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What if cyberbullying is an overrated phenomenon?

Diane Levine, doctoral researcher, Centre for Education Studies

Published May 2015

What if cyberbullying is an overrated phenomenon? Doctoral researcher at the Centre for Education Studies, Diane Levine, discusses the facts.
What is cyberbullying?

Generally speaking it involves bullying behaviours such as distributing rumours or disclosing true or false personal information via text messages or posting information on online social networking sites. Sometimes traditional and cyberbullying acts are intertwined, for example, face-to-face abuse can be digitally recorded and distributed online.

How does cyberbullying differ from more ‘traditional’ forms of bullying?

They share some common characteristics; the fact that the bullying is experienced as an act of aggression, it affects power relationships (and imbalances), and is usually repeated. There are some important differences however - the anonymity afforded by technology use, the inability of the bully to visually ‘see’ the impact of the aggression on the victim, and the accessibility of the victim, which can be constant.

Diane LevineWhat does your work in cyberbullying at Warwick entail?

I look at the ways in which young people manage risk situations and develop resilience in relation to cyberbullying. Focusing on adolescent girls, I'm examining their use of technology coupled with their developing social cognition and understanding the reasons why young people are vulnerable to or perpetrate cyberbullying.

How are psychologists researching cyberbullying?

Academics focus on many different factors in relation to cyberbullying, including gender, characteristics of bullies and victims, socio-economic and environmental factors contributing to bullying, resilience and prevalence. Understanding cyberbullying can give us insight into many aspects of the human condition: resilience, persistence, courage and conflict resolution.

How should research be taken forward?

A number of us within the cyberbullying research community believe that the research needs to become increasingly interdisciplinary. That way the impact of cyberbullying on behavioural, psychological and socioeconomic outcomes can be understood in order to make an impact.

Is cyberbullying prominent?

Sometimes we blame technology for things that are actually about societal problems. This isn't helpful. But occasionally a tragedy occurs, which throws new light on the subject. Certainly it’s been on the radars of policy makers, parents and schools for a very long time and it would be nice to see a more nuanced public conversation about cyberbullying – and the use of technology in high risk circumstances more likely. Cyberbullying can lead to depression and anxiety, can impact on diet and eating habits, cause stomach-related ailments and migraines and impact on school participation and academic outcomes, so we must continue our research.

What is being done to combat this form of bullying?

There are a number of third sector organisations that are doing significant work in this area such as Childline, NSPCC and ThinkUKnow. The challenge is that the topic covers a range of public sector services, and we need to improve the coordination of activity in order to make any impact. The UK Child Internet Safety programme, based in the Department for Education, has made some significant strides, but there is still a long way to go.

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