increase in real-life stalking.

What To Do If You Experience Social Media Bullying

To limit the above-mentioned effects social media bullying, it can help to be aware of strategies for addressing online harassment. If you’ve experienced this form of cyberbullying, there are several steps you can take to navigate the situation. 

Avoid Responding

By not replying to bullying behavior, you might take some of the power from the aggressor and limit future interactions with them. Alternatively, engaging with the individual who is bullying you may exacerbate the situation and lead to further harassment. Instead, consider following the below steps, which can provide you with recourse and make it easier for you to avoid contact with that user.  

Block The User 

Most social media platforms allow you to block accounts. This typically prevents the individual from looking your profile, messaging you, or commenting on your posts. If someone makes hurtful or threatening comments directed at you or engages in other bullying behavior, blocking them may defend you from further harassment. Though it can differ depending on the platform, you can usually block a user through settings located on their profile; and it can often be done without the individual knowing that you’re blocking them. 

Report The Behavior 

Reporting online harassment is a way for you to defend yourself and others from bullying. Most social media platforms have channels for reporting harmful behavior. has a list of links for reporting harassment to various social media platforms. 

If the bullying is being perpetrated by a fellow student or co-worker, you can also report the behavior to your school or place of work. There may be policies in place to help end the harassment. Additionally, many states have laws regarding cyberbullying. Understanding the rules that apply in your area can help you better respond to bullying. 

Reach Out For Help

Support from others—such as family, peers, and licensed mental health professionals—is often crucial in efforts to build resilience following bullying. Talking about bullying and asking for help can be challenging, though. Many who are survivors of bullying may feel intimated or embarrassed to discuss their experience. But it can be healthy and productive to acknowledge the way you’re feeling and talk to someone who can support you, such as a parent, a school counselor, a trusted teacher, or a friend. Additionally, consider seeking out support groups, either in person or online, where you can connect with others who have survived cyberbullying. 

How Do You Support Your Child With Bullying?

What To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied Online

If your child is experiencing social media bullying, taking steps to address the situation can be important for their emotional health and safety. One of the most constructive steps you can take is to keep records of the bullying that has taken place. Screenshots, messages, pictures, or other indications that your child is being bullied can be used when you report the behavior. 

Talking with and listening to your child is important during this time. Try to learn as much as possible about what happened and how it’s affecting your child. Acknowledging the seriousness of what they’re experiencing can ensure they feel heard, while letting them know you’re available to talk anytime can provide them with emotional support. 

If the aggressor is a classmate, working with the school’s administration can be another important step toward a resolution. You can also contact the social media platform through which the bullying occurred. Cyberbullying typically violates the terms of service of social media platforms. As mentioned above, contacting the platform can help the company take action, potentially leading to the individual being banned. 

You may also consider talking to a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can your child manage the potential mental health effects of bullying, such as anxiety, worry, low self-esteem, isolation, and depression. They can also help your child learn helpful coping strategies and positive social skills as they move forward after a bullying incident.

Certain popular forums are more likely to be frequented by people who engage in social media bullying. To keep your child away from these sites, consider putting parental controls on their devices. 

Addressing The Effects Of Bullying With Online Therapy

Research suggests that online therapy can help individuals cope with the potential negative impacts of social media bullying and similar forms of harassment. In a study published in the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, researchers found that online therapy improved trauma-related symptoms in participants who had experienced bullying. The study also noted the ability of online therapy to help individuals reframe negative thoughts about bullying. 

Online therapy can be a useful resource for recovering from bullying, building self-esteem, and learning ways to engage in positive, helpful thought patterns and behaviors. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in sessions remotely, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing potentially sensitive topics, like cyberbullying, in person. BetterHelp works with a team of therapists with diverse specialties and areas of expertise, so you’ll have a good chance of connecting with someone who knows how to address your specific concerns regarding bullying, trauma, or similar challenges. 


Social media bullying is a pervasive and harmful concern in modern society, affecting people of all ages and leading to serious impacts. By reporting harassment, helping spread awareness, and reaching out for help, you can help address this issue—both in your life and the lives of others. If you’re struggling with the effects of bullying, trauma, or similar concerns, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist online. With the right help, you can address social media bullying, limit its effects in your life, and continue caring for your mental and emotional well-being.    

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