"I think it's a hard question to answer," says Robin Kowalski, a psychology professor at Clemson University who specializes in the study of cyberbullying.
There are a lot of factors, she points out: the age of your sample, the size of the sample, the technologies used, a whole list of variables.
That said, she believes bullies leave themselves more open to vigilantes than they may think. After all, the same impulses that allow for cyberbullying -- the anonymity, the lack of face-to-face contact -- also allow for cybervigilantes to exact revenge.
The two, she argues, aren't so different. Vigilantism, she says, "can be just another type of bullying."
In this day and age, a record of such abuse may linger. The Internet, after all, is forever -- though teenagers and young adults often don't realize that.
"How do you get a 13-year-old whose frontal lobe hasn't developed to the point where it can truly anticipate consequences, how do you get them to really understand that?" asks Kowalski.
She wishes that more people would follow in Tina Meier's footsteps.
"Rather than people attacking perpetrators online, I'd like them to invest that effort in trying to educate people in what bullying is, or cyberbullying is, and more productive ways to deal with it," she says.
Reaching out to others
Tammy Simpson puts the tension between bullying and vigilantism in even more basic terms: Two wrongs don't make a right.
Simpson (no relation to Kelly Simpson), a mother from Mount Pleasant Mills, Pa., lost her 14-year-old son Brandon Bitner to bullying in 2010. Brandon was a shy, artistic child who played violin (which prompted taunts of "sissy") and decided to adopt a goth look in high school, dyeing his hair and painting his fingernails black.
Outwardly, says Simpson, Brandon was generally fun and upbeat. It was only after he killed himself by stepping in front of a tractor-trailer -- he walked more than six miles in early morning darkness to do so -- that she found out about the "relentless" bullying he endured at school. He'd left a suicide note on his computer asking that his experiences not happen to anyone else, and his friends told Simpson what had been going on in school.
The message she has taken from his death, she says, is to reach out to others.
"From the day that Brandon died, I took it upon myself to go out wherever and speak, and I tell Brandon's story," she says. "And once I tell Brandon's story, people realize what happened was because he wasn't accepted. I just tell them acceptance is the key. It starts at home -- it starts with the parents -- but it can start with you. You can stop the cycle."
It's a hard point to get across, especially given the messages we get from entertainment, points out Patrice Oppliger, a professor at Boston University's College of Communication who studies portrayals of bullying in the media.
Even a movie about bullying, such as "Mean Girls," based on the book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman, ends up glamorizing bad behavior, she says.
The book, she points out, is a helpful guide to relationships between girls; the movie, on the other hand, showed "the positive side of being a mean girl," she says.
"I left the movie wanting to be a mean girl," she says. "Everybody was mean to each other. And there was this sort of fake resolution at the end, where the next group of 'plastics' came in. So this is going to be a never-ending circle."
There are moves to crack down on bullying and cyberbullying. Forty-nine states -- all but Montana -- now have laws against school bullying, says Clemson's Kowalski, and more than 35 have some kind of law against cyberbullying. Facebook and Twitter have instituted policies against abuse.
Moreover, there are more programs such as Meier's and Tammy Simpson's that educate students and parents about bullying and how to counter it.
Stopping bullying and vigilante reactions remain a challenge, however. Children and many adults lack impulse control, a huge flaw when dealing with the immediacy of the Internet. The Net itself is a wide-open place, full of opportunities for mischief in a way that one-on-one contact doesn't allow.
It's also hard for many people being bullied to talk to authority figures.
Kate MacHugh, who was bullied in high school, says she couldn't even talk to her parents, though her mother is a social worker and her father is a therapist. Schoolmates were spreading rumors that she had slept with the football team or sending messages she should kill herself, she recalls, but she was "embarrassed" to bring it up.
"I didn't know how to have that conversation with them," she says. "I wasn't emotionally mature enough to do that."