About one third (32%) of all teenagers who use the internet say they have been targets of a range of annoying and potentially menacing online activities – such as receiving threatening messages; having their private emails or text messages forwarded without consent; having an embarrassing picture posted without permission; or having rumors about them spread online.
Depending on the circumstances, these harassing or “cyberbullying” behaviors may be truly threatening, merely annoying or relatively benign. But several patterns are clear: girls are more likely than boys to be targets; and teens who share their identities and thoughts online are more likely to be targets than are those who lead less active online lives.
Of all the online harassment asked about, the greatest number of teens told us that they had had a private communication forwarded or publicly posted without their permission. One in 6 teens (15%) told us someone had forwarded or posted communication they assumed was private. About 13% of teens told us that someone had spread a rumor about them online, and another 13% said that someone had sent them a threatening or aggressive email, IM or text message. Some 6% of online teens told us that someone had posted an embarrassing picture of them without their permission.
Yet when asked where they thought bullying happened most often to teens their age, the majority of teens, 67%, said that bullying and harassment happens more offline than online. Less than one in three teens (29%) said that they thought that bullying was more likely to happen online, and three percent said they thought it happened both online and offline equally.
These results come from a nationally-representative phone survey of 935 teenagers by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
In focus groups conducted by the Project about the issue, one 16-year-old girl casually described how she and her classmates bullied a fellow student: “There’s one MySpace from my school this year. There’s this boy in my anatomy class who everybody hates. He’s like the smart kid in class. Everybody’s jealous. They all want to be smart. He always wants to work in our group and I hate it. And we started this thing, some girl in my class started this I Hate [Name] MySpace thing. So everybody in school goes on it to comment bad things about this boy.”