Connected

Perspectives on youth and technology

The Top 5 Myths of Cyberbullying

We all ‘know’ about cyberbullying. How much of it is true, though?

Most of us have heard about it. We are all concerned about it. But not many of us know the facts about it. Cyberbullying has been a recent and rising concern for parents, communities, and healthcare and education professionals alike.

For the most part, we learn what we know about cyberbullying from news sources. With stories linking cyberbullying to suicides, schools monitoring social media feeds, and articles warning us about the dangers of the internet, it is no wonder that we are all deeply concerned. Moreover, many of us are confused about what it all means and how we should be educating youth about cyberbullying. In the end, we’re left feeling like all youth are at high risk for cyberbullying; so when it comes to helping prevent it, most of us do not know much about where, when, and who is part of cyberbullying.  

To address this, I want to talk about things that are commonly held as ‘truth’ and whether or not they’re really supported by the research:

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“Truth” 1: Youth are more likely to be bullied online than in person

FALSE: Actually, our data and others consistently show that youth are more likely to be bulled in person than online.[1] In fact, face-to-face bullying is almost twice as common as Internet bullying.

“Truth” 2: Cyberbullying only happens on social media site.  

FALSE: Bullying happens on social media sites, and everywhere that young people communicate: IM, chat rooms, and email to name a few. [1]

“Truth” 3: Youth that go online often are the ones who are bullied the most.

FALSE: Most youth (around six in every seven youth) navigate the Internet without being bullied.[2] There are several characteristics that seem to distinguish youth who are more likely bullied online than those who are not. Of importance: We find that youth who bully others online, as well as those who are bullied offline, are more likely to be targeted online.[3]

“Truth” 4: Anonymity is a new feature of bullying introduced by the Internet.

FALSE: While it is definitely true that more youth know who their bully is in person, we’ve found that 12% of youth who are being bullied at school in person don’t know who their bully is.[2] How? People spreading rumors and you don’t know who started it; people scrawling things on the bathroom wall and you don’t know who it is, etc.

“Truth” 5: Cyberbullying causes suicide.

NOT CLEAR: Research is ongoing. That said, current literature suggests that linkages between bullying and suicidal ideation in most cases are explained by other things that are happening in youth’s life, like depression.[4] Youth do not operate in vacuums. Unfortunately, it is rarely just one thing that is going wrong. It’s not always easy to be young.

Cyberbullying is certainly a complex experience that may have the potential to affect positive youth development. You can be a part of ending cyberbullying by staying informed and educating others about the what is true and not when it comes to cyberbullying. Check out more about the facts and how you and your community can help someone who is suffering bychecking out Cyberbully411.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Jennifer Renzas for her contributions to this blog.

Learn more about our research at the Center for Innovative Public Health Research 

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References: 

[1] Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2008). How risky are social networking sites? A comparison of places online where youth sexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics, 121(2), e350-e357.

[2] Michele L. Ybarra, Kimberly J. Mitchell and Dorothy L. Espelage (2012). Comparisons of Bully and Unwanted Sexual Experiences Online and Offline Among a National Sample of Youth,Complementary Pediatrics, Dr. Öner Özdemir (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-51-0155-0, InTech, DOI: 10.5772/33532.

[3] Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological Bulletin, No Pagination Specified. doi:10.1037/a0035618

[4] See the Special Issue on Bullying and Suicide published last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health: http://www.jahonline.org/issues?issue_key=S1054-139X%2813%29X0015-1

Michele Ybarra, MPH, Ph.D., is President and Research Director of a non-profit research organization called the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR).

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