Cyberbullying Tactics & Types
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.
Cyberbullying is one typology included in the concept of iPredator, which is a theoretical construct developed by New York State licensed psychologist, Dr. Michael Nuccitelli. As Information and Communications Technology (ICT) becomes widespread; cyberbullying prevention, education and protection are areas requiring immediate attention. The Information Age has many benefits to humanity, but it is vital to identify and prevent the malevolent and nefarious elements that exist in cyberspace.
Bullying, or classic bullying, is a term used to define recurrent and sustained verbal and/or physical attacks by one or more children towards another child who is unable or unwilling to deescalate the engagement. It may involve verbal harassment, physical assault, coercion, intimidation, humiliation and taunting. Bullying is comprised of a combination of four basic types of abuse: social, emotional, verbal and physical. Despite variants in definition, bullying always involves abuse with the use of harassment, force or coercion to affect a targeted child. Classic bullying requires face-to-face interactions within the repertoire of behaviors.
Cyberbullying is a term used to define recurrent and sustained verbal and/or physical attacks by one or more children towards another child who is unable or unwilling to deescalate the engagement using Information and Communication Technology (ICT.) Like classic bullying, cyberbullying is harmful, repeated and hostile behavior intended to deprecate a targeted child. Cyberbullying describes threatening or disparaging communications delivered through ICT. Whereas classic bullying typically involves face-to-face interactions and non-digital forms of communication, cyberbullying consists of information exchanged via ICT and may never involve face-to-face encounters.
By definition, classic & cyberbullying occurs among young people. When an adult is involved as the aggressor, it meets criteria for cyber harassment or cyberstalking, which in many states is a criminal act. Although the terms “bullying” and “cyberbullying” includes adult intimidation behavior in contemporary culture, these describe pediatric behaviors and will not include adult applications in this manuscript.
Like classic bullying, cyberbullying is harmful, repeated and hostile behavior intended to taunt, deprecate & defame a targeted child initiated and sustained by another child or group of children. Cyberbullying describes harmful, threatening or disparaging information against a target child delivered through Information and Communications Technology (ICT.) As Information and Communications Technology (ICT) becomes widespread; cyberbullying prevention, education and protection are areas requiring immediate attention.
The typologies of iPredator include Cyberbullying, Cyber Harassment, Cyberstalking, Cybercrime, Online Sexual Predation and Cyber Terrorism. Within this construct, Cyber Harassment is the adult form of Cyberbullying and used when the perpetrator and victim are adults.
The term, iPredator, is a global construct designed to include any child, adult, business entity or organized group who uses ICT to harm, abuse, steal from, assault or defame other ICT users. Also included in this construct are people who use ICT to benefit from the victimization and harm of others, but are not the principal perpetrators. Prime examples of this iPredator subset are criminals who engage in the sale and profit of child pornography using ICT. As ICT advances and humanity becomes more dependent upon information technology, it is inevitable the typologies of iPredator will expand as well. The 2013 formal definition of iPredator is as follows:
iPredator: A child, adult, group or nation who, directly or indirectly, engages in exploitation, victimization, stalking, theft or disparagement of others using Information and Communications Technology (ICT.) iPredators are driven by deviant fantasies, desires for power and control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, perceptual distortions, peer acceptance or personal and financial gain. iPredators can be any age, either gender and not bound by economic status, race or national heritage.
iPredator is a global term used to distinguish anyone who engages in criminal, deviant or abusive behaviors using ICT. Whether the offender is a cyberbully, cyberstalker, cyber harasser, cybercriminal, online sexual predator, internet troll or cyber terrorist, they fall within the scope of iPredator. The three criteria used to define an iPredator include:
I. A self-awareness of causing harm to others, directly or indirectly, using ICT. II. The intermittent to frequent usage of ICT to obtain, exchange and deliver harmful information. III. A general understanding of Cyberstealth used to engage in harmful, criminal or deviant activities or to profile, identify, locate, stalk and engage a human target(s).
iPredators rely on the multitude of benefits offered by ICT. These assistances include exchange of information over long distances, rapidity of information exchanged and the seemingly infinite access to data available. Malevolent in intent, iPredators rely on their capacity to deceive others in the abstract electronic universe known as cyberspace. In pediatric form, the cyberbully is the predominant childhood typology.
Educators, parents and the community at large must treat cyberbullying as a societal toxic phenomenon. To thwart this growing epidemic, it is paramount the adult community becomes educated on the tactics cyberbullies use to taunt and victimize other vulnerable children.
