Study: 'Cyberbullying' hits one third of teens

Girls more likely to be bullied online than boys, though most teens say the likelihood of being harassed is greater offline, study finds.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
One in three teenagers say they've been bullied in some way online, but two-thirds of teens still believe they're more likely to be harassed offline, according to a new study.

The most common form of bullying reported by teens online involves another person publicizing a private e-mail, instant message or text message, according to a study released Wednesday from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Fifteen percent of teens surveyed said that they had experienced the embarrassment of having a private communication posted publicly online or forwarded to a third party.

Other types of harassment include someone spreading a rumor or posting an embarrassing photo on the Web, as well as someone sending a threatening or aggressive e-mail, IM or text message, the report found.

The study casts light on so-called cyberbullying, behavior among teens that child safety advocates believe could be more harmful than the threat of online sexual predators because of its sheer scope. A 2006 teen survey on cyberbullying reported that it affects as many as 13 million teens annually. (Though statistics vary widely, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children cites a report that one in seven teens have received a sexual solicitation online.)

Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at Pew and author of the report, wrote that she found through teen focus groups that online bullying has become prevalent for several reasons. One is that it's easy for teens to forward messages, post embarrassing photos or spread rumors online. Kids also feel emboldened with the notion that they can bully without consequences, hiding behind their computer.

"Bullying has entered the digital age," Lenhart wrote. "The impulses behind it are the same, but the effect is magnified. Now, with a few clicks, a photo, video or a conversation can be shared with hundreds via e-mail or millions through a Web site."

Pew also found that girls are more likely to be bullied online than boys. Thirty-eight percent of girls reported that they had been harassed online vs. 26 percent of boys. The number of incidents rose, however, among older girls and teens who regularly use social networks like Facebook or MySpace.com. Nearly 40 percent of teens on social networks say that they've been bullied.

When asked about harassment in the physical world, as many as 67 percent said that bullying was still more likely to happen offline than online.

The data comes from phone surveys with 935 teens ages 12 to 17 across the country. Pew reported a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.