Online shaming is a form of public shaming in which targets are publicly humiliated on the internet, via social media platforms (e.g. Twitter or Facebook), or more localized media (e.g. email groups). As online shaming frequently involves exposing private information on the Internet, the ethics of public humiliation has been a source of debate over internet privacy and media ethics. Online shaming takes many forms, including call-outs, cancellation (cancel culture), doxing, negative reviews, and revenge porn.
Online shaming is a form of public shaming in which internet users are harassed, mocked, or bullied by other internet users online. This shaming may involve commenting directly to or about the shamed; the sharing of private messages; or the posting of private photos. Those being shamed are perceived to have committed a social transgression, and other internet users then use public exposure to shame the offender.
People have been shamed online for a variety of reasons, usually consisting of some form of social transgression such as posting offensive comments, posting offensive images or memes, online gossip, or lying. Those who are shamed online have not necessarily committed any social transgression, however. Online shaming may be used to get revenge (for example, in the form of revenge pornography), stalk, blackmail, or to threaten other internet users.
Privacy violation is a major issue in online shaming. Those being shamed may be denied the right to privacy and be subject to defamation. David Furlow, chairman of the Media, Privacy and Defamation Committee of the American Bar Association, has identified the potential privacy concerns raised by websites facilitating the distribution of information that is not part of the public record (documents filed with a government agency) and has said that such websites "just [give] a forum to people whose statements may not reflect truth."
Call-outs and cancellation
Cancel culture or call-out culture describes a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – either online on social media, in the real world, or both. They are said to be "canceled". Merriam-Webster defines cancel as "to stop giving support to that person", and dictionary.com defines it as "calling out the bad behavior, boycotting their work (such as by not watching their movies or listening to their music), and trying to take away their public platform and power". Lisa Nakamura, professor of media studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, defines cancelling as simply a "cultural boycott" in which the act of depriving someone of attention deprives them of their livelihood.
The notion of cancel culture is a variant on the term "call-out culture", and constitutes a form of boycott involving an individual (usually a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner.
Doxing involves researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual, often with the intention of harming that person. This information may include the person's home address, workplace or school, full name, spouses, credit card information, and phone number. 
Non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit material in order to humiliate a person, frequently distributed by computer hackers or ex-partners. Images and video of sexual acts are often combined with doxing of a person's private details, such as their home addresses and workplaces. In some jurisdictions, revenge porn is a criminal offense.
Social status shaming
Social status shaming is a form of online shaming that involves bullying others online due to their socioeconomic status. This phenomenon is centered around using someone's income, social status, health, and influence to subject them certain types of bullying and online criticism. It is often utilized as a vessel for social control among classes, and has been regarded as one of the most effective models in which to examine social status and its influence on controlling those below oneself. In the digital world we live in, there is a social standard that people fall into and try to mimic. Thus, social status shaming is a form of social exclusion, where if someone isn't as rich as another, then that person will be subjected to some form of bullying and criticism in order for them to retain social control over the poorer person.
Ashley Madison data breach
In July 2015, a group hacked the user data of Ashley Madison, a commercial dating website marketed as helping people have extramarital affairs. In August 2015, over 30 million user account details; including names and email addresses were released publicly.
Clinical psychologists argued that dealing with an affair in a particularly public way increases the hurt for spouses and children. Carolyn Gregoire argued "[s]ocial media has created an aggressive culture of public shaming in which individuals take it upon themselves to inflict psychological damage" and more often than not, "the punishment goes beyond the scope of the crime." Charles J. Orlando, who had joined the site to conduct research concerning women who cheat, said he felt users of the site were anxious the release of sexually explicit messages would humiliate their spouses and children. He wrote it is alarming "the mob that is the Internet is more than willing to serve as judge, jury, and executioner" and members of the site "don't deserve a flogging in the virtual town square with millions of onlookers."
Tim Hunt controversy
In 2015, the Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt was involved in a highly publicized controversy at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in Seoul. At a lunch for female journalists and scientists, Hunt gave a speech at short notice which was later recounted by an unnamed EU official:
It's strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls? Now, seriously, I'm impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without a doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.
