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Gender Differences and Cyberbullying

Some researchers have suggested that girls may be more likely to engage in cyberbullying than traditional forms of bullying. With cyberbullying, gender differences in physical size and strength are less relevant. This may be especially important for girls. Also, girls often have strong verbal abilitiesand may be adept at delivering attacks through electronic text. Girls may feel less inhibited interacting with others through online media as compared to face-to-faceencounters.51,52

In considering whether boys and girls cyberbully at equivalent rates, it is important to remember that many forms of cyberbullying resemble social

aggression rather than physical aggression (i.e., online exclusion and spreading of rumors). As described above, a recent meta-analysis suggests no strong gender differences in social aggression; however, this meta- analysis did suggest that boys are more physically aggressive than girls, and some forms of cyberbullying involve physical aggression (i.e., happy slapping, threats of physical harm).16,42Gender differences exist in the way adolescents perceive cyberbullying. In focus groups on cyberbullying with middle and high school students, girls were more likely than boys to acknowledge that cyberbullying was a problem facing students in their schools. Adolescents also mentioned that their responses to cyberbullying would depend on the gender of the perpetrator. One adolescent participant said: “It depends on if it’s a guy or a girl or how mean they are. Some people are just going to do it anyway. Girls are harder to stand up to. Cause like guys can be like ‘stop bothering me.’ I’m not afraid that a guy is going to hit me, but girls are like catty. They get back at you in a more subtle way.”53

Boys reported a greater willingness to confront perpetrators of cyberbullying than did girls. Studies examining the frequency of cyberbullying by gender have yielded mixed results. Estimates of the frequency of bullying as well as estimates of gender differences vary from study to study. This is likely the result of researchers conceptualizing cyberbullying along different lines and using diverse methods to study this phenomenon. Most research has examined cyberbullying with surveys that are administered online, by phone, or in the classroom. However, researchers often ask about cyberbullying in different ways through their questionnaires. Some researchers may simply ask participants if they have experienced cyberbullying either as a perpetrator or victim. Alternatively, other researchers may ask respondents if they have perpetrated or been victim of specific cyberbullyingbehaviors

such as online threats or online rumors. Studies differ along other important dimensions, such as whether researchers inquire about cyberbullying within a specific time frame as well as key characteristics of the sample (i.e., age of respondent). These differences in definition and methodology likely account for the discrepant findings in the cyberbullying literature regarding frequency andgender.54,55

Some studies have found that boys are more likely than girls to cyberbully others. The First Youth Internet Safety Survey was a nationally representative phone survey in which children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 were interviewed. As part of this larger study, youth were asked about experiences with online harassment. More cyberbullies were reported to be boys (54%) than girls (20%). The gender of the perpetrator was unknown for 26% of the episodes. Similarly, a survey of Canadian middle-school students found that boys were more likely to perpetrate cyberbullying than were girls; 22% of boys reported cyberbullying others as compared to 12% of girls. However, the majority of the extant research suggests that girls are involved in cyberbullying both as perpetrators and as victims at rates that are equal to or higher than that of their male counterparts.56-58

In a study of 5th, 8th, and 11th grade students, boys and girls were equally likely to report spreading lies about peers through email or instant messaging. Likewise, a survey of adolescents found that gender was not a significant predictor of involvement in cyberbullying. In addition, an online study of youth found no significant gender differences in the frequency with which boys and girls engaged in cyberbullying. These researchers also specifically examined serious cyberbullying, which they assessed with the following two items regarding online behavior: 1) threatened someone with

physical harm, or 2) made other kids scared of them. No significant gender differences were found for serious cyberbullying. An investigation by Kowalski and colleagues found that girls might be more likely than boys to perpetrate cyberbullying. More girls (13%) than boys (9%) reported cyberbullying others at least once in the past two months. However, different findings emerged when chronicity of cyberbullying was examined. Boys were more likely than girls to admit cyberbullying others on a weekly basis. Similar findings emerged from the Youth Internet Safety Survey.56-58

In interviews, youth were asked to specify the number of times they cyberbullied others in the past year. Participants were assigned to categories on the basis of this information to specify the regularity with which they cyberbullied others. Those who rarely cyberbullied others were assigned to the category of limited perpetrators, and those who often cyberbulliedothers were assigned to the category of frequent perpetrators. Although girls were significantly more likely to be classified as limited perpetrators, boys were more likely to be classified as frequent perpetrators. As is the case for perpetration of cyberbullying, studies that have examined gender differences in victimization by cyberbullying have also yielded mixed results. Some studies have found that girls and boys are equally likely to be victims of cyberbullying. However, other research including the Pew Internet & American Life Project Parents and Teens Survey find that girls are more likely to be targeted by cyberbullying than are boys. In this large survey of online adolescents, 38% of girls and 26% of boys reported being the target ofcyberbullying.59

Future research is needed to move beyond examining gender differences in cyberbullying and to consider the methods and mechanisms through which adolescent girls and boys aggress and are victimized online. Initial research

suggests that boys may be more likely to hack into others’ systems and engage in online name-calling. Girls, on the other hand, may be more likely than boys to gossip in cyberspace, and in turn may also more frequently be the subject of online rumors. Research on traditional bullying has found that boys are more likely than girls to engage in physical aggression; cyberbullying research should specifically examine forms of physical aggression such as threats of harm and happy slapping to determine if these gender differences hold in cyberspace. Initial evidence for gender differences in physical forms of cyberbullying comes from examining emotional responses to cyberbullying. A recent study found that girls are more likely to feel frustrated whereas boys are more likely to feel scared following cyberbullying, and they suggest that this difference may result from boys being subject to more online physical threats. In terms of mediums used to cyberbully, girls more often report being bullied through email and text messages than do boys.60,61

Future research is needed to study gender differences in how cyberbullying unfolds. Girls and boys have different online footprints; boys are more likely to play games online and to post videos to video sharing websites, and girls are more likely to have a blog and use instant messaging. These different activities that online girls and boys gravitate toward may be the mediums through which they are likely to aggress against their peers. Additional research will allow for firmer conclusions to be drawn regarding gender differences in bullying in the new arena of cyberspace.62,63