Cyber Aggression: A Form of Retaliation to Cyberbullying

November 2015

Cyberbullying Defined

Understanding cyberbullying can be a challenge, particularly as there is a plethora of definitions circulating on the topic. Having multiple definitions for cyberbullying can lead to confusion. To better understand cyberbullying, this article will utilize the most common definition available: ‘an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.’13 Both the definitions of traditional bullying, as well as cyberbullying, state that an individual must commit an act with the intent to harm before it can be described as a type of bullying. Second, there must be some type of power imbalance between the offender and the victim, which manifests as aggression. Third, the act of both traditional bullying and cyberbullying is instated through repetition. The main difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying lies in the fact that the offender relies on technology to carry out their action. Additionally, cyberbullying can be characterized by anonymity of the offender, greater accessibility to victims, decreased fears of discipline, lack of bystanders, and disinhibition.15 Although traditional bullying and cyberbullying are defined similarly, the motivations and mode of action are often quite different.

Cyber bullies can hide behind a mask of anonymity online and do not need direct physical access to their victims to do unimaginable harm.

- Anna Maria Chavez
Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Girl Scouts

Cyberbullying Occurances

Teachers, parents, and administrators must be aware that most cyberbullying incidents occur outside of school, but they often result from incidents that occur on school campuses. School personnel should recognize that while there is an overlap between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, there are distinguishing factors between the two. For instance, researchers have examined predictors of cyberbullying victimization in comparison to traditional bullying victimization. The participants who had previously been victims of traditional bullying were susceptible to cyberbullying. The ability to control one’s emotions was seen to be a predictor of cyberbullying victimization, but was not a predictor for traditional bullying victimization. Cyberbullying incidents affect both the offender and the victim throughout the school day.1, 2, 4, 10, 14 Victims of bullying are often apprehensive to tell adults on campus or at home. In fact, over 40 percent of students who are cyberbullied state that their situation worsened after telling an adult.6 Teachers and administrators should be aware of students’ apprehension to withhold vital information regarding cyberbullying victimization. If students withhold the fact they have been victimized they may act out with cyber aggression.

Cyber Aggression

Cyber aggression-a unique type of cyberbullying-happens when an individual’s intentionally harmful behavior is directed towards an individual or group of individuals who finds the behavior offensive and unwarranted.8 Cyber aggression is defined as the intent to harm an individual or group by means of electronic devices. The act of cyber aggression can be perpetuated by someone of any age who has access to the web. Cyber aggression does not involve an imbalance of power, a crucial component in the identification of both cyberbullying and traditional bullying.16 Cyber aggression comes in many forms that are not consistent with traditional face-to-face bullying. Examples of cyber aggression include posting degrading statements on an individual’s Facebook page or hacking an individual’s social media account and falsely sending negative remarks to the hacked subject’s friends.8

What gets posted online is not short term, and is open for easy misinterpretation. Messages and pictures spread faster through the internet than they ever could by word of mouth.

- Anna Maria Chavez
Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Girl Scouts

Research on students in grades 6-8 found that youth who perceived themselves as popular showed higher levels of cyber aggression.18 On the other hand, the lower a subject’s perceived popularity the more likely they will encounter face-to-face bullying. This victimization is often the impetus for cyber aggression as a form of revenge for the victim. Cyber aggression gives subjects an opportunity to respond to the person that victimizes them without having to confront them face-to-face, as in traditional bullying circumstances. Cyber aggression is now often an alternative form of confrontation for victims of traditional bullying. Cyber aggression causes the victim to displace their personal anger through cyber aggression, which may result in the victim funneling their anger towards innocent bystanders online as well.17

Predictors of cyberbullying and traditional bullying differ. The only commonality that has been shown is the individual’s prior victimization.9 In another study of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, peer rejection and cyber victimization led victims to use cyber aggression.17 A subject who is the victim of cyberbullying may retaliate with cyber aggression up to six months after the initial cyberbullying encounter.18 Males and females had the same likelihood of using cyber aggression as a response to cyberbullying.18 Victims of cyberbullying have reported feeling that online abuse is inescapable, a fact that can be more detrimental to a subject’s mental state than traditional bullying. Prior to widespread use of social media and the Internet, victims of bullying could find relief away from school; now they are vulnerable to victimization at all times of the day regardless of where they are.

