A generation of children and adolescents are now growing up in a digital world. Digital communication changes how we communicate and thus, in turn, changes the social interactions that ensue both online and offline. Children do not see the school hallways and cyberspace as separate. For them, text messaging is just another way of talking, and the Internet is just another place where they see their friends. Over 90% of adolescents use the Internet, with current estimates ranging from 93% to 97% of American adolescents being online. A majority of adolescents reported using the
Internet on a daily basis and that they are able to access the Internet both at home and at school. Four out of five adolescents have a mobile device, and many are able to text message, use the Internet, and take digital pictures with their phones.
This expanding ability to communicate with others via the Internet and cell phones has the potential to be extremely advantageous to young people, creating opportunities to foster greater feelings of connectedness. However, the proliferation of these technologies may also be associated with growing risks. Cyberbullying is also important because a vast majority of youth communicate with peers electronically.38,39Cyberspace may become a burgeoning venue for bullying peers.
Bullying others through electronic media is a fairly new phenomenon. Higher rates of cyberbullying are reported in studies that ask about a wider variety of digital behaviors or about problems that may have happened during longer periods of time but researchers have pointed to the lack of scholarly attention devoted to studying technologically assisted bullying specificallyand they have called for more empirical research in this area.7,46,47
It does appear that as children grow, digital bullying occupies an increasingly larger proportion of all bullying incidents. In a 2015 research study, 31 percent of elementary school bullying was reported to have occurred electronically, but almost all (97 percent) of high school bullying involved electronics.2
Many terms have been used to refer to bullying through electronic channels including cyberbullying, electronic bullying, e-bullying, online harassment, Internet bullying, and online social cruelty. There are almost as many
definitions of bullying online as there are definitions of terms to refer to the phenomenon, and there is no consistent definition as of yet. Most recently, however, people have begun to regularly use the term cyberbullying and define this construct as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”1Cyberbullying includes many different types of behaviors and can occur through different technological mediums. Cyberbullies may use behaviors that are either direct (i.e., threatening someone online) or indirect (i.e., spreading rumors online) in nature. Many behaviors that bullies use in the school setting may also be applied to cyber environments including ignoring, exclusion, name calling, rumor spreading, and physical threats. Cyber environments also allow for the introduction of a new set of hostile behaviors such as outing and trickery, masquerading, happy slapping, and picture or video clipbullying.
Outing and trickery refers to convincing a target to reveal personal information and then sharing this private information with others electronically. Masquerading, also known as impersonation, involves the bully pretending to be the victim and then sending messages to others that seem to come from the target and/or changing information the target has posted about him or herself online. Happy slapping entails digitally recording an instance of physical aggression and then electronically sharing this episode with others. Bullies may also alter pictures and/or video clips of their victims and then post these for others to see in the hopes of embarrassing thevictim.48,49
Cyberbullying behaviors can occur through many different communication modalities including instant messenger, email, text message, social networking sites, chat rooms, blogs, voting and rating websites (i.e., Hot or Not), websites built to embarrass another, and online gaming sites.
Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in many important respects. Given young peoples’ wide access to the Internet and cell phones, cyberbullying can take place outside of the school setting and can occur anywhere at any time; thus, the potential omnipresence of cyberbullying may result in victims feeling more vulnerable.13,50
Cyberbullies can maintain a sense of anonymity by using pseudonyms in online environments. This sense of anonymity coupled with a lack of face-to- face contact may lead to greater feelings of disinhibition among cyberbullies as compared to traditional bullies. In fact, 31% of adolescents report they have said something over instant messenger that they would not have shared in a face-to-face context. Further, cyberbullies have the potential to reach a very wide audience; cyber-attacks can be easily shared with many in a very short time or posted in a public forum. Given these differences between cyberbullying and traditional bullying, an important question is whether the gender differences seen in traditional bullying also hold for bullying in cyber environments.