The Psychology of a Cyberbully

Bad behavior runs roughshod throughout each corner of the Internet. That said, it doesn’t always rise to the level of cyberbully.

What is a cyberbully?

A cyberbully is not limited to schools and children. Its affect on business can be devastating.

To learn the psychology of a cyberbully is to know one when you see one. The following is an excerpt from the book Business Cyberbullies and How to Fight Back.


Dr. Michael Nuccitelli is a New York state licensed psychologist and certified forensic consultant with a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. He is a cyberbully, Internet safety, cybercrime, online predator, and forensic psychology educator and investigator. Nuccitelli founded iPredator Inc. ( in 2011 to provide a public resource to help reduce victimization from online assailants. 

Whether the perpetrator committed an act of cyberbullying, cyber libel, Internet trolling, or any other similar adverse behavior, Dr. Nuccitelli calls them all the same thing: an iPredator. 

On his website, the iPredator is described “as a person, group, or nation who, directly or indirectly, engages in exploitation, victimization, coercion, stalking, theft or disparagement of others using Information and Communications Technology. iPredators are driven by deviant fantasies, desires for power and control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, perceptual distortions, peer acceptance or personal financial gain. They can be any age or gender. They are not bound by economic status, race, religion, or national heritage.” 

An adult assailant is already developmentally matured and reached his or her formative milestones. The iPredator does not bully another adult to feel machismo or marianismo. A strong need for power and control drives them. A child bully’s motive is more about peer acceptance and recognition.   

An offender usually knows the target. The assailant benefits from what he or she does to the target. The bully might have a past relationship.  

“This is where we talk about adult bullying and where the lines get murky,” adds Nuccitelli, “because it is also cyber harassment. To me, it’s all the same. It’s online nonsense.” 

The doctor warns, “One thing you want to be careful of is the use of the term psychopath. Be mindful of how you use it. A psychopath has no guilt or shame. The vast majority of adult bullies are fueled by the target’s engagement, whereas a true psychopath is not affected by your reaction. He’ll change his strategies. He still may find joy in seeing you go crazy, but he has no affect.”  

Online psychopaths and the law

iPredopaths can be grandiose. They are habitually deceptive and have a much higher rate of engaging in violent, sadistic, and severely depraved behaviors than the general population. Predators are not always homicidal, sexually perverted, or overtly violent. They can be highly functioning, thus they are capable of being part of the political, religious, and corporate elite. They can also be community leaders. 

The veil of anonymity of cyberspace unlocks the proverbial Pandora’s box in all of us. We can be anyone we want to be and hide stealth in the background to watch those around us. 

Criminal deviant psychopathology should be re-profiled. 

“We grew up without information technology,” says Dr. Nucciteli, “now we are enveloped by it. We see how it envelopes us even more. It is so embarrassing to have my field of psychologists not take into consideration the information age.”  

When he first wrote iPredator, he took the concept to his peers. Their response was that the basis of his foundation was incorrect. They figured only the criminally deviant and the violently disturbed used information technology as tools for bullying. They did not take into account that cyberspace was a new dimension.   

On the Internet, your size, muscles, and strength have nothing to do with your venom. Passive aggression is the subtlety of communication. It is the capacity to use the spoken and written word. Women can be absolutely brilliant at it, so it is important to not assume an iPredator is male. 

This is the first time we have engaged in interpersonal exchange without using our five senses. The purpose of our five senses is self-preservation, procreation, and to carry on the species. In cyberspace, that’s all lost. 

It is within the eye of the beholder.

It is about the individual’s interpretation of what they see and read. What might offer a pleasing, stimulating conversation to one person, the other person in that communication may take it as a personal affront. The words are the same. What’s different is the interpretation. There is no voice inflection. It is left to each individual interpretation to extrapolate and make sense of it. 

