Michelle F. Wright (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4047-2.ch009


Cyberbullying has become a major focus of not only youths, educators, and researchers, but also among the general population, due to high profile cases of cyberbullying victimization involving suicide and the increasing prevalence of these behaviors. The purpose of this chapter is to examine cyberbullying among children and adolescents, referred to as “youths” throughout the chapter. An extension of traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a form of bullying which takes place by means of electronic technologies, such as email, instant messaging, social networking websites, and text messaging through mobile devices. Drawing on research from a variety of disciplines, such as psychology, education, social work, sociology, and computer science, this chapter describes the definition of cyberbullying, the electronic technologies used, the prevalence rates, characteristics and risk factors, negative psychosocial and academic difficulties, theoretical frameworks, recommendations, and future directions.
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Millions of youths use electronic technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet, daily (Lenhart, 2015). These technologies allow youths many opportunities, such as the ability to communicate with just about anyone, quick access to information for leisure and homework purposes, and entertainment (e.g., watching videos). Despite the positives associated with electronic technology use, many youths are at risk for exposure to problematic online situations. Such situations might involve viewing unwanted electronic content through videos, images, and text, which contains gory or sexually graphic content. Problematic online situations also include experiencing identity theft and being targeted by sexual predators. Cyberbullying is another risk associated with youths’ electronic technology use.

Defined as an extension of traditional bullying, cyberbullying involves being targeted by negative and unwanted behaviors via electronic technologies, including email, instant messaging, social networking websites, and text messages via mobile phones (Bauman, Underwood, & Card, 2013; Grigg, 2012). The anonymity of the cyber context allows cyberbullies greater flexibility to harm their victims without having to witness the reactions of the victims and/or experience any negative consequences as a result of their actions (Wright, 2014b). Cyberbullies’ ability to remain anonymous is made possible by the ability to mask or hide their identity in cyberspace. Because youths can remain anonymous online, anonymity can trigger the online disinhibition effect. The online disinhibition effect is when youths do or say something to others that they typically would never do or say in the offline world (Suler, 2004; Wright, 2014). Another component of electronic technologies is the rapid transmission of communication. Because electronic technologies have such a feature, many cyberbullies can target their victims more quickly. For example, a rumor in the offline world might take several hours to spread around school, while in the online world, this rumor could take a matter of minutes to spread to various classmates. Bullies can often target victims as often as they want as it is difficult to escape bullying in the online world as the behaviors can follow the person almost anywhere there is electronic technology access. Although it is possible to have many bystanders for traditional school bullying, cyberbullying has the potential to reach an audience of millions. These individuals can then perpetuate the cycle of cyberbullying by further sharing cyberbullying content (e.g., videos, pictures) with others.

The aim of this chapter is to review the topic of cyberbullying among youths, who might include children and adolescents from elementary school to high school. The literature reviewed includes studies from various disciplines, such as psychology, education, media studies, communication, social work, sociology, computer science, information technology, and gender studies. These studies might also include cross-sectional, longitudinal, qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods research designs. The chapter also draws on various studies across the world to conceptualize cyberbullying as a global health concern. The chapter includes seven sections, including:

  • 1.

    Background: Contains the definition of cyberbullying, the various characteristic behaviors), the various electronic technologies, the prevalence rates of cyberbullying, and the role of anonymity in perpetrating cyberbullying.

  • 2.

    Youths’ Characteristics and Risk Factors: Reviews the factors associated with youth’s involvement in cyberbullying as perpetrators and/or victims.

  • 3.

    Negative Psychosocial and Academic Outcomes: Explains research findings regarding the psychological, social, behavioral, and academic consequences associated with youths’ cyberbullying involvement.

  • 4.

    Theoretical Framework: Provides an overview of the social cognitive theory and the online disinhibition effect, and their application to cyberbullying.

  • 5.

    Solutions and Recommendations: Describes suggestions for prevention and intervention programs aimed at reducing cyberbullying involvement among youths, and public policy recommendations.

  • 6.

    Future Research Directions: Explains various recommendations for future research aimed at understanding youths’ involvement in cyberbullying.

  • 7.

    Conclusion: Highlights closing remarks regarding the current nature of the literature on cyberbullying.

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