In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying for research and surveillance. The core elements of the definition include: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition. There are many different modes and types of bullying.
The current definition acknowledges two modes and four types by which youth can be bullied or can bully others. The two modes of bullying include direct (e.g., bullying that occurs in the presence of a targeted youth) and indirect (e.g., bullying not directly communicated to a targeted youth such as spreading rumors). In addition to these two modes, the four types of bullying include broad categories of physical, verbal, relational (e.g., efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and damage to property.
Bullying can happen in any number of places, contexts, or locations. Sometimes that place is online or through a cellphone. Bullying that occurs using technology (including but not limited to phones, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online posts) is considered electronic bullying and is viewed as a context or location.
Electronic bullying or cyberbullying involves primarily verbal aggression (e.g., threatening or harassing electronic communications) and relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors electronically). Electronic bullying or cyberbullying can also involve property damage resulting from electronic attacks that lead to the modification, dissemination, damage, or destruction of a youth’s privately stored electronic information.
Some bullying actions can fall into criminal categories, such as harassment, hazing, or assault.
Journalists and other content creators can use this definition to determine whether an incident they are covering is actually bullying. Media pieces often mistakenly use the word “bullying” to describe events such as one-time physical fights, online arguments, or incidents between adults. See more on related topics.