In the audience were science journalists Connie St Louis, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky, who found Hunt's remarks highly inappropriate. They decided to publicize his remarks on Twitter, giving St Louis the task of writing a short text to be tweeted and corroborated by the other two. The tweet cast the remarks in starkly sexist terms, declared that Hunt had "utterly ruined" the luncheon, and gave no indication that he had been joking.
St Louis's tweet went viral, setting off what The Observer described as a "particularly vicious social media campaign." The Royal Society quickly distanced itself from Hunt's comments as reported and emphasized its commitment to equality in the sciences. To ridicule the "sexist scientist", the online feminist magazine Vagenda urged female scientists to post mundane pictures of themselves at work under the hashtag "#distractinglysexy".
Two days after the speech, Hunt gave a radio interview saying "I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that I have fallen in love with people in the lab, and that people in the lab have fallen in love with me, and it's very disruptive to the science. It's terribly important that, in the lab, people are on a level playing field. And I found these emotional entanglements made life very difficult. I mean, I'm really, really sorry that I caused any offense – that's awful. I certainly didn't mean – I just meant to be honest, actually." Hunt went on to say "I'm very sorry if people took offense. I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings."
Numerous media outlets reported on the incident and the interview, citing portions of Hunt's original remarks and criticizing them as sexist. The editors of Nature called on "all involved in science [to] condemn the comments", which they took as a seriously intended suggestion "that single-sex labs might be preferable". Hunt felt he had made it clear he was joking because he had included the phrase "now seriously" in his statement. The reconstruction of his words by an unnamed EU official corroborated the inclusion of these words.
On June 10 Hunt resigned from his position as an honorary professor with the University College London's Faculty of Life Sciences and from the Royal Society's Biological Sciences Awards Committee. Hunt's wife, immunologist Mary Collins, had been told by a senior [at UCL] that Hunt "had to resign immediately or be sacked". He was consequently required to step down from the science committee of the European Research Council.
Jonathan Dimbleby resigned from an honorary fellowship at UCL in protest at its treatment of Hunt. Also, author and journalist Jeremy Hornsby wrote University College London out of his will in protest, leaving it "about £100,000 worse off".
At least 8 Nobel prizewinning scientists and 21 honorary fellows had criticized the treatment of Hunt following his resignation. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist expressed similar indignation. A few scientists, such as Hunt's co-Nobelist, Paul Nurse, were critical of Hunt's conduct and said that his resignation was warranted.
Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, speaking to the BBC, described Hunt's comments as "careless", adding that it is "hard to find Sir Tim's comments funny if you've been held back by systemic bias for years – whether those remarks were intended as a joke or not".
In a letter to The Times a group of 29 staff scientists, students and postdoctoral fellows, both male and female, who had worked with Hunt, wrote in support of his character. They described how his help had been "instrumental in the advancement of many other women and men in science beyond those in his own lab" and how he had "actively encouraged an interest in science in schoolchildren and young scientists, arranging for work experience and summer students of both genders to get their first taste of research in his lab". They urged the ERC and UCL to "reconsider their rush to judgment".
Hunt had been scheduled to appear later in June at the 2015 Lindau Meeting but it was decided that his presence would be a distraction for the rest of the panel. His case was discussed, however, at a panel on science communication as a possible example of "communications overkill".
Paul Nurse, head of the Royal Society, who shared the 2001 Nobel prize in medicine with Hunt, while stressing his esteem for Hunt as a person, originally stated that Hunt had said "some stupid things which cannot be supported and they had to be condemned" and that the affair had been bad for science and for the Royal Society in particular, adding that the discussion had "become totally polarized with extreme views on both sides". In a later statement, Nurse described the response to Hunt's comments as "a twitter and media storm, completely out of proportion", adding that "he should never have been sacked by University College London".
For his part, Hunt has distanced himself from the controversy, commenting that he had been "turned into a straw man that one lot loves to love and the other lot loves to hate and then they just take up sides and hurled utterly vile abuse at everyone".
