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Cyberbullying and Sexting on Social Media

Cyberbullying is the use of the Internet, cell phones, or other technology to spread hurtful or embarrassing pictures and messages about another person.

Cyberbullying Word Cloud

Cyberbullies use social media, blogs, and texting to harass and spread hurtful messages and pictures about other people. Cyberbullying is in the top five offenses most experienced by young adults.

What Does Cyberbullying Look Like?1

  • Mean comments or rumors spread on social media sites, through email, or through a text message
  • Using a victim’s password to break into his or her account to impersonate the victim or post embarrassing messages about him or her
  • Posting an embarrassing video about someone
  • Threatening someone through a live streaming gaming system

When surveyed, 81 percent of youth say that teens cyberbully because it is no big deal. In actuality, victims of cyberbullying can suffer emotionally, socially, behaviorally, and academically. Victims of cyberbullying can become depressed, develop eating disorders, stop hanging out with friends, and lose interest in school. Cyberbullying sometimes occurs in addition to other forms of victimization. Someone may also be experiencing physical bullying, intimate partner violence, harassment, or stalking.

What To Do if You or Someone You know Is Being Cyberbullied

Keep Documentation
Don’t delete any of the emails, texts, or messages. They can serve as evidence.
Do Not Forward
Any mean messages that spread rumors about you or someone else is bullying. Forwarding these messages puts you at fault as much as the original sender.
Don't Retailiate
Revenge is never the best answer. Not only does retaliation accelerate the harassment, but it makes you a bully too.
Report It
Let the administrator of the website know what is happening. Websites such as Facebook and YouTube have safety centers to report bullying.

Although laws against cyberbullying vary from state to state, cyberbullying legislation generally includes the following:

  • Harassment via computer, telephone, cell, or text messaging device
  • Any verbal, textual, or graphic communications that would cause fear of physical harm, intimidation, humiliation, or embarrassment to another person
  • Any threatening communication sent electronically to another person
  • Any explicit pictures intended to harm another person
  • In addition, sexting is often included in cyberbullying legislation. Keep in mind sexting is illegal in some states.


Sexting is sending sexually explicit photographs, messages, and video in a text message or email. According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (2008),2 39 percent of teenagers have admitted to receiving and sending text messages of a sexual nature, such as nude or seminude photos, lewd messages, and provocative videos.

Don’t assume your messages will remain private. You may be dating the person now, but four months from now, you may not be. Those pictures and messages will still exist and can be forwarded to others. In fact, 40 percent of teenagers and young adults have had a sexually explicit message or photo shown or forwarded to them.3

Sexting and having these photos on your phone or in your email correspondence is dangerous. If your phone or computer gets into the wrong hands, those images and messages can be redistributed and can damage your reputation. Images can be posted on social media sites or used in pornographic websites and videos.

Keep in mind it may be fun to flirt, but these messages carry with them an expectation and affect the impression others have of you. The best way to keep yourself safe from hackers and wrongdoers sharing your personal and private photographs and conversations is simply not to have them on your phone or in your email correspondence.

Legal Implications

To date, more than 20 states have passed laws, under child pornography statutes, against anyone under 18 years of age who sends a sexually explicit text message. In these states, any minor who sends or distributes the messages is considered delinquent and guilty of a misdemeanor offense. The charge subjects any minor to mandated supervision and revocation of phone privileges. If you receive a sexually explicit message, you are also subject to supervision of electronic usage.

Once you’re older than 18 years and you send sexually explicit messages to someone 17 years old or younger, the punishment is much more severe. Sexting then becomes child pornography and coercion and is considered a felony. Felony convictions can carry fines as great as $100,000, up to life in prison, sexual registry requirements, and lifetime supervision.

1 National Crime Prevention Council. Teens and Cyberbullying. Arlington, VA, 2007. Available:

2 National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and (2008). Sex and tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults. Available:

3 Ibid.

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