Cyberbullying for First Responders

a female police officer smiling at night with her patrol car in the background.

What First Responders Need to Know About Cyberbullying


First Responders are the first people to arrive on the scene when crimes occur, people are hurt or things go wrong. When cyberbullying occurs, these may also include school resource officers, guidance counselors, medical professionals, teachers and school administrators.

First responders need to understand how cyberbullying works, the profile of different cyberbullies and what we have learned about triage and addressing the cyberbullying pain.

Identifying the Type and Risks of the Cyberbullying Campaign for Analysis and Triage:

There are five different kinds of cyberbullying:


– the cyberbully sends attacks directly to the target.


– the cyberbully directs the communications to third parties to embarrass or exclude the target.

Privacy Invasion/Intimate Secrets Exposure

– when secrets are shared or the target is captured in images, on audio or via video surveillance without the consent or knowledge, to harm the target.


– the cyberbully poses as the target, accesses their devices or accounts, creates a confusingly-similar profile to the target pretending to be the real or duplicate profile, files false reports or makes allegations misrepresenting the target’s actions to get those in authority to take action against the target or making false claims to provoke others to attack the target.

Inadvertent Cyberbullying or Accidental Cyberbullying

– misunderstandings, bad jokes, confusions or misdirected communications that make the target feel cyberbullied, even if not the intent of the one sending the communication. (Technically not cyberbullying (since it lacks intention), but 30% or more of what are labelled as cyberbullying starts this way, and results in retaliation. For this reason, we include is as a kind of “cyberbullying.”)

The Highest Risks of Self-Harm, Physical harm or Suicide:

Out of all of these, we have seen that attacks involving sextortion, revenge porn or sextbullying, and those using or threatening to broadcast very intimate personal information, such as victimization, sexual preferences or identity, or serious family disfunction are the most dangerous, often resulting in self-harm, physical harm and suicide attempts.

Second to sexual-related attacks and intimate information attacks, cyberbullying tactics where the aggressor poses as the target, get innocent third parties involved or involve false allegations or rumors about the target are the most likely to involve serious emotional harm or self-harm/suicide. [insert an image about teling secrets – whispering]

According to industry findings, sextortion, revenge porn or sextbullying where private intimate images are shared or threatened to be shared publicly, with family, friends or the authorities result faster in self-harm than any other digital risk. (Facebook estimated that if self-harm results, it results within 30 minutes of the threat first being communicated to the target.

The more public the actions or the greater the threat to expose the images, the higher the risk. In morphing, where the head of the target superimposed on someone else’s sexual or nude body, especially in more traditional communities and cultures, the likelihood of self-harm increases. The more intimate these images are, the more sexual activity they exhibit or the more controversial the sex acts are (homosexuality in an intolerant culture or those involving more than one partner), the higher the risk of self-harm.

They are afraid to confide in trusted adults. They fear not being believed. And they often see no way to convince others they are innocent and the images are false. In some instances, honor killings have occurred or recommended.

Finally, threats of bodily harm or to a loved one or pet have a serious impact on the target. They often feel there is nothing they can do. Their feelings of helplessness make them vulnerable to self-harm and suicides.

These risks relate to the methods used by the aggressors and the nature of the vulnerabilities manipulated in the cyberbullying. But, additional elements apply depending on the “nature of the cyberbullying attack” and the “personal vulnerability” of the target.

The Nature of the Cyberbullying Attack:

  • Is the identity of the cyberbully known, suspected or unknown? Almost 2/3s of all cyberbullying incidents are anonymous, involves the cyberbully posing as someone else (even the target) or using fake profiles or accounts. Without knowing who is behind the attacks, it is impossible to gauge to credibility of any threats, or risks of physical harm. They don’t know if the cyberbully is their best friend or worst enemy and don’t know whom to trust. They doubt everyone.
  • The nature of the issue being exploited in the cyberbullying – sexual preference/ID/sexuality, promiscuity, body-shaming, false accusations (blaming the target for something they didn’t do or spreading false rumors) and targeting the vulnerabilities of special needs are among the most popular topics involved in cyberbullying.
  • Threats and blackmail demands made in the course of cyberbullying (generally by direct-cyberbullying actions) are very high risk to the target, emotionally and physically. These threats, in addition to sextortion and other intimacy or sexually-related threats, typically involve threats of serious bodily harm, death, destruction of property, threats against family members friends or pets are made. (When threats and blackmail demands are made and the identity of the agressor is not known, they have to be treated as credible threats and acted upon quickly.)
  • If offline bullying is involved as well, with threats of physical harm or campaigns to socially-exclude the target, the risks are increased as well.

