Cyberbullying: A Global Trend

An overview of cyberbullying around the world

In generations past, bullying was a problem that could be left on the playground as a bullying victim returned to the safe, protective walls of home. The advent of the internet and the rapid increase in cyberbullying, though, makes every internet user a potential cyberbullying victim. More than a dozen American teenagers committed suicide due to cyberbullying in 2012 alone, and all evidence suggests that the bullying-induced suicide rate is rising. A British study, for example, found that half of all suicides among young people were related to bullying.

Most research on cyberbullying focuses on the United States, but this only ranks 28th in the world of internet access, with only 70% of Americans having regular online access. Cyberbullying statistics tend to get worse as internet access increases, and many countries have cyberbullying rates similar to or worse than the USA. Researchers studying cyberbullying across the world have ranked Australia the worst place for cyberbullying. This country has a high rate of internet access, which may partially explain the problem.

The Role of Internet Access

Internet access is an obvious prerequisite to cyberbullying, so variations in cyberbullying rates reflect internet availability as much as anything else. Countries with little internet access, unsurprisingly, have relatively low cyberbullying rates and many people haven’t even heard of the problem. In Saudi Arabia, for example, only about 50% of the population has access to the internet, and only 29% of the population knows about cyberbullying. Australia, by contrast, has a higher internet access rate than the United States of 83%, and 87% of Australians are aware of the issue.

Internet access is steadily rising worldwide, which means that cyberbullying will likely increase. According to the International Business Times, one-third of the world's population has regular internet access. Developing, impoverished, and war-torn countries have the lowest rates. Afghanistan, for example, has an internet access rate of only 5%, according to the World Bank. Iceland has one of the highest internet access rates of 96%, and also reports one of the higher rates of online bullying.

Although internet access plays a significant role in cyberbullying awareness, censorship can limit parents' knowledge of the problem. Countries with high censorship rates tend to under-report awareness of cyberbullying. Reuters found that less than 50% of Chinese citizens have heard of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying: A Worldwide Problem

In 2012, Reuters sponsored one of the most intensive worldwide cyberbullying surveys ever performed, and the results were striking. The survey polled 18,000 people living in 24 countries, and a stunning 80% reported that cyberbullying was a serious problem in their country. Overall, 66% of respondents knew about cyberbullying; 10% of parents reported that their child had been a victim of cyberbullying, and 25% of parents reported that a child they knew had been victimized.

Predictably, there was significant variation from country to country. India had one of the highest rates of cyberbullying, with 32% of parents reporting that their children had experienced online bullying. Rates in Brazil were 20%, and 18% of Canadian parents reported that their children had been bullied. Indonesians were more likely to report knowing a child who had been cyberbullied, with 53% reporting that they knew a victim of bullying.

Kathryn Gottfried, a member of the research firm that conducted the poll, told Reuters, "Though parents may not have lived through the cyberbullying experience, they certainly see it as a major problem to be tackled. A majority of parents reported this form of bullying calls for a targeted approach from educators above and beyond existing anti-bullying programming."

Effects of Cyberbullying

While traditional bullying is specific to a location and place, cyberbullying can occur anywhere, potentially interfering with a victim's entire life. The Nemours Foundation reports that cyberbullying's effects are always negative, and some cyberbullying victims experience catastrophic effects. Common consequences of online bullying include decreased concentration, fear of school and poor grades. While at the more serious end are self-harm, mental illness such as depression and anxiety, and even suicide.

Parents who are concerned that their children are being bullied should monitor for sudden changes in behavior, increased secretiveness, or changes in the way their children use technology. A general awareness of your child's digital life, as well as strong communication with your child, can also aid parents in intervening before bullying gets out of control.

Calls for Action

Unlike traditional bullying, children victimized by online bullies may not know who the victimizer is or how to find them. Innocent children can even become implicated in cyberbullying when their accounts or user names are hacked, making it even more challenging to find cyberbullies. The global reach of the internet also means that a child can be bullied by anyone who lives anywhere, and local laws won't do much to curtail the actions of a person living halfway across the globe.

Despite these challenges, countries across the world are scurrying to find ways to solve the challenge of cyberbullying. The Philippines recently passed a national law called The Anti-Bullying Act. This legislation mandates that elementary and secondary schools establish strategies for the prevention and management of bullying. In the United Kingdom, all schools are required to have anti-bullying policies, but there is no national law against cyberbullying. However, other laws against harassment and stalking have been used in this context.

This piecemeal approach is common, as ensuring the laws keep up with technology can be challenging. In the United States, for example, victims can sue cyberbullies for defamation or harassment, and may be able to prosecute them for stalking. Some states have also passed anti-cyberbullying laws, and victims may use traditional anti-bullying laws against bullies. Yet current laws don't do much to help victims locate their perpetrators, and virtually every country that's tackled the issue of cyberbullying has grappled with how to locate cyberbullies.

Child advocates argue that existing laws in most countries aren't sufficient. Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts USA, a leading organization for school-aged girls, argued in The Huffington Post that much more needed to be done to combat the problem. In her editorial she stated plainly: “Unless and until our society recognizes cyberbullying for what it is, the suffering of thousands of silent victims will continue.”


Zawn Villines is an Atlanta-based freelance writer specializing in science and mental health. 


Smith, Tineka. "Cyberbullying: A World-wide Problem." Computer Business Review. N.p., n.d. Web.