Cyberbullying and Online Risks research

Overview

The Psychology department at the University of Buckingham is engaged in research in the area of cyberbullying, cyberaggression and other online risks, led by Dr Maša Popovac and Dr Philip Fine.

Initial research in this area involved comparing adolescents’ online risk behaviours and experiences in the UK and South Africa. In addition, parental awareness of adolescents’ online activities was also assessed along with teachers’ perspectives. Our research in this area included 993 adolescents aged 12-17 years and 350 parents across the two countries. Data from teachers was collected through a number of focus group interviews.

The findings led to the development of an intervention aimed at addressing cyberaggression, cyberbullying and other online risks, which was successfully piloted at a school in South Africa. Our current research focus is on engaging with schools in order to further develop our intervention and to implement it on a larger scale in both the UK and South Africa.

What do we mean by Cyberaggression, Cyberbullying and other Online Risks?

While cyberaggression is a more general term that encompasses a wide range of negative online experiences including cyberbullying, cyberbullying involves persistent and intentional acts of aggression using technology (e.g. text messages, phone calls, e-mails, chat rooms, instant messages, websites, blogs, social networking sites or internet gaming). These acts of aggression can be committed by an individual or group. As outlined by Patchin and Hinduja (2006) behaviours include:

  • bothering someone online
  • teasing in a mean way
  • calling someone hurtful names
  • intentionally leaving someone out of something
  • threatening someone
  • saying unwanted sexually-related things to someone

Other types of online risks include contact with online strangers, exposure to inappropriate or harmful content online or posting of personal information or sexting.

Why is this an important issue?

Negative online experiences can have serious effects. The effects of cyberbullying in particular include:

  • Emotional effects such as frustration, fear, sadness and anger
  • Psychological and behavioural effects such as depression and anxiety
  • Substance abuse and delinquency
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm
  • Educational effects due to poor concentration, absenteeism and low school commitment

A range of other online risks can also pose a physical threat (e.g. meeting online strangers in person or sharing personal information online). Other behaviours such as sexting can also potentially pose a cyberbullying risk if images or comments are forwarded to a larger audience than was intended.

Addressing these experiences among young people is important not only for individuals’ psychological well-being but also in relation to developing a positive school social climate in the context of education.

Our key research findings

Experiences of cyberaggression and cyberbullying among adolescents

Among 320 adolescents aged 12-17 in the UK:

  • 69% had ever had at least one experience of online aggression
  • 43% had ever been cyberbullied
  • 48% had ever perpetrated an act of online aggression
  • 77% reported witnessing cyberbullying often
  • 41% were hurt or made to feel sad about something someone said to them online
  • 32% had been scared or worried about something someone said to them online
  • 28% did not want to go to school on some days due to something that was said or done to them online

Among 673 adolescents aged 12-17 in South Africa:

  • 79% had ever had at least one experience of online aggression
  • 34% had ever been cyberbullied
  • 72% had ever perpetrated an act of online aggression
  • 71% reported witnessing cyberbullying often
  • 37% were hurt or made to feel sad about something someone said to them online
  • 34% had been scared or worried about something someone said to them online
  • 23% did not want to go to school on some days due to something that was said or done to them online

Other online risks among adolescents

Among 320 adolescents aged 12-17 in the UK:

  • 37% of adolescents were involved in some sexting behaviour, including sending or receiving sexually-themed images or comments
  • 27% of adolescents had met face to face with someone that they first met online
  • 79% had seen hateful content and 78% had seen violent content online

Among 673 adolescents aged 12-17 in South Africa:

  • 59% of adolescents were involved in some sexting behaviour, including sending or receiving sexually-themed images or comments
  • 40% of adolescents had met face to face with someone that they first met online
  • 71% had seen hateful content and 84% had seen violent content online

Intervention Research and Resources

Our intervention tackling cyberaggression, cyberbullying and other online risks is based around the Information-Motivation-Behavioural Skills model (Fisher & Fisher, 1992). The three-factor model suggests that information about risks is not enough to alter behaviours, but that individuals also need to be personally and socially motivated to act on the information they receive and also have the required skills and confidence in order to effectively implement safer online behaviours.

The intervention is aimed at adolescents and is conducted in schools in a group setting. The intervention was piloted in a school in South Africa with 177 adolescents and our initial findings suggest that the intervention was effective in increasing online risk perception among adolescents, which is a prerequisite for behaviour change.

Further research is underway to test the intervention longitudinally, to implement teacher training as well as engage with parents on online safety issues. The goal is to develop the intervention and take into account a multi-level, whole-school approach to online safety efforts in the UK and South Africa.

You can download more information about the intervention, including the handbook for implementing the intervention in the ‘further information and resources’ section. Please get in touch if you, your school or your organisation is interested or would like to get involved in the intervention research.

Further information and resources

  1. Download the report: Beyond the School Gates: Cyberaggression and bullying
  2. Cyberaggression, cyberbullying and other online risks among adolescents in the UK and South Africa – Poster presentation, Sweden, 2016.
  3. Experiences of online and offline bullying among adolescents in the UK and South Africa – Conference presentation: World Anti-Bullying Forum, Sweden, 2017.
  4. An Online Safety Intervention among adolescents in South Africa – Conference presentation, United Kingdom, 2017.

Intervention Handbook and Resources

Register your interest in our research, future events and interventions by completing the form below:

Intervention Handbook and Resources

Contact

Our future work in this area aims to engage with schools and parents on issues of online safety on a larger scale in the UK and South Africa. If you would like further information please contact us at: cyberbullying@buckingham.ac.uk.

Dr Philip Fine

Dr Philip Fine

Masa Popovac

Masa Popovac

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