Bullying: Understand the Community’s Roles

When bullying or other problematic online or offline behaviors occur in a community, everyone in the community is involved, whether as participants, recipients, or witnesses—and often as some combination of the three. Developing a shared understanding of what bullying is and of the roles we commonly play in these situations can help all community members recognize them and, ultimately, choose roles that lead to the most positive possible outcomes.


In any bullying situation, a person or group purposely hurts, threatens, or intimidates another person or group. Online and offline bullying can overlap and may include the following:

Physical bullying, such as poking, pushing, hitting, and kicking; may include visual or audio recording and posting of such actions.

Verbal bullying, such as yelling, teasing, name-calling, insulting, and threatening to harm, whether in person, over the phone, over text, or via the Internet.

Indirect bullying, such as ignoring, excluding, spreading rumors, telling lies, and getting others to hurt someone.

Note: Almost any kind of bullying can be considered cyberbullying if it involves electronic media, as when someone sends or post hurtful, embarrassing, or threatening text or images electronically. The particular challenges of cyberbullying include the following:

  • Endless replicability: The cyberbully has a much wider audience. Through websites and the forwarding of email messages, the damage can be more far-reaching than most students realize.

  • Constant access: The target of cyberbullying often feels less able to escape the tormentor. The target may also—understandably—feel even more powerless, as they may not even know who the bully is.

  • Anonymity: The cyberbully can remain anonymous or impersonate others, thereby escaping identification.

  • The distance between the bully and consequences: The cyberbully may be much less aware of the consequences of his or her actions.

Bully: A person or group that uses physical, social, intellectual, or psychological power to hurt, threaten, or intimidate another person or group of people.

Victim: The person or group that is the recipient of the bully’s behavior.

Bystander: The person or group that observes or hears about bully’s behavior. There are two subgroups of bystanders:

  1. Active Bystanders support the bully with words, gestures, and actions.

  2. Passive Bystanders support the bully by doing nothing to interrupt the bullying.

Upstander: A person who decides to act to interrupt bullying. Upstanders may directly address the bully or go to tell someone else (such as a teacher). In many ways, this is another word for being socially responsible. For resources on how to support students in being upstanders, see http://www.schoolclimate.org/bullybust/.

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