The Social Networks of Cyberbullying on Twitter

The Social Networks of Cyberbullying on Twitter

Glenn Sterner (Department of Sociology and Criminology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA) and Diane Felmlee (Department of Sociology and Criminology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJT.2017070101
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Abstract

This research applies a social network perspective to the issue of cyber aggression, or cyberbullying, on the social media platform Twitter. Cyber aggression is particularly problematic because of its potential for anonymity, and the ease with which so many others can join the harassment of victims. Utilizing a comparative case study methodology, the authors examined thousands of Tweets to explore the use of denigrating slurs and insults contained in public tweets that target an individual's gender, race, or sexual orientation. Findings indicate cyber aggression on Twitter to be extensive and often extremely offensive, with the potential for serious, deleterious consequences for its victims. The study examined a sample of 84 aggressive networks on Twitter and visualize several social networks of communication patterns that emanate from an initial, aggressive tweet. The authors identify six social roles that users can assume in the network, noting differences in these roles by demographic category. Serious ethical concerns pertain to this technological, social problem.
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Introduction

Bullying is a pervasive issue that has been identified as a serious, social problem in the U.S. and elsewhere (Beauchare, 2014; Faris & Felmlee, 2011; Faris & Felmlee, 2014; Kraft & Wang, 2010; Neves & Pinheiro, 2010; Squicciarini, Rajtmajer, Liu, & Griffin, 2015; Xu, Jun, Zhu, & Bellmore, 2012). Bullying represents a type of aggression that can take various forms, such as physical, verbal, and relational (Faris & Felmlee, 2011; Faris & Felmlee 2014; Faris & Felmlee, 2015; Olweus, 1993; Xu, Jun, Zhu, & Bellmore, 2012). The newest genre of peer aggression, cyberbullying, now takes place through the use of digital or online means (Cassidy, Jackson, & Brown, 2009; Felmlee & Faris, 2016; Vandebosch & Van Cleemput, 2009; Xu, Jun, Zhu, & Bellmore, 2012).

Cyberbullying is unique in the degree to which it provides anonymity and in its ability to facilitate the participation of multiple individuals in the harassment of victims. Perhaps for these reasons, victims often exhibit emotional distress (Ybarra, Mitchell, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2006), low self-esteem (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010), loneliness (Sahin, 2012), and other negative emotions (e.g., Juvonen & Gross, 2008). Those targeted by forms of electronic aggression also reported more suicidal thoughts and were more likely to attempt suicide than those who had not been victimized (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010).

The purpose of this research is to examine cyber aggression on the social media website of Twitter. On this widely popular venue, Twitter enables users to send and read short, informative messages called “tweets” on a website with millions of active users each day. Yet Twitter can be used by some to disseminate aggressive, bullying messages, and the website has come under scrutiny for some of the most public instances. With only a few exceptions, bullying on Twitter has received little attention in the scholarly literature. In this project, therefore, the authors study instances of aggressive tweets that derogate individuals on the basis of one or more of three demographic characteristics: gender, race, and/or sexual orientation. The authors examine the network spread of cyber aggression within a twitter conversation and identify the social roles of the participants within the interchange. Given the potentially serious, ethical questions raised by cyberbullying (Neves & Peinhero, 2010), studying this type of damaging interchange on the relatively novel technological site of Twitter remains particularly important.

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