Given the variety of methodologies cyberbullies use, which continues to expand, provided below are the most commonly used cyberbullying tactics used in 2013 and will continue for years to come. Although most of the terms used to describe cyberbullying tactics are considered general knowledge by those who specialize in cyberbullying prevention & non-proprietary, they are many other terms that describe the same type of behavior. The most important goal is to understand the theme of each tactic in relationship to the tactics & methods children use to harm & disparage other children. Furthermore, many of the tactics listed are also used by adult ICT users engaged in cyber harassment, cyberstalking and cybercrime.
1. Exclusion: Exclusion is a cyberbullying tactic that is highly effective and occurs by indirectly sending a harmful message to the target child that they are not included in social activities without the need for verbal deprecation. As it is well-known children and teens are developmentally fixated being recognized by their peers; the process of designating who is a member of the peer group and who is not included can be devastating to the target child.
2. Flaming: Flaming is a cyberbullying tactic defined as an online passionate argument that frequently includes profane or vulgar language. These online arguments occur in public communication environments for peer bystanders to witness. These environments include discussion boards and groups, chatrooms, and newsgroups. Flaming may have features of a normal message, but its intent is designed differently and flamers endeavor to assert their power or establish a position of dominance asserted against a target child.
3. Exposure: Exposure is a cyberbullying tactic that includes the public display, posting or forwarding of personal communication, images or video by the cyberbully personal to the target child. Exposure becomes even more detrimental to the target child when the communications posted and displayed publicly contains sensitive personal information or images and video that are sexual in nature. As mobile device technology, images and video becomes more commonplace, the tactic of Exposure is certain to become prevalent.
4. E-mail Threats and Dissemination: This is a cyberbully tactic used to inspire fear in the target child by communicating threats that may be direct or implied using email as the vehicle of communication. Upon emailing the target child their threat, the cyberbully also informs other members in the peer group of the alleged threat. The cyberbully sends a threatening e-mail to the target child and then forwards or copies and pastes the threatening message to others of the implied threat. If these threats directly or indirectly suggest physical harm, they move to the tactic of cyberstalking.
5. Harassment: Harassment is sending hurtful messages to the target child that is worded in a severe, persistent or pervasive manner causing the respondent undue concern. These threatening messages are hurtful, frequent, and very serious. Like the adult form of cyber harassment, this cyberbullying contact requires three or more harassing messages related by the theme of the message sent. As a cyberbullying tactic, Harassment is both negative in content and frequent in communication.
6. Phishing: Phishing is a cyberbully tactic that requires tricking, persuading or manipulating the target child into revealing personal and/or financial information about themselves and/or their loved ones. Once the cyberbully acquires this information, they begin to use the information to access their profiles if it may be the target child’s password. Phishing also includes purchasing unauthorized items with the target child’s or parents credit cards.
7. Impersonation: Impersonation or “imping” as a tactic in cyberbullying can only occur with the “veil of anonymity” offered by Information and Communications Technology. Cyberbullies impersonate the target child and make unpopular online comments on social networking sites, forums, message boards and in chat rooms. Using impersonation, cyberbullies also set up websites that include vitriolic information leading to the target child being ostracized or victimized in more classic bullying ways. Often times, the target child is unaware of these events until the tactic has been designed and implemented.
8. Denigration: Used in both classic and cyberbullying, denigration is a term used to describe when cyberbullies send, post, or publish cruel rumors, gossip, and untrue statements about a target child to intentionally damage their reputation or friendships. Also known as “dissing,” this cyberbullying method is a common element and layer involved in most all of the cyberbullying tactics listed. The primary goal of Denigration is to humiliate & disparage the target child.
9. E-mail and Mobile Phone Image Dissemination: Not only a tactic used in cyberbullying, but a form of information exchange that can be a criminal act if the images are pornographic or graphic enough depicting under aged children. Children can receive images directly on their phones and then send them to everyone in their address books. Some children actually post these images on video sites, their social networking profiles and other programs for anyone to download or view. With the growth and widespread usage of mobile device technology, this cyberbullying tactic will become prevalent.
10. Non-Consensual Image and Video Dissemination: The usage of images and video as a cyberbullying tactic has become a growing concern that many communities, law enforcement agencies, and schools are taking seriously. Images and videos of the target child are emailed to peers, while others are published on video sites such as YouTube. The primary purpose of this tactic is to humiliate and disparage the target child. As the term denotes, this cyberbullying tactic is non-consensual and the target child either has not given consent or does not know the images or videos are being disseminated.