In November 2014, while giving a televised status update on the Rosetta space craft, Matt Taylor wore a shirt depicting scantily-clad cartoon women with firearms made by his friend, a female artist. Taylor's decision to wear the shirt to a press conference drew criticism from a number of commentators, who saw a reflection of a culture where women are unwelcome in scientific fields (see gender inequality). Others, including Boris Johnson, Julie Bindel and Tim Stanley, made arguments against this criticism. The woman who made the shirt for Taylor as a birthday present stated that she "did not expect" the shirt to attract the level of attention that it did. Taylor later made a public apology, saying: "The shirt I wore this week – I made a big mistake, and I offended many people. And I'm very sorry about this". Some writers expressed appreciation for Taylor's apology. A campaign was set up on the crowdfund website Indiegogo, with the objective of raising $3,000 to buy Taylor a gift, as a token of the public's appreciation for the work that he and the team had done. The campaign raised a total of $24,003, of which $23,000 was donated to UNAWE at Taylor's request, the remainder going towards a plaque commemorating the mission.
Justine Sacco incident
In December 2013, Justine Sacco, a woman with 170 Twitter followers, tweeted acerbic jokes during a plane trip from New York to Cape Town, such as "'Weird German Dude: You're in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.' — Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals." and, in Heathrow; "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just Kidding. I'm white!" Sacco, a South African herself, claimed that she intended the tweet to mock American ignorance of South Africa, and in a later interview expressed that her intention was to "mimic—and mock what an actual racist, ignorant person would say." Sacco slept during her 11-hour plane trip, and woke up to find out that she had lost her job and was the number-one Twitter topic worldwide, with celebrities and new media bloggers all over the globe denouncing her and encouraging all their followers to do the same. Sacco's employer, New York internet firm IAC, declared that she had lost her job as Director of Corporate Communications. People began tweeting "Has Justine landed yet?", expressing schadenfreude at the loss of her career. Sam Biddle, the Gawker Media blogger who promoted the #HasJustineLandedYet hashtag, later apologised for his role, admitting that he did so for Internet traffic to his blog, and noting that "it's easy and thrilling to hate a stranger online."
According to journalist Jon Ronson, the public does not understand that a vigilante campaign of public shaming, undertaken with the ostensible intention of defending the underdog, may create a mob mentality capable of destroying the lives and careers of the public figures singled out for shaming. Ronson argued that in the early days of Twitter, people used the platform to share intimate details of their lives, and not as a vehicle of shaming. Brooke Gladstone argued that the Sacco affair may deter people from expressing themselves online due to a fear of being misinterpreted. Kelly McBride argues that journalists play a key role in expanding the shame and humiliation of targets of the campaigns by relaying claims to a larger audience, while justifying their actions as simply documenting an event in an impartial manner. She writes: "Because of the mob mentality that accompanies public shaming events, often there is very little information about the target, sometimes only a single tweet. Yet there is a presumption of guilt and swift move toward justice, with no process for ascertaining facts." McBride further notes, "If newspapers ran front-page photos of adulterers in the Middle East being stripped naked and whipped in order to further their shame, we would criticize them as part of a backward system of justice." Ben Adler compared the Sacco incident to a number of Twitter hoaxes, and argued that the media needs to be more careful to fact-check articles and evaluate context.
Adria Richards incident
In March 2013, at a PyCon technology conference, a female participant named Adria Richards took offense at a private discussion between two male attendees seated nearby using the words "dongle" and "forking" in reference to the male presenter, which she perceived as a sexual joke (see sexual innuendo). Richards photographed the attendees with their faces visible, then published the photograph on Twitter including a shaming statement in her tweet. The following day, the employer of one of the photographed individuals, a software developer, terminated his employment because of the joke.