Dr. Nuccitelli agrees that recognized individuals are not very good with advice on how to deal with a cyberbully tactic. Those who bully, harass, and stalk celebrities – part of their condition is to be accepted and recognized. “Whether someone is psychotic, psychopathic, or just an asshole, they have a strong need to be a part of the high profile person’s journey. They want to ride the coattails of that celebrity. There’s also a payoff to the knockdown. For celebrities, public figures, and those who are in the spotlight, they have the same themes as any person or business going through this. They just might have different circumstances.” 

You may not be Charlize Theron, but you could be the mayor of some small town in Wisconsin, the pastor of a church, or a well-known corporate leader in your state. Anybody who is a public figure or a leading figure has a much higher rate of being targeted. The iPredator is looking for power and control. They will go after someone who is already there in their eyes. 

We know if the recognized figure says something back, it makes them look like the bad guy. The iPredator wants to provoke the target to the point where they get a reaction. There are also stalkers of cyber stars who are the intimacy seekers. Non-famous people can have a similar experience. Stalkers are everywhere. It’s just a matter of who they decide to target next. They could choose their next victim based on their Facebook picture or their Twitter profile.   

In some instances, bullies might exhibit anti-social behavior. Some may commit other crimes, or may be addicted to substances, and have poor academic skills. ( The bottom line is a bully is angry. They could be upset with the target and want to make that person feel as much pain as they are feeling. The bully is mad at the world and seeks out the first person who has crossed their path. 

What cyberbullies do 

Brian Martin is the international director of Whistleblowers Australia and works at Wollongong University. In the February 2006 edition of The Whistle, a newsletter of Whistleblowers Australia, he described five commonly used methods that bullies use. (

  1. Cover up the deed. They are nice to your face but talk trash behind your back. 
  1. Denigrate the target. The intention is to discredit. If the target tries to fight or argue back, the bully uses that against them and as proof of why their action was necessary. 
  1. Reinterpret what happened. They could retell heresay and deny their intent to malign. Then they might laugh it off and tell others they were just kidding. 
  1. Use official channels to give the appearance of justice.  
  1. Intimidate opponents. The bully will threaten reprisal if the target tries to fight back. 
Types of actions that bullies take 

Internet revenge comes in all sorts of forms. Here are three common angles that some targets might experience: 

  • Accused of a scam 
  • Accused as being a rip-off 
  • Accused as a fraud 

The bully will wield his or her message using everything available, especially where the target is located, such as on certain social media platforms. They will focus on keywords to ensure that whenever someone Googles the target’s name, their ugly posts will show up.  

The bully might threaten the target physically, with hostile teasing, prey on the target’s emotional stability, and engage in outright harassment. 

There are 38 cyberbullying tactics culled by Dr. Nuccitelli.

While the list was initially compiled about child iPredators, these are exact behaviors that are done by adults. “Children are far more advanced in social media and information technology. Adults mimic what kids do to each other.” 

The online bully is “a person, group, or nation who directly or indirectly engages in exploitation, victimization, coercion, stalking, theft, or disparagement of others using information and communications technology.” 

Predators are driven by deviant fantasy, power, control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, distorted perceptions, peer acceptance, personal and financial gain. They can be any age, any gender, economic status, race, religion, or heritage. 