11. Interactive Gaming Harassment: Interactive games on online gaming devices allow children to communicate by chat and live Internet phone with others they are matched with online. Having the ability to exchange information with gaming opponents and fellow peers; cyberbullies verbally abuse others, use threatening and profane language, lock others out of games, pass false information about others. Depending on their computer shrewdness, cyberbullies can also hack into the target child’s accounts. Given the competitive nature of gaming, children are often unaware of being targeted until fellow players and peers bring the cyberbullying to their attention.
12. Pornography and Marketing List Inclusion: A frustrating and embarrassing tactic committed by cyberbullies is signing the target child up to numerous pornography and/or junk marketing e-mailing and instant messaging marketing lists. By doing this, the target child receives hundreds of e-mails and instant messages from pornography sites and advertising companies. Often times, the target child’s parents are made aware of these pornographic emails, assume their child signed up for receipt of pornographic information and punish them without due process.
13. Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking includes threats of harm, intimidation, and/or offensive comments sent through Information and Communications Technology channels. Frequently with cyberstalking, there is a threat or at least a belief by the target child that the cyberbully’s threats of harm are real or could become real offline stalking. Cyberstalking takes harassment to the level of threatening the target child’s safety to an offline environment. Cyberstalking is actually not a cyberbullying tactic because it entails direct and/or indirect physical harm. Of all the cyberbullying tactics listed, cyberstalking is the most dangerous requiring immediate adult attention.
14. Griefing: Griefing is a term used to describe when a cyberbully habitually and chronically causes frustration to the target child and his/her peers by not following the rules of an interactive online video game and intentionally disrupting the immersion of another player in their gameplay. Not specific to cyberbullying, griefing is often a tactic used in interactive video games and used by both cyberbullies and adults engaging in cyber harassment. Similar to Internet Trolls, cyberbullies work in teams to target a child.
15. Password Theft & Lockout: A cyberbully steals the target child’s password and begins to chat with other people, pretending to be the target child (a.k.a. Impersonation.) Confident that others think he/she is the target child, they begin to communicate provocative and adversarial messages that are offensive and anger the target child’s friends or strangers. In addition to impersonating the target child, the cyberbully locks out the target child from his/her accounts by changing his/her password. Without having access to his/her username or email account, the target child is unable to close or prove he/she is not the culprit spreading the vitriolic information.
16. Website Creation: This is a tactic whereby the cyberbully creates websites that insult or endanger the target child. The cyberbully creates, designs, and posts web pages specifically designed to insult the target child, their peers, or groups of people who share similar characteristics as the target child such as their race, religion or sexual orientation. Although website creation has become an easy task with contemporary information technology software, many cyberbullies have acquired skills enabling them to create websites that are both appealing to viewers, but presenting the target child in a negative light.
17. Voting/Polling Booths: Some websites offer online users the opportunity to create online polling/voting booths that are free of charge and easy to post. Cyberbullies use these websites to create web pages that allow others to vote online for categories that are deemed highly embarrassing by the target child. Examples of voting and polling include the ugliest, fattest, dumbest, most sexually promiscuous and a plethora of other deprecating attributes. The primary purpose of this cyberbullying tactic is to encourage group consensus by encouraging peers to engage in disparaging the target child.
18. Bash Boards: Bash Boards are online bulletin boards where children post anything they choose and frequented by both the cyberbully and target child’s peer groups and school acquaintances. At these online bulletin boards, negative and deprecating information is posted by the cyberbully about the target child that is public for all to read and is shared with others. Generally, bash boards encourage postings that are mean, hateful, malicious, and embarrassing.
19. Trickery: Trickery is a tactic similar to phishing in that a cyberbully purposely tricks a target child into divulging secrets, private information, and/or embarrassing information about themselves and then publishes that information online. Like phishing, Trickery requires the target child to have some element of trust or respect for the cyberbully by agreeing to post sensitive information about them thinking the cyberbully’s rationale will be beneficial and/or positive. With this tactic, the target child is led to believe the sensitive information they consensually give the cyberbully will somehow be presented in a positive light.
