Bullying is repeated aggression by one person against one or more others. In general, it has been studied as something that occurs between students in school, or between coworkers in the workplace. But in fact, growing evidence suggests that it can occur in chatrooms, by e-mail, and perhaps in other Internet contexts as well. Cyberbullying can take many different forms, including insults, exclusion, or even blackmail, and, like face-to-face bullying, it is far from rare, and may, sadly, be increasing.
A study by Katzer, Fetchenhauer, and Belschak (2009) illustrates these points. This research focused on students in German schools (average age 14) and involved completion of a Bully/Victim Questionnaire and other measures by the students (e.g., their parents’ childrearing practices). Results were both informative—and unsettling. First, sizeable proportions of the students reported that they experienced cyberbullying fairly often—more than once a month. For instance, 24.7 percent indicated that they were insulted during chat sessions, and 36.2 percent indicated that other chatters broke into their conversations. Almost 10 percent reported that they were excluded from chat sessions, and over 16 percent indicated that they were slandered by other chatters. Almost 4 percent said that they had been blackmailed during chat sessions, and 12 percent reported that other chatters made fun of them during chat sessions. Furthermore, these events were much more common for some children than others, as in face-to-face settings (e.g., in school) some were being singled out by others for abuse, in this case, electronic rather than face-to-face abuse. Several characteristics predicted who would become victims. For instance, less popular students were more likely to be victimized, as were students who often lied in chatrooms. Students who visited chatrooms known to be “risky” were more likely to be victimized than those who stayed away from such locations. And, not surprisingly, students who were victims in school were also likely to be victims in chatrooms. After considering these findings, the authors offered several recommendations designed to protect students from this kind of electronic victimization.
First, schools should initiate programs designed to alert students to these dangers, and to provide them with a mechanism for reporting cyberbullying. Second, students should be warned carefully about “dangerous places” on the Web so that they can avoid Internet environments where they are likely to be victimized. Third, “cyberpolice,” perhaps students themselves, should supervise popular Internet chatrooms and provide help to victimized students. Finally, online help for victims of cyberbullying could be provided, perhaps in the form of “virtual helpers” who could be contacted by victims without revealing their real identity. Overall, the message of this research seems clear: bullying, like other forms of aggression, now occurs in contexts that did not even exist 10 or 20 years ago. And factors that affect face-to-face aggression may also play a role in the occurrence of this less direct, but often very painful, kind of aggression.