Cyberbullying tactics 
  • Exclusion: The iPredator targets a person’s need to feel accepted and be part of the social construct.   
  • Flaming: An online passionate argument that frequently includes profane and vulgar language in a public environment, such as discussion boards, groups, and chatrooms.  
  • Exposure: A public display, posting or forwarding of sensitive or sexual personal communication, images or video. 
  • eIntimidation: The iPredator wants to inspire fear by communicating threats. Fear can be implied or direct. 
  • Cyber harassment: The assailant sends hurtful, frequent, and serious messages worded in severe, persistent, and a pervasive manner that is negative and frequent. 
  • Phishing: A cyber attack to trick, persuade, or manipulate someone into revealing personal or financial information. 
  • Impersonation: The iPredator will make unpopular comments in the target’s name or set up websites with vitriolic information. 
  • Denigration:  The assailant sends, posts, publishes cruel rumors, gossip, and untrue statements in order to humiliate and disparage the target. 
  • Mobile device image sharing: Pornographic or graphic pictures are sent to everyone in the address book. 
  • Image/video dissemination: Non-consensual images and/or videos are emailed to peers or published on websites to humiliate or disparage the target. 
  • Interactive gaming harassment: The bully uses verbal abuse, threatening and profane language, locks others out of games, passes false information about others, and hacks into accounts. 
  • Porn and marketing list insertion: The iPredator signs the target up to numerous junk marketing or pornographic sites for emails and instant message lists. A target can receive hundreds, even thousands of messages a day. 
  • Cyberstalking: This can be the most dangerous of cyberbullying tactics. It will include threats of harm, intimidation, and offensive comments but with the threat or belief of an offline threat. 
  • Griefing: The cyberbully habitually and chronically causes frustration by not following rules of an interactive online video game, and intentionally disrupts the immersion of another player in their gameplay. 
  • Password theft and lockout: The iPredator steals a password and pretends to be the target. 
  • Web page assassination: The assailant creates websites that insult or endanger someone. 
  • Voting and polling booth degradation: In existing online polling/voting sites or a newly created website, a poll will be posted to allow others to vote for categories that will be highly embarrassing and depreciating to the target. The iPredator encourages groups to disparage a target. 
  • Bash boards: Negative and depreciating information is posted in online bulletin boards. 
  • Hoodwinking: This is similar to phishing where the target is tricked to divulge information, which then gets published in a negative way, rather than the way that was expected when the perpetrator sought for the information. 
  • Happy slapping: This integrates video and bullying, where the target is attacked or embarrassed in person. The moment is videotaped and then spread virally online. 
  • Text wars and attacks: The bully and accomplices gang up on the target by sending hundreds of emails and texts. 
  • Malicious code dissemination: A malicious code (via virus, spyware or hacking program) is sent to the target disguised in a link, photograph, video in order to damage or harm the target’s information technology communications.   
  • Warning wars: False allegations are sent to the target’s ISP about their posting inappropriate information – often enough to get the target’s account suspended. 
  • Screen name mirroring: The iPredator constructs a screen name similar to the target’s so as to appear as the target. 
  • Cyber drama: This is gossip that was not to be shared on a blog or flame war and it ends after a few messages – likely because the target was able to block it. This is a passive aggressive form of cyberbullying. 
  • Sexting: The iPredator distributes images or videos that are sexually explicit in nature or a sex themed message or image. 
  • Pseudonym stealth: The perpetrator is online when they might appear offline. Their identity is secret when they use messaging services. This could be done through a fake account. 
  • Instant message attacks: The iPredator uses instant messages to send harassing and threatening messages. 
  • Cyberbullying by proxy: The assailant encourages or persuades others to engage in depreciating and harassing the target. 
  • Social media cyberbullying: The assailant will contact the target’s friends or buddy lists to disseminate disparaging information. 
  • Digital piracy inclusion: The iPredator encourages the target to engage in digital piracy, such as illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material, then he or she reports it to authorities. 
  • Tragedy news mirroring: The assailant threatens a target that they will plan and engage in a violent activity directed at their school or community. 
  • Slut shaming: Images and videos of the target that can be construed as sexually provocative are recorded and published to induce shame. 
  • Cyber threats: This is a passive aggressive strategy of provoking fear by informing the target he or she is in danger from an unknown assailant.  
  • Trolling: The cyberbully disparages and harasses unidentified online users but may still know the identity of the target. 
  • Sextortion: A target is exploited for sex or sexually themed activities in exchange for not disclosing information that is embarrassing or humiliating. 
  • Twitter pooping: The cyberbully uses tweets to disparage and humiliate the target. 
  • Micro-visual cyberbullying: A short video clip is sent to traumatize the target. 

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