In response to Richards' public shaming of the developers, Internet users who were uninvolved launched a DDoS Attack on her employer, SendGrid, and according to an article by Jon Ronson in The New York Times Magazine "told the employer the attacks would stop if Richards was fired". SendGrid subsequently terminated her employment later the same day citing Richards' dividing the very community she was hired to unite, and the male anatomy joke she had posted a few days earlier on the employer website. Following the incident, PyCon updated its attendee rules stating, "Public shaming can be counter-productive to building a strong community. PyCon does not condone nor participate in such actions out of respect."
In a 2014 interview, Richards—still unemployed—speculated whether the developer was responsible for instigating the Internet backlash against her. The developer, who was offered a new job "right away", said he had not engaged with those who sent him messages of support, and had posted a short statement on Hacker News the same night after he was fired saying in part that Richards had "every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position".
Australian racist bus passengers incident
In November 2012, an Australian man filmed several passengers on a Melbourne bus verbally abusing and threatening a woman who had begun singing a song in French. A video alerting viewers of their racist and sexist comments was uploaded to YouTube and quickly attracted national and international media attention. The two male perpetrators who were most prominent in the video were later jailed, with Magistrate Jennifer Goldsbrough describing their threats as "offensive to the entire population".
Conduct on public transportation
Starting as a turn of phrase, man-spreading is a critique of men who take up more than one seat with their legs widely spread. The controversy surrounding man-spreading have been described by libertarian feminist Cathy Young as "pseudo feminism—preoccupied with male misbehavior, no matter how trivial". The practice of posting pictures of man-spreading taken on subways, buses, and other modes of transportation online has been described as a form of public shaming.
Hypatia transracialism controversy
The feminist philosophy journal Hypatia became involved in a dispute in April 2017 that led to the online shaming of one of its authors. The journal published an article about transracialism by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy, comparing the situation of Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman, to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identifies as black. The article was criticized on Facebook and Twitter as a source of "epistemic violence", and the author became the subject of personal attacks. Academics associated with Hypatia joined in the criticism. A member of the journal's editorial board became the point of contact for an open letter demanding that the article be retracted, and the journal's board of associate editors issued an unauthorized apology, saying the article should never have been published. Rogers Brubaker described the episode in the New York Times as an example of "internet shaming".
YouTube cat abuse incident
In February 2009, an incident occurred involving the posting on YouTube of a video clip in which a domestic cat, named Dusty, was beaten and tortured by a 14-year-old boy. After about 30,000 viewings, this clip and the account were removed by YouTube as a violation of their terms of service. Posters from the imageboard 4chan investigated the incident, and by extrapolating from the poster's YouTube user name and the background in the video, they identified the abuser. As a result of these complaints, the Comanche County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident, and two suspects were arrested. Dusty survived the abuse, and was placed in the care of a local veterinarian. Both the assailant and the cameraman were charged with animal cruelty; as both were juveniles, possible punishments included "psychological counseling, court monitoring until they turn 18, community service to provide restitution for treatment of animals, and/or placement in court custody."
The Kitten Killer of Hangzhou
In 2006, Wang-Jue (simplified Chinese: 王珏; traditional Chinese: 王玨; pinyin: Wáng-Jué), a Chinese nurse appearing in an Internet crush video stomping a kitten with her stilettos, gave herself up to authorities after bloggers and some print media started a campaign to trace back the recording. Initially, she was labeled as the kitten killer of Hangzhou, because it was believed she was from there; but she was soon determined to be from an island in northern Heilongjiang. Upon discovery of her identity, Wang Jue received death threats from many angry animal lovers.
Wang posted an apology on the Luobei city government official website. She said she was recently divorced and did not know what to do with her life. She and the cameraman, a provincial TV employee, lost their jobs when their identities were discovered.
Cat dumped in wheelie bin
In August 2010, a passer-by in Coventry, England, later identified as Mary Bale by 4chan posters, was caught on a private security camera stroking a cat, named Lola, then looking around and dumping her in a wheelie bin, where she was found by her owners 15 hours later. The owners posted the video on the Internet in a bid to identify the woman, who was later interviewed by the RSPCA about her conduct. Outrage was sparked among animal lovers, and a Facebook group called "Death to Mary Bale" was created, and later removed. Police said they were speaking to the 45-year-old about her personal safety.
