What can be done about cyberbullying in the UK?

This report draws on qualitative research on the nature and impacts of cyberbullying, and what can be done to address it.
Child of about 10-13 years old sitting at a computer with headphones on.

About the study 

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), in partnership with City University and supported by the Anti-Bullying Alliance and The Diana Award, was commissioned by Ofcom to undertake qualitative research to explore the nature and impacts of cyberbullying. The research aimed to explore four primary research questions: 

  • What does cyberbullying look like among children?
  • What are the pathways for children being exposed to cyberbullying? 
  • What impacts does cyberbullying have on children? 
  • What works to address cyberbullying?


Across participant groups, cyberbullying was consistently described as negative behaviour that causes harm or upset, conducted through a screen or device anywhere online. Cyberbullying was reported as happening anywhere children interacted online, with several examples of social media sites, video sharing and gaming platforms provided.

Reasons as to why children might be cyberbullied varied and ranged from perceptions of difference between children to personal disagreements and relationship breakdowns. The extent to which participants suggested children were cyberbullied because of protected characteristics varied, with some reporting children to be commonly targeted because of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and/or special educational needs.

Participants identified a variety of platform functionalities as facilitators of cyberbullying. This included the ability to set up anonymous, fake, or multiple accounts; interactive features (such as comment and chat functionality); shareable content; and features that limited the extent to which evidence of bullying could be collected, such as time-limited posts. 

Cyberbullying was described as having wide-ranging negative impacts on children’s mental and physical health. Some school staff and youth practitioners also described cyberbullying as resulting in substance misuse, self-harm (including the onset of eating disorders), and suicidal ideation, as well as long term negative impacts on educational and employment outcomes, and children’s ability to avoid or disengage from unhealthy or unsafe relationships. 

Participants shared mixed views on the effectiveness of existing measures to mitigate and address cyberbullying, such blocking and reporting. Participants also provided a range of recommendations, including the provision of education and training; the enforcement of platform standards, monitoring, and accountability; greater restrictions on accounts set-ups; enforced age verification; and default highest privacy/security settings.


Three stages of research were undertaken:

  • One-to-one interviews with 10 youth practitioners with self-reported experience supporting children who had experienced cyberbullying.
  • Qualitative research in six secondary schools across England, Wales, and Scotland. This included paired or triad interviews with 14 members of secondary school staff, and 12 focus groups with 50 children (aged 12-16).
  • One-to-one interviews with 12 children with direct experience of cyberbullying in the past six months (aged 14-17).

Fieldwork took place between March and September 2023. School staff and youth practitioners were purposively sampled for diversity across the children they supported in terms of age, gender, special educational needs, and disability, and experience of being in care. Children who took part in focus groups and interviews were purposively sampled for diversity on the basis of age, gender, and ethnicity.