Cyberbullying Preventive Measures

There are a number of general prevention practices that should be considered when addressing cyberbullying, cyber aggression, or bullying more generally. First, when discussing bullying, schools should inform students about the seriousness of cyberbullying, being sure to distinguish it from traditional bullying. By showing how victims can be negatively affected by cyberbullying, schools may be able to reduce the occurrence of such behavior. Additionally, for any anti-bullying program to be effective, teachers, students, and parents must work collaboratively. For instance, counselors and other staff should be equipped to recognize the difference between both forms of bullying and how to respond appropriately. Administrators and teachers should always encourage empathy and self-esteem among students on campus. A lack of empathy among students and an overall poor school climate were seen to be predictors of both cyberbullying and traditional bullying.3 Bullying policies must also be visible in the public domain. An increase in supervision of students may also improve student’s overall wellbeing and contribute to a decrease in cyberbullying victimization as well.7, 12 Finally, programs should be considered that allow victims of cyberbullying to discuss their feelings in pro-social ways, which may then allow the victims to lower their tendencies to use cyber aggression as a coping mechanism. If schools are able to accurately identify and control traditional bullying, the frequency of cyberbullying incidents may also decrease.5 To reduce cyberbullying, which is sometimes a product of cyber aggression, schools should aim to identify traditional bullying incidents and address that behavior at school before it reaches the digital domain.


1 Agatston, P., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2012). Youth views on cyberbullying. Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives, 57-71.

2 Bhat, C. S. (2008). Cyber Bullying: Overview and Strategies for School Counsellors, Guidance Officers, and All School Personnel. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 18(01), 53-66.

3 Casas, J. A., Del Rey, R., & Ortega-Ruiz, R. (2013). Bullying and cyberbullying: Convergent and divergent predictor variables. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 580-587.

4 Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K. N. (2009). Sticks and stones can break my bones, but how can pixels hurt me? Students’ experiences with cyber-bullying. School Psychology International, 30(4), 383-402.

5 Cassidy, W., Faucher, C., & Jackson, M. (2013). Cyberbullying among youth: A comprehensive review of current international research and its implications and application to policy and practice. School Psychology International, 0143034313479697.

6 Cross, D., Shaw, T., Hearn, L., Epstein, M., Monks, H., Lester, L., & Thomas L. (2009). Australian covert bullying prevalence study (ACBPS). Retrieved from

7 Farrington, D., & Ttofi, M. (2009). School-based programs to reduce bullying and victimization: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 5(6).

8 Grigg, D. W. (2010). Cyber-Aggression: Definition and Concept of Cyberbullying. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 20(02), 143-156.

9 Hemphill, S. A., Tollit, M., Kotevski, A., & Heerde, J. A. (2014). Predictors of Traditional and Cyber-Bullying Victimization A Longitudinal Study of Australian Secondary School Students. Journal of interpersonal violence, 0886260514553636.

10 Olweus, D. (2012). Cyberbullying: An overrated phenomenon?. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(5), 520-538.

11 Pornari, C. D., & Wood, J. (2010). Peer and cyber aggression in secondary school students: The role of moral disengagement, hostile attribution bias, and outcome expectancies. Aggressive Behavior, 36(2), 81.

12 Rigby, K., & Griffiths, C. (2011). Addressing cases of bullying through the Method of Shared Concern. School Psychology International, 32(3), 345-357.

13 Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: Its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 49(4), p. 376. Tokunaga, R. S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in human behavior, 26(3), 277-287.

14 Tokunaga, R. S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in human behavior, 26(3), 277-287.

15 Violence Prevention Works! (2015). What is cyberbullying? Hazelden Publishing. Retrieved at:

16 Wright, M. F. (2014). Longitudinal investigation of the associations between adolescents’ popularity and cyber social behaviors. Journal of school violence,13(3), 291-314.

17 Wright, M. F., & Li, Y. (2012). Kicking the digital dog: a longitudinal investigation of young adults’ victimization and cyber-displaced aggression. Cyber-psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(9), 448-454.

18 Wright, M. F., & Li, Y. (2013). The association between cyber victimization and subsequent cyber aggression: The moderating effect of peer rejection. Journal of youth and adolescence, 42(5), 662-674.