Cyberbullying Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders

Cyberbullying Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders

Joanna Lizut (Janusz Korczak Pedagogical University in Warsaw, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8076-8.ch005


The documented effects of cyberbullying take a burden on all those involved, but also impact the wider social environment as well. Victims experience difficult emotions: feelings of humiliation and worthlessness, shame, fear, despair, and sadness. In the long run, they may suffer reduced self-esteem and interpersonal problems: difficulties in establishing contacts and a tendency to withdrawal and isolation. The consequences for perpetrators include the consolidation of aggressive patterns of behavior, the lowering of the sense of responsibility for their own actions, the tendency to antisocial behavior, and the easy slide into conflicts with the law. Witnesses of violence, who are not able to effectively oppose it, or who do not try, often keep their feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, and self-recrimination for years. For some, it will internalize patterns of passivity, helplessness, and unresponsiveness in difficult situations. This being the case, deepening our knowledge about all of the participants involved in cyberbullying and their mutual relations is of crucial importance.
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The phenomenon of cyberbullying has its own specificity but, at the same time, is based on many of the same mechanisms recognizable in “traditional” bullying, including the essential triad - the victim, the perpetrator, and the act itself. This triad, comprising the basic components of cyberbullying, is extended by a fourth element - bystanders.

The analogy of online activities to those of ‘real life’ is significant. For example, just as in the “real world”, most victims of cyberbullying know their perpetrators, and 4 out of 5 people are harassed by a person that he/she knows. Also, as in real life, girls and women are still more often the victims of online violence (Breiding et al., 2014). In particular, stalking (harassment), most often occurs in the context of an intimate relationship, namely, by a former partner. The essential differences between cyberbullying and traditional forms of bullying regard the higher level of anonymity of the perpetrator (related to the specificity of the virtual environment), and the use of specific technological tools such as email, chat, instant messengers, websites, blogs, social networks, discussion groups, SMS services, and MMS. There are a number of different types of harassing behaviors enacted on the internet, for which various terms have been coined, such as electronic aggression, online harassment, internet harassment, cyberbullying, and internet bullying.

An online survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13 to 18 conducted from December 19, 2016, to January 10, 2017, found that student reports of incidents of bullying and harassment had increased. Seventy percent of the survey respondents reported having witnessed incidents of bullying, hate messages, or harassment in the months since the 2016 presidential election. Of these respondents, 70% said they witnessed incidents involving race and ethnicity; 63%, incidents involving sexual orientation; 59%, immigration status; and 55%, gender. (Turner, 2017, as cited in Policy White Paper, Bullying Prevention in the Technology Age)

Cyberbullying is usually expressed through such behavior as: verbal aggression (threatening, offensive wording), recording, creating, and presenting compromising videos, and posting negative and/or otherwise untrue information. As a concept, it connects with the notion of mobbing, constituting a particular form (Kowalski & Limber, 2007) that is expressed through media and communication devices, such as mobile phones, email, and the internet (e.g. social networks, websites, and blogs).

It needs to be highlighted that in the context of other, similar, terms, cyberbullying is distinguishable by four key elements: repeatability (even if not fully exploited); the intention to hurt the other person (although this element will be discussed later); power imbalance (although this refers to the features of communication mediated by the technology and the features of the material itself published in the subject’s social network, rather than to the perpetrator per se); and the fact that the aggression is well-known about within ​​the social group, particularly in younger age groups (Pyrzalski, 2008, p. 5).

Other researchers emphasize that in order to recognize a behavior as bullying (regardless of whether it is enacted in the real or virtual world), it must demonstrate two additional aspects (Badura & Dobrzyńska-Mesterhazy, 2000, p. 14.), namely that the behavior:

  • Violates the rights of the victim - the perpetrator using the advantage of strength violates their basic personal rights (e.g. the right to dignity, respect, etc.);

  • Causes suffering and harm to the victim - the perpetrator exposes the victim’s lifestyle and wellbeing to serious harm. Experiencing pain and suffering makes the victim less capable of self-defense.

The Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus distinguished three key elements of bullying, being aggression, repetition, and power (Olweus, 1993).

Although there are strong correlations and analogies between cyberbullying and traditional bullying, our study pays particular attention to those aspects that distinguish it, in the context of the behavior of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders (Smith, 2012, pp.95-96):

Key Terms in this Chapter

Perpetrator of Cyberbullying: A person who performs single or multiple acts of violence directed at another person, through persecution, intimidation, harassment, ridiculing others using the Internet and electronic tools such as: SMS, e-mail, websites, discussion forums on the internet, social networks and other. If they work, they reduce the self-esteem of the victim and their suffering and violation of their dignity.

Witness of Cyberbullying (Bystander): A person who does not make cyberbullying but has contact with it (through observation, receiving messages, etc.). Bystander can take different attitudes towards the cyberbullying - a reaction against the perpetrator, protection of the victim or joining the perpetrators (actively engaging in violence or passively actions, e.g., by sending/opening a message).

Victim of Cyberbullying: A person experiencing attacks against groups of perpetrators by holding, for example, negative emails or text messages. The victims of virtual violence usually feel strong shame and humiliation, despair, negative thoughts about themselves and about the world.

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