The woman, who at first downplayed her actions ("I thought it would be funny", "it's just a cat" and "didn't see what all the buzz was about") eventually apologized "profusely for the upset and distress".
Bale was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 with causing unnecessary suffering to a cat. An additional charge of failing to provide the cat with a suitable environment was dropped. She was fined £250 and ordered to pay costs, totaling £1,436.04.
In 2010, a case was publicized involving a young female from Sichuan, using the alias Huang siu siu (黄小小), torturing and crushing rabbits. The group that financially sponsored the making of these videos, later revealed to be called "Crushfetish", paid young girls to crush fish, insects, rabbits and other small animals. The girl was paid 100 yuan for each attempt, and she had been participating since 2007. Police said the group makes videos to sell overseas, and the company has allegedly made 279 animal abuse videos with a subscription fee. Because of the concurrent hosting of the 2010 Asian Games, the animal videos were limited to being hosted online for a few hours a day.
Goblin Valley rock-toppling incident
In October 2013, a delicately balanced hoodoo in Goblin Valley State Park was intentionally knocked over by Boy Scout leaders who had been camping in the area. David Benjamin Hall captured video and shouted encouragement while Glenn Tuck Taylor toppled the formation. They posted the video to Facebook, whereupon it was viewed by thousands and the two men began receiving death threats. Their claim that the hoodoo appeared unstable, and that they vandalized it out of concern for passersby, was rejected by Fred Hayes, director of the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation. Hall and Taylor were expelled from Boy Scouts and charged with third-degree felonies, ultimately pleading guilty to lesser charges of misdemeanor criminal mischief.
China's Watch Brother Incident
On August 26, 2012, Yang Dacai, chief of the Shanxi provincial work safety administration, was caught grinning widely amid the wreckage of a long-distance bus that killed 36 passengers when it collided with a tanker loaded with highly flammable methanol on a Chinese highway in Shanxi. Pictures of the accident began to circulate on Sina Weibo, the most popular micro-blogging site in China which led to a meme dubbing him as the "Smiling Brother". Searches on the human flesh search engine followed leading to pictures surfacing on Weibo, showing Yang wearing luxury watches such as a $10,000 Rolex initiating another meme calling him "Watch Brother". On September 21, Yang was relieved of his position and accused of serious discipline violations. He was subsequently jailed for 14 years after being found guilty of taking bribes.
Dog Poop Girl
In 2005 in South Korea, bloggers targeted a woman who refused to clean up when her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul subway car, labeling her "Dog Poop Girl" (rough translation of Korean: "개똥녀" into English). Another commuter had taken a photograph of the woman and her dog, and posted it on a popular South Korean website. Within days, she had been identified by Internet vigilantes, and much of her personal information was leaked onto the Internet in an attempt to punish her for the offense. The story received mainstream attention when it was widely reported in South Korean media. The public humiliation led the woman to drop out of her university, according to reports.
The reaction by the South Korean public to the incident prompted several newspapers in South Korea to run editorials voicing concern over Internet vigilantism. One paper quoted Daniel Solove as saying that the woman was the victim of a "cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital Scarlet Letters." Another called it an "Internet witch-hunt," and went on to say that "the Internet is turning the whole society into a kangaroo court."
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
In 2008, a 5-year-old girl asked to use the bathroom at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at Bella Terra/Huntington Beach, but was disallowed from using it because the Factory's restrooms were for employees only. The girl's mother describes the incident this way: "I explained she had diarrhea and couldn't hold it and told [the store owners] she was about to go on the floor. They refused again and never offered me any alternatives. I begged them to have a heart and that she was 5 but by that time she had lost it all over herself and me." The story then spread to sites like digg.com where contact information for the owner of the store was released in message boards.
