Featured article

Modern world abuse: Cyberbullying research and what should be done next

We take a closer look into the world of technological abuse with futuristic suggestions.

By Amanda L. Maybaum, MA

Technological abuse has become a continually flourishing epidemic, especially at the fingertips of 21 st -century adolescents. The use of social networking, instant messaging, and blogs have developed into more prevalent tools for communication over telephonic or face-to-face interactions. Despite the conceptual confusion arrested by multiple definitions of cyberbullying, it has been implied that there is a consensus about what traditional bullying is, and that these characteristics can be applied to bullying by means of technological devices and cyberspace. However, it is also evident that there are differences between traditional bullying and cyberbullying. What is ascertained is that cyberbullying is the intentional and repetitive use of negative, or aggressive, behavior directed at another individual through a technological medium (Nuccitelli 2013) (Smith & Slonje 2007). Cyberbullying can occur through a plethora of mainstream technologies such as: social networking websites, Internet chat rooms, text message, as well as via email. Cyberbullies may directly threaten and/or harass a victim; send messages to others about an individual (including images and videos) or may gain control of the victim's life by hacking into their computer. Definitions of cyberbullying embody key elements such as: the intent to harm, repetitive behavior, as well as the use of technology. There are many tactics cyberbullies use in order to harm their prey, and the strategies they employ become more pervasive as technology advances.

The existing literature on cyberbullying is lacking due to the inexperience society has with the Internet. To date, there is limited research on specific characteristics of individuals who are labeled as cyberbullies. The profiles of those who are cyber bullies may be comparable to those of schoolyard bullies, however, there are also distinguishing characteristics to cyberbullies. Furthermore, existing studies tend to focus on the relationships between age, gender, Internet use and involvement in bullying. With that said, there is not a coherent analysis on the age or gender differences. What is acknowledged is that cyberbullying drives among all school-aged youth. With gender, age, and psychosocial characteristics all tied together, a profile for a cyberbully has yet to be established. Currently there is an abundant amount of literature on victims of cyberbullying including: case studies of cyberbullying, as well as safety guides for parents and educators. However, there is scarce information on characteristics, warning signs, as well as intervention plans for cyberbullies. Those who play major roles in the future of cyberbullying are educators, law enforcement, parents, and school psychologists. Due to the nature of electronic communication, it is paramount to discuss why cyberbullying has become so prevalent. Despite the fact the Internet is twenty-three years old, society is only recently beginning to comprehend the exploitation of the Internet as it pertains to the subject. It is the responsibility of our generation currently in school to continue to research cyberbullying because they are the ones experiencing it on a personal level. Once the populace is current with the impact that cyberbullying has on its victims, the judicial courts and educational systems can become up to date on their laws and policies surrounding this phenomenon.

Due to the First Amendment rights, it is not illegal to utilize “textual communication to mistreat, harass, or tease others, except for cases specifically defined as cyberstalking” (Hinduja & Patchin 2008). Therefore, it is challenging for law enforcement to get involved and take action unless ones life and/or personal safety have been threatened. In some special circumstances, laws will be enforced when a legal construct can be applied, such as harassment and stalking. However, it is very rare that any legal actions are taken upon those who partake in bullying or cause one to commit suicide due to bullying. Currently there are very few states with laws against cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin 2013). With that said, all states have laws against bullying. Therefore, there is hope that laws and policies will update once lawmakers are aware of the severe repercussions cyberbullying may generate.

After thoroughly researching information on cyberbullying and youth offenders, it appears as though the information available is lacking and studies conducted have had significant limitations. The most notable limitation is the methodology used in order to collect data. Through online survey, it is not possible to assume the surveys are completed accurately; therefore the use of controlled samples would be best. There is a vast amount of research on approaches to treatment when an individual has been cyberbullied. This research discusses common warning signs of victimization as well as reasons why one may have been targeted. Still, cyberbullying is unfortunately difficult to study and observe due to its intangible nature. Most research is primarily conducted using quantitative research such as the use of surveys. It would benefit future researchers to take a more in-depth look into cyberbullying through qualitative measures. These measures may include in-depth interviews as well as longitudinal studies on participant observation. Studies, such as the aforementioned, allow researchers to thoroughly grasp all perspectives of those who have succumbed to forms of cyberbullying. It is also recommended that future research focus on youths who are labeled as cyber-bullies. Being able to understand more about the individual mindset of a cyberbully may help in future prevention. There could be possible links between caregiver-child relationships, psychosocial challenges, specific characteristics, Internet and mobile use, and delinquency. There is also no literature on the role of bystanders in a cyber bully world. Most tactics of cyberbullies are conducted on social media and open forums for others to see, therefore, a bystander is a passive participant who recognizes the cyber abuse but does not do anything about it out of fear of becoming a target. The phenomenon of being a bystander in a cyber world is unknown and therefore needs more research. Understanding all of these aspects and how they relate to cyberbullying will be a primary step in building a foundation for a profile on online aggressors. This preliminary work will also create avenues for future interventions to be planned and executed.

References

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2008). Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization, Deviant Behavior , 29:2, 129-156. doi: 10.1080/01639620701457816

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2013) http://www.cyberbullying.us/Bullying_and_Cyberbullying_Laws.pdf

Nuccitelli, M. (2013). Cyberbullying tactics: 2014 . Retrieved from http://www.ipredator.co/ipredator/cyber-bullying/cyberbullying-tactics/

Smith, P. K., & Slonje, R. (2007). Cyberbullying: the nature and extent of a new kind of bullying, in and out of school In S. R. Jimerson (Ed.), The International Handbook of School Bullying . New York: Routledge.