This is important, people, because we’ve heard the one-third-of-US-teens-have-been-cyberbullied figure a lot (I’ve shared it too), and it’s not in the best interests of online youth for the now-subsiding predator panic to suddenly now turn into a cyberbully panic. It’s not that the one-third figure, arrived at by two highly credible sources (Pew Internet & American Life and Profs. Patchin and Hinduja) is wrong, of course; it’s that “cyberbullying” really needs to be more clearly defined. Are all those kids actually bullied?
“In many cases, the concept of ‘bullying’ or ‘cyber-bullying’ may be inappropriate for online interpersonal offenses,” write researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC) in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “We suggest using ‘online harassment,’ with disclaimers that it does not constitute bullying unless it is part of or related to ofﬂine bullying. This would include incidents perpetrated by peers that occur entirely online, but arise from school-related events or relationships and have school-related consequences for targets.”
To understand more about online harassment and to what extent it could be bullying, the study’s authors – Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor – looked at “the characteristics of harassed youth, online harassment incidents, and distressing online harassment,” based on whether the harasser was someone known in real life or online only.
The authors found that “9% of youth were harassed online in the past year,” 43% of them by known peers and 57% by people they met online and did not know in person…. Most online harassment incidents did not appear to meet the standard deﬁnition of bullying used in school-based research and requiring aggression, repetition, and power imbalance.”
So, note those key characteristics of bullying to look for:
1) related to “real life”
2) not just aggression, but repeated aggression
3) a power imbalance.
“Only 25% of incidents by known peers and 21% by online-only contacts involved both repeated incidents and either distress to targets or adult intervention,” the authors found. Just looking at that first number, that’s 25% of the 43% of the 9% – a pretty small number of actual cyberbullying victims.
So when we see data showing large numbers of such victims, it’s good to be aware that they can include random and even mild incidents of harassment that don’t really cause stress – and could just be someone in a bad mood one afternoon who feels like acting out. “Cyberbullying” deserves to be taken with a grain of salt. In any case, teaching young people citizenship of both the real-life and digital sorts will help mitigate any behavior that falls into that large category.
[The CACRC article was published a year ago last August – apologies that I missed this one, probably because of overseas travel at that time.]