Written by Taylor Ritchey
A recent study conducted by Diane Felmlee and Robert Faris examined the overlap of friendship and dating networks with cyber victimization among high school students in New York. In this study, 788 high school students were given surveys asking them to identify ten of their closest friends and eight past or current dating partners (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). Students were also asked to identify up to eight students who “picked on them or were mean to them” and who “they picked on or were mean to” in the previous week (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). Students were then asked to indicate if these incidences occurred through text message or over the Internet and to provide a brief description of the event (Felmlee & Faris, 2016).
Where does cyber bullying occur?
Regarding the incidences of cyber bullying that were described, 41% of them occurred on Facebook and included hurtful comments, humiliating photos, and nasty rumors being publicly displayed (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). Bullying via text messaging was almost as prevalent, with 38% of reported cyber bullying including “texting vulgarities and personal threats” (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). Instant messaging (12%) and different types of media, such as online games where players can harass and exclude other players (9%), made up the remaining cases (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). The victims of these cyber bullying incidences reported that their self-esteem “was destroyed” and that they felt “hurt,” “depressed,” and “lonely” (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). One student even transferred to a different school due to students repeatedly bullying her about her alleged sexual conduct (Felmlee & Faris, 2016).
Who bullies who?
Felmlee and Faris found that electronic and Internet threats are not sent by strangers; they are sent by close friends and romantic partners, both past and present (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). One explanation supporting this finding is that well-connected people have more information about their friends that they could use against them (Felmlee & Faris, 2016). Another explanation is that friends often find themselves in direct competition with each other for different clubs and organizations (Schaefer et al., 2011) or even romantic partners. They also found that LGBTQ+ youth are far more likely to be the victims of cyber bullying than heterosexual youth. One incident reported in this study included “a girl whose cellphone was taken by a boy who sent a mass message to her contacts saying ‘I am gay,’ causing the girl to ‘tear up,’ and nobody said anything” (Felmlee & Faris, 2016, p.15).
What can we do to address these concerns?
Cyber bullying, and bullying in general, can have serious lasting effects on a person’s emotional well-being. Here are some ways that we can use to combat cyber bullying:
• Be Nice! – Being careful of what you post on Facebook or send in a text message is important. Make sure that what you say is kind. Be nice to people, and they will be more likely to be nice back.
• Be a Friend! – If you know someone is being bullied, comfort them and encourage them to speak with an adult. Be friendly and listen to them if they need to talk. Sometimes, being a shoulder to lean on is exactly what someone needs.
• If You See Something, Say Something! – If you see an instance of bullying, say something to someone. Tell a teacher, parent or guardian, or stand up for the person being bullied. Don’t be a bystander!
For more information on cyber bullying, check out this infograph.
Felmlee, D., & Faris, R. (2016). Toxic Ties Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization. Social Psychology Quarterly, 1-20. doi: 0190272516656585
Schaefer, D. R., Simpkins, S. D., Vest, A. E., & Price, C. D. (2011). The Contribution of Extracurricular Activities to Adolescent Friendships: New Insights through Social Network Analysis. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1141–1152.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor