Amy Prevost and Petra Jonas

With the growth and popularity of social media applications, such as Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram, these platforms have become increasingly linked to cyber victimization, especially cyberbullying (Chan et al., 2021). It is the very nature of online social networking sites that provides opportunities for acts such as cyberbullying, since engaging and communicating online provides the ease of anonymity. This online anonymity facilitates the potential for victimization (King et al., 2007). Recent research by Longobardi et al. (2020) suggests that Instagram is associated with a heightened risk for cyber victimization, and that this association is correlated with one’s popularity online. Furthermore, a constant need for recognition and validation online may have negative consequences related to psychological well-being, including an increased risk for cyber victimization.

The most frequent forms of online victimization include cyberbullying, cyberstalking, violence and abuse in intimate relationships, sexting and grooming, sextortion, and online romance scams. In general, females who actively engage on social networking sites on a regular basis, are more likely to be victimized in comparison to their friends who report lower levels of online activity (Longobardi et al., 2020). A study by Hernandez et al. (2021) found that certain personality profiles among males and females contribute to the risk of sexting and grooming victimization. For males, it appears that a lack of empathy, extraversion, and disinhibition predict erotic online behaviour, while narcissism and disinhibition is more likely to predict such behaviour among females. Such forms of online victimization are related not only to depression, emotional distress, and sleep problems, but also suicidal thoughts and symptoms of post-traumatic stress (Gasso et al., 2019).

Given the increased knowledge of computer technology, users are more vulnerable to the sophisticated techniques and strategies used by cyber criminals to target and exploit their victims. Although the psychological and emotional consequences of cyber victimization are well documented (Urano et al., 2020), the criminal justice research on online victimization is still relatively new and focuses mainly on cyberbullying. More research is needed to understand how to mitigate the risk between social media use and cybercrime opportunities. Although cyberbullying has existed for some time, the rapid growth of new online communication platforms poses an increased risk. More research into understanding the link between how social media use and cybercrime prevention measures address online victimization is needed. To date, there is no direct Criminal Code provision for cyberbullying; however, there are certain provisions that address cyber victimization, such as criminal harassment, uttering threats, intimidation, and extortion. Given that such measures are potentially highly punitive, a more remedial restorative approach for young people could be beneficial in restoring the harm associated with online behaviours. It is evident that early exposure to online social networking sites increases the risk of vulnerability, which ultimately impacts well-being and potential risk of victimization. Therefore, such approaches could be useful for communities and schools in developing policies to successfully mitigate cyberbullying at an early age.

A study report released today by ICCLR explores the connection between Instagram use and six relevant themes related to overall well-being, including the potential for victimization.[1] The study reveals how Instagram use is correlated with escapism, frustration, fear of missing out (FOMO), need for validation, anxiety, addiction, and vulnerability to cyber victimization. Consistent with other studies in this area, the report indicate that regular Instagram use has negative psychological outcomes for individual users. The report offers some important implications and recommendations for early education, increased awareness about the potential for victimization, and early intervention strategies.

This study is now available on the ICCLR website:


Chan, T., Cheung, C., & Lee, Z. (2021). Cyberbullying on social networking sites: A literature review and future research directions. Information & Management, 58 (2).

Gasso, A., Klettke, B., Jose, A., and Montiel, I. (2019). Sexting, mental health, and victimization among adolescents: A literature review.  Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16 (13).

Hernandez, M., Schoeps, K., Magnato, C., and Inmaculada, M. (2021). The risk of sexual-erotic online behaviour – which personality factors predict sexting and grooming victimization? Computers in Human Behaviour, 114, January 2021, 106569.

King, J., Walpole, C., & Lamon, K., (2007). Surf and turf wars online: Growing implications of Internet gang violence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6).

Longobardi, C., Settani, M., Fabris, M.A., & Marengo, D. (2020). Follow or be followed: Exploring the links between Instagram popularity, social media addiction, cyber victimization and subjective happiness in Italian adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 113: 104955.

Urano, Y., Takizawa, R., Ohka, M., Yamasaki, H., & Shimoyama, H. (2020). Cyber bullying victimization and adolescent mental health: The differential moderating effects of intrapersonal and interpersonal emotional competence. Journal of Adolescence, 80: 182-191.

[1] Prevost, Amy & Jonas, Petra (2021). Plugged In: Problematic Instagram Use and Negative Outcomes. Vancouver: International Centre for Criminal Law Reform.

Photo by Benjamin Sow on Unsplash.

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