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HPHR Fellow Ryan Sutherland

By Ryan Sutherland

Cyberbullying: A Global Public Health Problem that Organizations like the Dahuni Foundation Aim to Address

Ryan Sutherland, MPH, and the Dahuni Foundation address cyberbullying, a global public health problem
Cyberbullying by Dragana Gordic,


 **All authors contributed equally to this publication


Riyani Indriyati is an educational consultant and founder of the Dahuni Foundation. She earned a master’s degree in public relations from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Texas A&M University – Commerce. She lives in Portugal and occasionally writes for The Jakarta Post.


Yanuar Wahyu Sari Budiasih is an education consultant for overseas study based in Solo, Indonesia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English education and is a master’s degree candidate in foreign language study at Beihang University. She manages the I2E project in the social media division.


Richa Nyaupane is an undergraduate student, currently in her third year studying a double Bachelors’ degree in Criminology and Cybersecurity at Deakin University. She is currently undertaking an internship with Dahuni Foundation, working with the ‘Insult to Empathy’ team in their initiative to combat cyberbullying and empower victims.


            Defined by the American Psychological Association as a “form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort,”1 bullying is a widespread social problem and represents an overlooked area of public health. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, “bullying behavior is a major public health problem that demands the concerted and coordinated time and attention of parents, educators and school administrators, health care providers, policy makers, families and others concerned with the care of children.”12


            Frequently, students report being bullied for religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, gender presentation, physical appearance, disability status, or sexual orientation.15 Bullying can lead to intense mental and physiological stress in victims, causing heightened feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and depression that can, in some cases, lead to suicide or contribute to high-risk activities such as drug use.


            Given that over 90% of tweens utilize social media and gaming apps, widespread use of social media and access to internet-connecting devices expose children to cyberbullying and cyber harm.6 Cyberbullying is defined as the “…willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” by the Cyberbullying Research Center.3


            Cyberbullying affects one in five students in America. International data closely mirrors this statistic with over 15% of children reporting experiences of cyberbullying and 35% reporting exposure to traditional bullying according to prevalence data excerpted from a meta-analysis that investigated this phenomenon globally.9 Ditch the Label, a prominent anti-bullying organization in the UK, demonstrated that 37% of users experienced cyberbullying on Facebook, 31% on Snapchat, and 42% on Instagram, while fewer cases were reported on YouTube (10%), WhatsApp (12%), and Twitter (9%).4


            Decreasing bullying by up to 25%, school-based prevention programs represent promising opportunities to affect change, but often fail to address cyberbullying since these behaviors frequently occur beyond school grounds.8 Education-focused non-profit organizations, such as the Dahuni Foundation, can serve a vital role in advocating for youth victims of cyberbullying and spearheading necessary educational prevention efforts to address this gap.


            Considering the widespread nature and serious mental and physical consequences that stem from cyberbullying, more needs to be done to address this global public health problem to protect youth.


The effects of cyberbullying on students


            Rapid technological growth and increased global  access to the cyber world have significant advantages but can simultaneously pose serious threats like exposing children to online abuse. Online abuse, or cyberbullying, can be even more severe than in-person bullying as a result of how quickly abusive and defamatory content can spread, the relentless 24/7 nature of online content production and engagement, and limited oversight. Cyberbullying is performed with the intent to electronically intimidate, harass, threaten, or inflict reputational harm. In an online setting, perpetrators can remain anonymous. Cyber bullying can happen to anyone, but poses the greatest threat to school-aged youth.


            It is reported that 30% of students in middle schools across the United States experienced cyberbullying and 18.3% of the bullies were someone the victims knew.5 Victims of cyberbullying reported heightened emotions, often complaining of excessive crying, feelings of embarrassment, depression, and insomnia, and contemplation of suicide.17 These side effects lead to decline in academic performance and absenteeism because victims do not feel safe attending school. Extending beyond their educational careers in grade school, cyberbullying in early childhood schooling can inflict lasting damage that can even affect children’s future career prospects. In certain cases, victims were driven to act on their suicidal ideation, ending their lives. Cyberbullying is a life-altering experience, damaging for victims, offenders and bystanders.


            To address this issue, our society needs to work together to end the cycle of cyberbullying. One way to do this is to initiate a global movement to educate students about the importance of confronting and reporting cyberbullying. Their lives could depend on it.


The link between student behavior on social media with cyber security


            The evolution of technology has created gaps in digital literacy among users, especially in regard to online social networking. Students and younger people who use social media applications who have lower levels of digital literacy may be at higher risk of victimization by online offenders.


