Research Identifies Four Distinct Cyberbullying Roles Among Teens

By Dr. Lucy R. Betts, Associate Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University

Cyberbullies at school

What is the study about?

This research examined the roles that 16- to 19-year-olds fulfilled in five types of cyberbullying. Previously, research has suggested that during an episode of face-to-face bullying individuals are either a bully, victim, bully/victim, or not involved. Bullies are those who engage in bullying behavior directed towards the victim. Individuals who are bully/victims are likely to engage in bullying behavior while at the same time being the recipient of such behavior. We wanted to explore whether individuals fulfilled similar roles in five different types of cyberbullying across a range of media.

What are the most important take-home messages from the study?

Our research found that two-thirds of our sample reported being involved in some form of cyberbullying during the past year. We identified four distinct cyberbullying roles in our sample: (1) rarely victim and bully, (2) typically victim, (3) retaliator, and (4) not involved. The rare victim and bully group was the largest (40%) and these individuals reported that they received and made cyberbullying behaviors at lower levels than the all of the other groups (except for the not involved group). The typical victim group (26%) reported being the target of cyberbullying behaviors but also said that they engaged in cyberbullying behaviors. The retaliator group was the smallest (1%) and comprised individuals with the highest involvement in cyberbullying. Members of the retaliator group reported that they received and made cyberbullying behaviors at similar levels. Finally, 33% of the sample belonged to the not involved group who reported making and receiving very low levels of cyberbullying behaviors.

We also found that the most frequent forms of cyberbullying behaviors were insults and nasty communications. Also, irrespective of the group which the young people belonged to, the participants reported experiencing higher levels of cyberbullying than they engaged in.

How are these findings important in practice?

These findings are important because, although we identified a typical victim group, there was no evidence of a group exclusively of bullies. Moreover, the findings also suggest that young people may engage in cyberbullying behaviors as a way to “get their own back”. Together, these findings could help to inform anti-cyberbullying interventions and serve to highlight the importance of developing appropriate behaviors when using digital technology to help young people entering a cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation when they experience cyberbullying behaviors.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?

Our research only looked at five types of cyberbullying; therefore, further research should seek to replicate the findings with a broader range of cyberbullying behaviors. Future research should also examine how young people cope when they experience cyberbullying and the factors that motivate them to engage in retaliation. Research is also needed to further understand the impact of cyberbullying involvement on well-being.

Link to Research Article

Betts, L. R., Gkimitzoudis, A., Spenser, K. A., & Baguley, T. (2017). Examining the roles young people fulfill in five types of cyber bullying. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(7), 1080-1098. DOI: 10.1177/0265407516668585

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Latest update: February 9, 2018
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