20. Happy Slapping: Happy Slapping is a relatively new type of cyberbullying that integrates the rapid growth of video online and classic bullying. This occurs when a target child or unsuspecting victim is physically attacked or embarrassed in person and an accomplice video records or takes pictures of the incident. The image or video is then posted online at video and social networking sites for public consumption. With the widespread growth of mobile device technology, Happy Slapping is a cyberbullying tactic likely to grow.
21. Text Wars and Text Attacks: Text Wars and Text Attacks are cyberbullying tactics when the cyberbully and a group of his/her accomplices’ gang up on the target child by sending them hundreds of emails or text messages. Besides the emotional toll it can take on the target child, their cell phone charges may escalate causing parental admonishment. Text Wars and Text Attacks are cyberbullying tactics that encourage other children to engage in harmful behaviors against the target child.
22. Sending Malicious Code: Sending malicious code is a cyberbullying tactic whereby malicious information is sent intentionally to a target child to damage or harm their ICT. Many cyberbullies will send viruses, spyware, and hacking programs to a target child that can be very costly to repair. The act of sending malicious code as a cyberbullying tactic is usually reserved for children and adolescents advanced in ICT. As Information Age children become more adept with information technology, the tactic of sending malicious codes will become more frequent in the cyberbullies arsenal of online assaults.
23. Warning Wars: Internet Service Providers (ISP) offer a way for consumers to report an online user who is posting inappropriate or abusive information. As a tactic used in cyberbullying and harassment, children engage in “warning wars” by making false allegations to the ISP regarding the target child posting inappropriate information. By doing this frequently enough, often times the target child has their profile and/or account suspended by the ISP. Concurrent with this tactic, the cyberbully informs the target child’s parents causing additional admonishment.
24. Screen Name Mirroring: Screen Name Mirroring is a cyberbullying tactic used against a target child by constructing a screen name or user name that is very similar to the target child’s name. The name may have additional or removed letters, numbers, or combinations of the two to appear the same as the target child’s screen name. With Screen Name Mirroring, the cyberbully uses screen names and user names almost identical to the target child’s requiring the respondent of the information to be attentive in differentiating the minor differences.
25. Cyber Drama: Cyber Drama is a cyberbullying tactic that is a lot more common than extreme cases of cyberbullying. Cyber Drama tends to be gossip that was not supposed to be shared on a blog or a flame war that ends after a few messages. Most child and adolescent online users are perceptive about telling each other to refrain and will block a user or open a new account when necessary. Some children engaged in Cyber Drama can be psychologically affected due to their negative perception of the information being disseminated. Cyber Drama is best described as a passive aggressive form of cyberbullying.
26. Sexting: Sexting is the slang term for the use of a cell phone or other Information and Communications Technologies to distribute images or videos of a sexually explicit nature. It can also refer to text messages of a sexually charged theme. Sexting is both a sexually oriented form of communication and a cyberbullying tactic. As a cyberbullying tactic, the cyberbully creates and/or disseminates sexually themed information about the target child that is both highly embarrassing and humiliating.
27. Pseudonyms: A pseudonym is a nickname cyberbullies call themselves when they are online as opposed to when offline. They do this to keep their real identity a secret from the target child. When using instant messaging services like MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger, an online user has a nickname they have chosen. Cyberbullies use this same feature to change their name to something that a target child would not expect. Having a nickname, then the cyberbully proceeds to taunt, tease and humiliate the target child without the ability of the target child to know their identity.
28. Instant Messaging (IM): Instant Messaging is a type of communications service that enables online users to create a private chat room with another individual. Cyberbullies use IM to send harassing and threatening messages to the target child themed with disparaging information. IM has become a very large part of the social lives of child and adolescent online users. The conversations and conflicts that arise online often give rise to behaviors that are acted out in person during school or at the local shopping mall.
29. Cyberbullying by Proxy: Cyberbullying by Proxy is a tactic when a cyberbully encourages or persuades others to engage in deprecating and harassing a target child. Cyberbullying by proxy is a dangerous form of cyberbullying because adults may become the accomplices to the cyberbully involved in the harassment and do not know they are dealing with a child or someone they may know. A cyberbully is usually driven by a need for peer acceptance, but may engage in these maladaptive behaviors out of ignorance of the distress they cause a target child, or the most malevolent form, feels minimal remorse for the harm they are inflicting upon the target child.
30. Social Networking Site Cyberbullying: Social Networking Site Cyberbullying is a tactic used by which the cyberbully persuades the target child to include them in their “friends” or “buddy” lists and then begins to contact the target child’s friends, peers and loved ones disseminating disparaging information about the target child. The cyberbully will also encourage the target child to accept the cyberbullies accomplices on their “friends” or “buddy” lists without the target child knowing the cyberbully’s true motivations.
