Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Cyber-bullying Definition:

Using the Internet to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm someone else.

Related Terms: Bullying, Sexting

Also spelled cyber bullying (without the hyphen) or cyberbullying (as one word).

See also the Legal Definition of Bullying.

The Manitoba Public Schools Act defines cyber-bullying as follows:

"Cyber-bullying means using the Internet or other information or communication technologies, such as e-mail messages or text messages sent by cell phone or pager, to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm someone else."

That statutory definition is more extensive than what would normally be considered bullying as it purports to capture indirect conduct such as by cell phone and pager.

cyber bullyingAnother good definition is proposed by Caroline Cannizzaro in the Loyola University Children's Legal Rights Journal (2008):

"Cyber-bullying occurs when a child or adolescent is harassed, tormented, teased, embarrassed, or otherwise targeted by another person, usually a peer, using the Internet, cell phone, or other mobile technology. The bullying may be initiated in person or by using technology, and may involve several youths victimizing another youth. In certain cases, a parent or adult may become involved, taking part as an accomplice of an adolescent victim or perpetrator of harassment...."

"The amount of cyber-bullying has dramatically increased over the past few years, due to two main factors. First, the anonymity of technology decreases the inhibitions of children who use the Internet and cell phones to engage in such behavior.... Second, the accessibility of the Internet and cell phones means that at any instant a youth may engage in harassing behavior with little or no supervision from parents or teachers.

"Cyber-bullying occurs in a variety of forms. It often occurs through harassing or hate-filled instant messages or text messages. It may also include tormenting posts to a social networking website or the formation of social networking groups or polls to harass or humiliate. Cyber-bullying may involve sending pornographic pictures through text and instant messaging or posting pornographic pictures on a website. Finally, it may involve impersonation of a victim or of another person and the stealing of passwords."

Other definitions are found wanting such as this from Peter Smith because of the vague nature of the term "electronic forms of contact":

"Cyber bullying is defined as an aggressive, intentional and repetitive act carried out by a group or individual using electronic forms of contact again for a specific individual.

"Usually carried out over the Internet, cyber bullying includes harassment via instant messaging and e-mailing, posting false rumors on forum boards or on social networking sites, creating insulting websites, and hurtful behaviors in online games such as repeatedly killing a player's avatar."1

Or this from the Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law in 2009:

"Cyber bullying (is) bullying through the use of technology."

There are several anti-cyber bullying websites such as cyberbullying.org, which proposes this definition:

"Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others."

Again, what is "information and communication technologies"?

Cyber-bullying, as with face-to-face bullying, seeks to intentionally inflict emotional or physical harm upon the victim. They usually involve participants who exhibit an imbalance of power. Although not necessary to the proper definition of cyber-bullying, the conduct is usually repeated or the perpetrator intentionally leaves the impression with the victim that it will be repeated. But cyber-bullying has some disconcerting characteristics making it a unique crime. Most important is anonymity, the lack of face-to-face contact (which, arguably, can advantage the victim) and the ability in some instances to multiply the effect of bullying. Approximately ten per cent of all children have been the victim of cyber-bullying.

Increasingly, and most frequently in the context of public education, jurisdictions are defining and prohibiting cyber bullying. For example:

"Cyber-bullying (is) bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying shall also include (i) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or (ii) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages...."2

French: cyber-intimidation.


  • Butler, D., Kift, S. and Campbell, M., Cyber Bullying in Schools and the Law: Is There an Effective Means of Addressing the Power Imbalance?, 16 eLaw J. 84 (2009)
  • Cannizzaro, C., Legislative Update: Legislative Cyber-Bullying, 28 CLRJ 62 (2008)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Bullying: the Silent Persecution
  • NOTE 1: Smith, Peter, Cyber Bullying: its Nature and Impact in Secondary School Pupils, 49 Child Psychology & Psychiatry 376 (2008) as quoted in Whitaker, J. and Bushman, B., Online Dangers, 66 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1053, at page 1060 (2009)
  • NOTE 2: Massachusetts General Laws (2011), Chapter 71, §37O.
  • Public Schools Act, CCSM, Ch. P250, §47.1

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