The development of computers, cell phones, and the Internet allows individuals to connect with one another with ease in a variety of ways in near real time. The beneficial impact of these resources, however, has been adulterated by some to engage in abusive communications while online. Specifically, individuals now use email, text messaging, and social networking sites to spread hurtful or malicious information about others. This entry summarizes the problem of online abuse via cyberbullying, online harassment, and stalking by discussing the prevalence of these phenomena as well as the prospective predictors of victimization.
Three primary areas of online abuse among juveniles and adults have been explored by researchers: bullying, harassment and stalking. The research community, however, has not established definitions that completely and clearly separate each form of offending from one another. Each form is interrelated as they all depend on email, instant messaging systems, and other technological resources. There is also conceptual overlap between bullying, harassment, and stalking because of the way in which victims may respond to the receipt of a message. One researcher may therefore define an act as harassment, while another may view the same behavior as bullying. These issues lead to complications in identifying those most likely to experience a specific form of online abuse. Some argue that juveniles are most likely to experience cyberbullying while only adults may experience harassment and stalking. As a consequence, the research literature is muddled due to competing and unclear definitions of relevant behaviors.
It is also important to note that sexual comments and imagery are not a requirement of cyberbullying, online harassment, or stalking (Bocij, 2004). Though sexually charged comments may be used by an individual to antagonize or harm a victim, no definition for any one of these forms of abuse incorporates sexuality. Additionally, child pornography and sexual victimization are defined and viewed differently from harassment and abuse by law enforcement and the research community (Wolack et al., 2006). Thus, it is important that individuals dispel the significance of sexual harm from online abuse. The following overview will explore each form of abuse and discuss researchers whose examinations of cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking provide significant insight into the prevalence of these forms as well as predictors of both offending and victimization.