The Personal Risks Applying to the Target Depend on:

  • Whether the target has a supportive or dysfunctional home environment.
  • Whether the target has a supportive or dysfunctional school environment.
  • Whether the target has a supportive peer or dysfunctional peer network.
  • If the home/personal-life of the target is disrupted by temporary or ongoing financial, health, romantic drama, personal stress, victimization, family stress, death, drug or alcohol abuse, recent moves or relocation, crisis or tragedy, mental illness, incarceration, legal battles, abuse, divorce or separation, social exclusion or absence of supportive adult relationships.
  • If the target has sought or received help from mental health professionals, including therapists, social workers and school guidance counselors and whether they felt heard by them.
  • If the target has engaged in self-harm (cutting, eating disorders, etc.) previously or is now engaged in self-harm.
  • If any student at the target’s school have attempted suicide or taken their own life, or a student tragedy have occurred at the school.
  • The “resiliency” of the target (other than those factors captured above).
  • If they don’t feel safe or someone is threatening them physically, threatening to share private information or humiliating information or attempting to blackmail them.
  • If the target is more vulnerable to attacks and isolation relating to sexual preferences or identification, special needs, prior victimization, sexual activities or perceived sexual activities, race, national origin, financial status, religion or beliefs, health challenges, has ended a friendship or romantic relationship or has recently moved, relocated or changed schools, failed in school or suffered social exclusion.

Offline and Online Bullying Combined, or Just Cyberbullying – Understanding How It Works:

Some kinds of cyberbullying are likely to occur online and offline by the same aggressors against the same targets. These include Mean Girls Cyberbullying and Power-Hungry Cyberbullying and constitute roughly half of all cyberbullying.

The other 3 kinds of cyberbully profiles are the result of digital communications gone wrong, the power of anonymity and the ability to scale attacks by manipulating bystanders, facilitators and trolls, getting them involved. (About 68% of all cyberbullying occurs anonymously or through the use of stolen or fake accounts. This includes many Mean Girl and Power-Hungry attacks as well as the others.)

Cyberbullying involving Revenge-of-the-Nerds, Vengeful Angels and Accidental Cyberbullies only occur online.

  • Revenge-of-the-Nerds and Vengeful Angels use digital anonymity to pose as popular or tough youths to take on offline aggressors and popular students alike. They operate exclusively online using anonymity because they are not popular or powerful enough to disclose their true identity.
  • Accidental Cyberbullies are only considered cyberbullies because the recipient of their communications feel that they are being targeted. Accidental cyberbullying occurs because of the nature of digital technology, auto-correctors, misdirected communications, typos and the inability to see the reaction of the person on the other side and realize something is wrong.

Look at the Indicators to Identify the Cyberbully, If Their Identity isn’t Known:

The identification of the target’s cyberbullying profile is important to help gauge the players, the duration of the campaign and the likelihood of offline components to the online campaign. It also helps identify the aggressors, their supporters and the facilitators.

  • Is the cyberbullying occurring anonymously?
  • Are they posing as someone else, including the target?
  • Is it a one-time communication that doesn’t make sense, since no other aggressive communications or actions are involved?
  • Is it communicated or posted by someone otherwise not an aggressor?
  • Does the attack show that the cyberbully has access to private information?
  • Does the attack include references to things not widely-known?
  • If third parties are included in the attacks, as audiences or facilitators, what do they have in common?
  • Is there language used or phrases used that are used by certain young people known to the target?
  • Are there typos or grammar mistakes that occur regularly in the attacks that apply to suspected aggressors?
  • What platforms or technology are being used? Are they used often by suspected aggressors?

These are not guaranteed to identify the cyberbully, but can be helpful when certain young people are suspected of being involved. If law enforcement is involved, they can issue warrants and subpoenas for the platforms or networks used in the cyberbullying attacks. These can often identify the devices, accounts and the identity of those involved.

But, even when law enforcement agencies are not involved, knowing those behind the attacks allows remediation and helps stop it.

Support and High-Risk Youth:

Even the most dire cyberbullying attack is softened by a supportive school, home and social ecosystem. And the more trustworthy the adults are, and the more informed they are about the right steps and approaches to take when cyberbullying occurs the more likely the target will recover from the attacks and move forward.

Getting the target professional help, either at the school-level with guidance counselors or through other mental health professionals is crucial, as long as they feel heard. If they don’t, this can result is further frustrations and higher risks.

But, in the end, while several factors can point to enhanced risks and the need for adult intervention, if the target identifies themselves as “thinking about hurting themselves or others,” admit they are “engaged in self-harm already or having done so in the past” or feels “unsafe, frightened or threatened, or isolated with nowhere to turn,” they must be treated as high-risk.

All high-risk users who identify themselves using these categories or whose response indicate the factors will be referred to mental health professionals, support groups and helplines expert in these issues.

Are You A First Responder?

StopCyberbullying broadly defines “first responders” to include professionals, law enforcement and even parents, it helps to see if you qualify as a “first responder.”

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Have you had to respond to a cyberbullying incident? If so, how did it go?


Related Topics

While we tried to put most of the key points here, to allow first responders to learn what they need to know in one place. But our Information – the Basics section has much more information. Our FAQs and Ask Parry Sections contain information and help. And our upcoming Coaching section will help you improve your skills and learn where you stand, through our assessments.

Ask Parry

Got a question for Parry? You can ask it here. She answers select questions in her Ask Parry videos and articles. She does not respond directly to anyone submitting questions.


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