Cyberbullying, much like its offline counterpart, is a vicious cycle, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Researchers polled more than 400 teens aged 16 to 19 about their experiences with cyberbullying, either as a bully or victim, in the past year. They not only found that 26 percent reported being regularly bullied, but 40 percent had been on both sides of the coin occasionally. Thirty-three percent reported no instances of cyberbullying in the past year, and a scant one percent said they were both heavily bullied and victimized others in turn.

“The lack of a clear bully group and the presence of the retaliator group strengthen the growing evidence base that young people may cyberbully others as a mechanism of retaliation when they are the victim of cyberbullying,” concluded the authors.

In many cases of drive-by bullying, explained lead author Dr. Lucy Betts, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, the bully is hoping to soothe their ego or otherwise prove themselves to everyone else.

"Young people may retaliate to reduce negative emotions associated with being a victim of cyberbullying, or to demonstrate to peers that they are not an easy target," she said, according to Medical Xpress.

The clandestine nature of the internet may also goad people typically wary of bullying into action, Betts added. "Cyberbullies can be anonymous to the consequences of their actions online, which isn't the case with face-to-face bullying.”

And though some research has shown that cyberbullying alone isn’t nearly as harmful as so-called regular bullying, it’s certainly more pervasive, Bett said. "Cyberbullying doesn't typically end with the school day, unlike face-to-face bullying, and the potential for constant connectedness also means it's harder for victims to escape their bully," Medical Xpress reported. 

By gaining a deeper understanding into the cycle of cyberbullying, Betts and her colleagues hope they and others can find ways to ultimately short-circuit it, such as by reaching out to recently victimized teens.

Source: Betts L, Gkimitzoudis A, Spenser K, et al. Examining The Roles Young People Fulfill In Five Types Of Cyber Bullying. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2016.