Archive for February, 2012


Posted on February 28th, 2012 by Dr Jean Healey

Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of abuse which has developed in light of the social networking revolution which allows access to and communication with a broad range of individuals and their private lives. The impact of the abuse is well-documented and the consequences have been devastating for an increasing number of individuals to date. Bullying has been shown to have the same impact as other forms of childhood abuse
(See Peer abuse as a legislated child protection issue for schools.)
1327-7634 VOL 10, NO 1, 2005, PP. 59-71
Young people have adopted social networking by ‘proxy’ as a replacement or supplement to social networking in person. To adults, teachers, parents and the community this is something of a concern. It was recently suggested that soon we will no longer need the local ‘park’ for young people to hang out together-they can now do it without leaving their home or bedroom and the company of their computer. Alarm bells must be sounded if this is the extent of social interaction for a young person, but as a means of meeting and communicating with others of similar age and interests, it may complement the real world of relationships. Gennaro and Dutton (2007) express concern for the social development of young people engaged in isolating internet usage, and suggest the activity may exacerbate anti-social behaviours.
Lenhart et al.(2010), state that in the USA, 73% of young people 12-17 used internet social networking sites in 2009 and this represents an increase from 58% in 2007. They also state that 82% of young people 14-17 and 55% of younger adolescents have a social networking profile page. Australia is a global leader in the use of SMS text messaging and mobile phones are the most common medium used here for cyber-bullying. (Dooley, et al. 2009)
Definitions of cyberbullying are closely linked to current definitions of other forms of bullying.Each refers to ongoing, repeated, deliberately harmful comments and statements which demean and offend the target individual. Both types of bullying represent abuse, not conflict as is often suggested. Indeed dealing with bullying as a matter of ‘conflict ‘ between two individuals denies the target of the bullying their due protections. It is interesting to note that in all the current literature no definition of either bullying or cyberbullying refers to conflict.Cyberbullying can become an extreme form of abusive behaviour having a serious and often permanent impact on the recipient individual.
Cyber-bullying is defined by Hinduja and Patchin (2010) as:
wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones (mobiles) and other electronic devices’
They add further that cyber-bullying refers to:
‘incidents where adolescents use technology,….to harass, threaten, humiliate or otherwise hassle peers’.
Dooley, et al. (2009) simply refer to cyber-bullying with reference to traditional definitions and add that it constitutes,
‘bullying in an electronic medium or via technology’
The similarity to other forms of peer abuse is obvious, however the major defining feature is the involvement of technology to frighten and abuse others. Other key components of the accepted definitions of bullying or peer abuse, are probably also relevant to cyber-bullying. These include intentional harm, repetition and power differences. (Healey 2011). Some analysts however, question this. Belsy (2004) omits reference to power differences in the definition he provided:
‘the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, intended to harm another’
This may indicate that the power differential is seen as negligible when the abuse is distant and impersonal. Also the social power status of the abuser may be less than that of the victim, but the anonymity and reach of the technology as a weapon for abuse invests the socially less-powerful individual with a greater degree of control and power than they usually receive. This is a new dimension in peer abuse or bullying which requires further scrutiny.
Further the criteria for ‘repeated’ abuse changes with the internet environment. If the image or message is posted only once, but the recipients and viewers are numerous, is this the same as repeated bullying? (Cross, et al., 2009). Kowalski, Limber & Agaston (2008) notes that the methodologies are varied and therefore impact may differ. Young people can use their personal profiles to vilify others, list people they don’t like and denigrate others; they can assume virtual personalities or use online game and chat rooms to spread rumours, exclude individuals and disseminate abuse and private information. To some extent the limits of the usual definitions of peer abuse become apparent with further analysis.
There are a number of salient factors which differentiate cyber-bullying from others forms of abuse, including the fact that the abuse can be undertaken anonymously. The bully can screen their identity by using anonymous email identities, pseudonyms and other internet veils. At least when bullying occurs in a social environment, the victim and others are witness to the abuse and may well initiate intervention. In some ways the internet facilitates the abuse but also changes the dynamics. The bully cannot see the immediate response of the victim, but may hear from others how upset they are. This style of secretive, sneaky abuse, which relieves the abuser of the immediate responsibility for upsetting the victim, suits the covert bully.
It is a major focus for educators and parents to provide the information necessary for young people to be protected, to be encouraged to be vigilant and to take responsibility for their postings. However, it is true to say that many teachers and parents do not feel they are as computer – and online – savvy as the young people they are trying to protect. For this reason, general messages about self-protective behaviours need to be reinforced beyond the computer, and the acceptance of responsibility in all phases of life and behaviour needs to be encouraged. This includes developing an awareness of the types of predatory behaviour that can eventuate from casual meetings online, and of course is relevant to the discussion about bullying in cyberspace.
For further discussion of cyber bullying see:
Dr. Jean Healey has extensively researched many aspects of bullying. You can download a FREE e-book here about cyberbullying. and find resources and information to assist in managing bullying. © Dr. Jean Healey, All rights reserved worldwide.