Cyber-harassment: Bullying online affects students of all ages


Photoillustration by Jenna Watson.

Kirsten Bowers

Cyberbullying occurs when a child or teen is tormented, harassed, threatened, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child or teen via the Internet or other digital technology, according to

The website said when this type of behavior occurs among adults, it is referred to as cyber-harassment.

Cyber-harassment generally refers to threatening or harassing email messages, blogs or websites dedicated to tormenting another adult.

Olivia Jakli, sophomore fashion merchandising major, said she has seen this harassment in college, especially on social media.

“I have a gay friend who’s a drag queen, and he likes to post pictures on Facebook of himself in drag,” Jakli said. “People put hateful things on there, just stupid things like, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ Just stupid stuff.”

Janajah Bragg, freshman exploratory major, said she defines cyberbullying as anything posted online that makes people feel bad about themselves.

Bragg also said she would consider posting pictures of someone online without his or her permission as a form of bullying and has seen this happen since she’s been in college.

Edward Stafford, sophomore physics major, said he saw people harassed online when he was in high school, but hasn’t seen it since he started college.

“I think maybe it’s a product of spending eight hours a day with the same people,” Stafford said.

While cyber-harassment may not be as widely reported among college-aged students as it is with minors, cyberbullying can begin at a young age and continue into adulthood.

In 2011, professors at Indiana State University performed a study of college students and found that 22 percent of students said they’d been bullied online, while 15 percent said they’d been traditionally bullied.

Why students bully online

Tatiana Falcone, a doctor in the psychiatry and psychology department at the Cleveland Clinic, said bullying — specifically cyberbullying — has increased throughout the past 10 years.

“[Cyberbullying] has been growing the most in the past five years,” Falcone said. “We think this is due to the increased availability of technology.”

Falcone said many students have had access to social networking sites and online resources since an early age.

By the third grade, 90 percent of students have access to the Internet, Falcone said, and about 40 percent of fifth graders have smart phones.

Falcone also said a 2011 study of eighth graders found 86 percent of students said they had been bullied or harassed online.

According to, there are two kinds of people who like to bully. Popular students might bully because it makes them feel power over others, and they see it as a way to stay popular. Whereas students who aren’t as successful socially may bully because they think it will make people like them or is a way to cope with low self-esteem.

The website also said online bullying can be enticing because, in many cases, the bully is able to remain anonymous. Cyberbullies don’t see the consequences of their actions and may bully online as a way to fit in because they think others are doing it.

“It’s easier to harass people online rather than to their face,” said Katie Moran, sophomore pre-nursing major. “People like that.”

Falcone said peer pressure can be a big factor as to why others join in on bullying or cause others to isolate the victim even more.

“Other [students] see the person being isolated and find it hard to stand up, and the person is isolated even more,” Falcone said. “They are afraid [the bully] will pick on them or isolate them next.”

According to Falcone, males and females handle cyberbullying differently.

“For males, it usually comes from outside the circle of friends,” Falcone said. “[For females], is starts within the group.”

She also said males are less likely to talk about the bullying, while females are more likely to tell someone.

Effects of cyber-harassment and cyberbullying

Cyberbullying and cyber-harassment are different from traditional bullying because they can reach victims at any time, and it is difficult to remove hurtful messages or pictures after they’ve been posted. listed the following effects cyberbullying and harassment can have on victims:

  • More likely to use drugs and alcohol
  • Low self-esteem
  • More health problems
  • More likely to do poorly in school.

Falcone said the longer someone is bullied and the earlier it starts can make the effects worse. She said bullying can lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and can even lead victims to cyberbully others.

How to get help

Falcone said the first thing students should do if they are being harassed online is block or unfriend the person. Students can also report the harassment on the website if needed.

“If [the harassment] continues, it should be addressed with the college,” Falcone said. “This is a form of violence.”

Michquel Penn, community resource officer for the Kent State University police, said students who are experiencing harassment online can call the police to file a report.

“I recommend saving the communication that occurred,” Penn said. “That way the officer can review it.”

Penn said the officer will give students two options when they file a report: Students are able to just document the incident, or they many press charges.

She said those caught harassing others online could face a fine or jail time. A first offense is classified as a misdemeanor in the first degree, which results in six months in jail or paying $1,000.

A second offense, she said, jumps to a felony five offense and can lead to six to 12 months in jail and up to $2,500 fine.

Pamela Farer-Singleton, chief psychologist in psychological services, said students dealing with cyber-harassment can also receive assistance from psychological services, the counseling and human development department in White Hall or the psychology clinic in Kent Hall.

“[Students] should report [the harassment],” Farer-Singleton said. “If they have any emotional distress, they should seek assistance.”

Farer-Singleton said psychological services offers individual treatment with an intake assessment to determine what is going on and how they can help.

“I don’t care if they go on campus, or they go to a professional at a doctor’s office,” Falcone said. “If someone is feeling like they are depressed, it is very important that person gets help.”

Falcone said one of the major issues is that people do not help one another. She said having support from peers can be the most helpful thing when dealing with this type of situation.

Shauna Maurer, sophomore visual communication design major, said a friend of hers was recently harassed online, and she wants people to think before they or say do something.

“People have stories you don’t know about, and if you say something, you could trigger something and make them upset,” Maurer said. “Life is about helping each other, not hurting each other.”

Contact Kirsten Bowers at [email protected].