            The complexity of cyberbullying behaviors observed on social media, by strangers and non-strangers alike, illustrates the reason for variation in methods used to respond to and prevent these behaviors. Cybersecurity measures, such as increasing the privacy settings of a social media account, can be beneficial in preventing and responding to cyberbullying from strangers. Studies have explored how secure technology can act as a ‘capable guardian’ in protecting users from potential online victimization.2 However, these methods are not as effective when online abuse occurs within a peer circle, which has been identified in Zilka’s 2018 study as a more common occurrence particularly in cases of cyberbullying.18


            Therefore, increasing children’s digital literacy and educating students about weighing the risks and benefits of social media interactions with a critical mindset can reduce the possibility of potential online victimization. This includes teaching students what content is acceptable to share, improving their knowledge of privacy settings, increasing the availability and nuance of cyber security technologies, and outlining steps victims can take when online harassment or victimization occurs.


The role of non-profit organizations in solving cyberbullying: The Dahuni Foundation, an Indonesian model


            The I2E (From Insult to Empathy and Empowerment) project, initiated and funded by the Dahuni Foundation, aims to prevent cyberbullying through education, encouraging victims to share their experiences with other students. The structure of the platform, whereby professional advice on appropriate actions to overcome cyberbullying is shared, allows for comprehensive solution-based learning opportunities built around students’ lived experiences.7


            I2E has tailored its cyberbullying approach to be culturally competent, fostering tools to withstand outside pressures.14 Improving resilience, focusing on students’ inner strength as a core value, can insulate students from cyberbullying, help them healthily navigate their online interactions, and build a sense of digital responsibility.5


            Among the countries in ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), the Philippines is the only country with cyberbullying laws specifically targeting students.13 In Indonesia, a country that lacks anti-bullying laws or consistent, enforceable policies and preventive strategies to address cyberbullying, teaching skills in empathy and resilience can be a feasible alternative in resource-limited settings.


            As the Dahuni Foundation has noted and seeks to address, it is vitally important to develop informational campaigns regarding one’s safety in the digital world and to raise awareness among students and parents about the possibility of digital harm. Improving school curricula to promote cyber wellness and implementing standardized laws on cyberbullying is the first important step for a long-term solution to educate children about the dangers of the digital world.16


            As a serious international public health crisis, more needs to be done to combat cyberbullying globally.



  1. American Psychological Association. (2020). Bullying.
  2. Choi, K.-S., Cho, S., & Lee, J. R. (2019). Impacts of online risky behaviors and cybersecurity management on cyberbullying and traditional bullying victimization among Korean youth: Application of cyber-routine activities theory with latent class analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 100, 2.
  3. Cyberbullying Research Center. (2021). What is cyberbullying?
  4. Ditch the Label. (2020, October 8). The Annual Bullying Survey 2017.
  5. Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2017). Cultivating youth resilience to prevent bullying and cyberbullying victimization. Child Abuse & Neglect, 73, 51-62.
  6. Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2020). Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center.
  7. Jaradat, A. (2017). Gender Differences in Bullying and Victimization among Early Adolescents in Jordan. PEOPLE: International Journal of Social Sciences, 3(3), pp. 440-451.
  8. McCallion, G., & Feder, J. (2013, November 5). Student bullying: Overview of research, Federal initiatives, and legal issues.
  9. Modecki, K. L., Minchin, J., Harbaugh, A. G., Guerra, N. G., & Runions, K. C. (2014). Bullying prevalence across contexts: A meta-analysis measuring cyber and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 55(5), 602-611.
  10. Pangrazio, L., & Gaibisso, L. C. (2020). Beyond cybersafety: The need to develop social media literacies in pre-teens. Digital Education Review, 37, 49–63.
  11. Patchin, Justin W. (2010). Cyberbullying and Self-Esteem. American School Health Association, 80, 614 – 621.
  12. Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice. (2020). Committee on the Biological and Psychosocial Effects of Peer Victimization: Lessons for Bullying Prevention. Board on Children, Youth, and Families; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Rivara F, Le Menestrel S, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US).
  13. Ruiz, R. M. N. M., (2019). Curbing Cyberbullying among Students: A Comparative Analysis of Existing Laws among Selected Asean Countries. PEOPLE: International Journal of Social Sciences, 4(3), 1285-1305.
  14. Safaria, T. (2016). Prevalence and Impact of Cyberbullying in a Sample of Indonesian Junior High School Students. TOJET: The Turkish Online Journal Technology, 15 (1), pp. 82-91.
  15. Seldin, M., & Yanez, C. (2019, July 16). Student reports of Bullying: Results from the 2017 School Crime supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education.
  16. UNICEF (2014). Study: Most Children in Indonesia are Online Now, But Many are Not Aware of Potential Risks. Retrieved from
  17. Watts L.K., Wagner J., Velasquez B. & Behrens P.I., Cyberbullying in higher education: A literature review, Computers in Human Behavior (2017), doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.038. Microsoft Word – cyber (
  18. Zilka, G. C. (2018). E-Safety in the Use of Social Networking Apps by Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning & Learning Objects, 14, 186.


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Ryan Sutherland, MPH, and the Dahuni Foundation address cyberbullying, a global public health problem

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