31. Digital Piracy Inclusion: Digital or Internet Piracy is broadly defined as the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material on the internet using Information and Communications Technology. Although most cyberbullies do not fully understand the legal and criminal implications related to Digital Piracy, they are succinctly aware that it is an online behavior to avoid. As a cyberbullying tactic, the cyberbully encourages the target child to engage in Digital Piracy and then reports them either to the authorities, their parents or educators.
32. Local/National Tragedy Mirroring: Local/National Tragedy Mirroring is a cyberbullying tactic whereby a cyberbully threatens a target child that he/she will allege that the target child is planning and preparing to engage in a violent activity directed at the targeted child’s school or community. Using Information and Communications Technology, the cyberbully disseminates felonious information to the target child’s peers and loved ones that he/she is planning a violent attack.
33. Slut Shaming: Slut Shaming is a cyberbullying tactic best described as the social media equivalent of a “Scarlet Letter.” Slut Shaming is the tactic of posting and/or making public sexually graphic and provocative images or videos of young women online. This cyberbullying tactic is solely focused on humiliating the target female child via social networking sites.
Note to Reader: Of the 32 cyberbullying tactics listed, #32 Local/National Tragedy Mirroring is the newest and least substantiated by this writer. In 2012, the world was traumatized by the events of the Connecticut Elementary School Shooting whereby 20 year old, Adam Lanza, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and brutally murdered 26 children and adults. In relationship to cyberbullying, this writer was contacted by a mother, shortly after the tragedy.
The mother reported that her son was being cyberbullied by another child who was threatening to tell his friends and loved ones that her son was planning to engage in the same event that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Given children fail to truly fathom the psychological devastation of mass murder and community violence to society, this writer has included this as a cyberbullying tactic parents and educators need to be prepared for. As it is inevitable there will be future local and national tragedies involving a violent theme, it is paramount that parents and educators be prepared that cyberbullies will use these events in their attempts to threaten and inspire fear in a target child.
Children of the 21st century are targeted via classic bullying, cyberbullying, or a combination of the two. Given the evolution of digital technology and growth of the internet, cyberbullying has reached epidemic proportions among the pediatric segments of society and has become a permanent weapon in the bully’s toolbox. At the core of all bullying, cyber and classic, are victimization, disparagement, and abuse of a targeted child. Child abuse, whether perpetrated by a child or adult, is detrimental to all aspects of their development, following them into adulthood and throughout their lifespan.
Given humanity is at the beginning of the Information Age, it is vital for all communities to address the use and abuse of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by children to harm other children. What is not apparent and will not be available for 2-3 decades to follow are the cyberbullies who enter adulthood with the ability to harm others using ICT. Prior to the Information Age, classic bullies grew up, became adults and most lead non-violent and productive lives. The question remains is if today’s cyberbullies will develop into adults the same as classic bullies or will they bring with them the tactics and methods they used as children, but applied to adult environments.
“We cannot say that if a child is badly nourished he will become a criminal. We must see what conclusion the child has drawn.” Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. is a NYS licensed psychologist and cyber criminology consultant. He completed his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Adler University in 1994. In 2010, Dr. Nuccitelli authored the dark side of cyberspace concept known as “iPredator.” In November 2011, he established iPredator Inc., offering educational, investigative, and advisory services involving criminal psychology, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, online predators, internet trolls, the dark side of cyberspace and internet safety. Dr. Nuccitelli has worked in the mental health field over the last thirty-plus years and has volunteered his time helping cyber-attacked victims since 2010. His goal is to reduce victimization, theft, and disparagement from iPredators.
In addition to aiding citizens & disseminating educational content, Dr. Nuccitelli’s mission is to initiate a sustained national educational and awareness internet safety campaign with the help of private, state, and federal agencies. He is always available, at no cost, to interact with online users, professionals, and the media. To invite Dr. Nuccitelli to conduct training, media engagements, educational services, or consultation, please call him at (347) 871-2416 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D., iPredator Inc. is a NYC Internet Safety Company founded to offer educational and advisory products and services to online users and organizations on cyberbullying, cyberstalking, cybercrime, internet defamation and online sexual predation. iPredator Inc.’s goal is to reduce victimization, theft, and disparagement from online perpetrators.
New York City, New York