Privacy & Security

Cyberbullying More Common with Teens’ Current or Former Friends, Study Says

By Jason Kazi — August 24, 2016 2 min read
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The likelihood of cyberbullying is about seven times greater between current or former friends or dating partners than between young people who don’t know each other, a new study says.

The research led by Diane Felmlee, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, focuses specifically on 800 students from 8th to 12th grades.

About 17 percent of students surveyed were aggressors or victims of cyberbullying within a week of the research conducted by Felmlee and co-author Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis. Of those, almost 6 percent were purely victims, 9 percent acted as aggressors, and about 2 percent were both.

In most cases, the cyber aggression occurred via Facebook or text message.

When it comes to dating, young people often harbor resentments after a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a partner via cyber aggression, she said.

They may also think they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent them from dating someone else, by harassing their former partner, the researcher added.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer youth were four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to be victims of cyberbullying;
  • LGBTQ students reported being called homophobic slurs and, in at least one case, unwillingly having their sexual identities revealed to others; and
  • Examples of cyber aggression ranged from threats and posting embarrassing photos and nasty rumors to criminal activities, such as identity theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker posted about online.

Surveyed during their school day, the students were asked to list their friends and current or former dating partners. They were also asked to describe incidents in which someone had harmed them seriously electronically or asked to describe a situation in which they harmed someone else.

The paper, “Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization,” was recently presented at the American Sociological Association’s 111th annual meeting in Seattle, Wash.

In their findings, Felmlee and Faris said that their study highlights the connection between cyber aggression and close relationships. They hope that by using intervention programs, the tendency for these toxic, abusive types of relationships to evolve can be reduced.

“Bullying programs and educational programs that can teach young people where cyber bullying is occurring would be beneficial,” Felmlee said. For instance, students could learn to be aware that it’s not uncommon for a friend to participate in cyber bullying.

“Education programs that schools have are important, but there also need to be consequences resulting from these types of behaviors,” Felmlee said. “Former friends can be the problem and part of the solution, too.”

The author also says that parents can play a critical role in curbing cyberbullying by making themselves aware of how it plays out among current and former friends, and romantic partners.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.