School bullying is widespread and has substantial social costs. One in five U.S. high school students report being bullied each school year and these students face greater risks of serious mental health challenges that extend into adulthood. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced most students into online education, many have worried that cyberbullying prevalence would grow dramatically. We use data from Google internet searches to examine changing bullying patterns as COVID-19 disrupted in-person schooling. Pre-pandemic historical patterns show that internet searches provide useful information about actual bullying behavior. Real-time data then shows that searches for school bullying and cyberbullying both dropped about 30-40 percent as schools shifted to remote learning in spring 2020. This drop is sustained through the fall and winter of the 2020-21 school year, though the gradual return to in-person instruction partially returns bullying searches to pre-pandemic levels. These results highlight how in-person interaction is an important mechanism underlying not only in-person school bullying, but also cyberbullying. We discuss how this otherwise damaging shock to students and schools provides insight into the mixed impact of the pandemic on student well-being.
COVID-19 pandemic, bullying, cyberbullying, Google Trends, internet search data
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