Zhang Ya and Sichuan earthquake
In 2008, a girl called Zhang Ya (simplified Chinese: 张雅; traditional Chinese: 張雅; pinyin: Zhāng Yǎ) from Liaoning, Northeast China, posted a 4-minute video of herself complaining about the amount of attention the Sichuan earthquake victims were receiving on television. An intense response from Internet vigilantes resulted in the girl's personal details (even including her blood type) being made available online, as well as dozens of abusive video responses on Chinese websites and blogs. The girl was taken into police custody for three days as protection from vigilante death threats.
Stephen Fowler and Wife Swap
Stephen Fowler, a British expatriate and venture capitalist businessman, gained notoriety after his performance on ABC's Wife Swap (originally aired Friday January 30, 2009) when his wife exchanged positions in his family with a woman from Missouri for a two-week period. In response to her rule changes (standard procedure for the second week in the show) he insulted his guest and, in doing so, groups including the lower classes, soldiers, and the overweight. Several websites were made in protest against his behavior. After the show, and after watching the Wife Swap video, his wife, a professional life coach, reported that she had encouraged him to attend professional behavior counseling. Businesses with only tangential connection to Fowler publicly disclaimed any association with him due to the negative publicity. He resigned positions on the boards of two environmental charities to avoid attracting negative press.
Cyclist abuser incident
In 2008, video of Patrick Pogan, a rookie police officer, body-slamming Christopher Long, a cyclist, surfaced on the Internet. The altercation happened when members of Critical Mass conducted a bicycling advocacy event at Times Square. The officer claimed the cyclist had veered into him, and so the biker was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The charges against the cyclist were later dropped and Pogan was convicted of lying about the confrontation with the cyclist.
Vigilante group targets mother
In 2009, a Facebook group was started, accusing a single mother for the death of a 13-month-old child in her foster care. It was the mother's then common-law husband who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the mother was not formally accused of any wrongdoing. However, the members of the group, such as the boy's biological mother, accuse her of knowing what was going on and doing nothing to stop it.
Cooks Source incident
The food magazine Cooks Source printed an article by Monica Gaudio without her permission in their October 2010 issue. Learning of the copyright violation, Gaudio emailed Judith Griggs, managing editor of Cooks Source Magazine, requesting that the magazine both apologize and also donate $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism as payment for using her work. Instead she received a very unapologetic letter stating that she (Griggs) herself should be thanked for making the piece better and that Gaudio should be glad that she didn't give someone else credit for writing the article. During the ensuing public outcry, online vigilantes took it upon themselves to avenge Gaudio. The Cooks Source Facebook page was flooded with thousands of contemptuous comments, forcing the magazine's staff to create new pages in an attempt to escape the protest and accuse 'hackers' of taking control of the original page. The magazine's website was stripped of all content by the staff and shut down a week later.
Bullied bus monitor Karen Klein
In June 2012, an elderly bus monitor, Karen Klein, was taunted, picked on, and threatened by four seventh-graders. The act was caught on video and uploaded to the Internet which in turn caused an act of kindness from complete strangers. $703,833 was raised for Klein in donations from concerned strangers who were outraged after viewing a video that captured her torment.
Christopher Hermelin incident
In 2014, writer Christopher Hermelin took to the streets of New York with an old-fashioned typewriter, aiming to improve his skills by producing stories for passersby. A picture of Hermelin, sitting on a park bench with the typewriter on his lap, was soon taken and posted to Tumblr. Captioned "you're not a real hipster until you've taken your typewriter to New York", the picture quickly went viral. Hermelin has since been labelled the "Hipster Typist", becoming the target of much online mockery and abuse.
Senior solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk and junior barrister Charlotte Proudman
In 2015, a junior barrister, Charlotte Proudman, working in the UK tweeted a screenshot of her LinkedIn exchange with Alexander Carter-Silk, a senior City solicitor, rebuking him for complimenting her on her profile photograph. The social media backlash included Proudman finding herself condemned as a "feminazi".
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- The Outrage Machine: a short documentary by Retro Report that looks at the origin of Internet shaming and what it feels like to be caught up in a case of online shaming gone viral.
- Cyberbullying Reports: an online community dedicated to exposing cyberbullying.