Workplace Cyberbullying and Online Harassment as an Organizational Threat: Exploring the Negative Organizational Outcomes

Workplace Cyberbullying and Online Harassment as an Organizational Threat: Exploring the Negative Organizational Outcomes

Rhiannon B. Kallis (The University of Akron, USA) and Andrea L. Meluch (The University of Akron, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4912-4.ch009
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With the continued growth of social media use and the development of online communication, organizations now face the challenge of maintaining a healthy working environment offline and online. Cyberbullying, online harassment, and inappropriate online content posted by employees, CEOs, social media managers, and other users can all lead to organization crises. This chapter defines types of harmful online communication, such as cyberbullying, trolling, and online harassment; explores online harassment through the lens of situational crisis communication theory; provides case studies of employees, CEOs, social media managers, and other users who engaged in inappropriate online behavior; and offers solutions and recommendations for organizational response and employee social media training.
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Scholars have been debating how to conceptualize cyberbullying and seeking to understand what makes it unique from face-to-face bullying and other forms of harassment (Heatherington & Coyne, 2014). The Internet provides a unique environment for bullying to occur due to heightened anonymity from a perpetrator, the ability for a large number of people to view the harmful communication (Heatherington & Coyne, 2014), and the blurring between public and private boundaries (Vranjes, Baillien, Vandebosch, Erreygers, & De Witte, 2017). While many definitions of cyberbullying focus solely on the perspective of the victim, not the bully, Alipan, Skues, Theiler, and Wise (2015) proposed a multidimensional definition of cyberbullying:

Using an information and communication technology to target one or more people directly or indirectly, whereby (1) the goal from the bully’s perspective is to intentionally harm the victim. Repetition can also help establish intentionality and cyberbullying, in which the bully continuously carries out a harmful behaviour towards the same victim; (2) the behaviour is perceived as intentional and harmful as defined by a victim. A once-off attack can also be considered as cyberbullying as the negative impact on the victim may be just as severe as frequent attacks; and (3) a bystander observes that a behaviour has negatively affected another person, or that such a behaviour would likely negatively affect the bystander if directed toward him or her. A bystander may also perceive the behaviour alone as intentional and aggressive. (p. 12)

Alipan et al.’s (2015) multifaceted definition thoroughly describes cyberbullying but should be distinguished from other types of harmful online communication. Different from cyberbullying, online harassment could include incidents brought forth by strangers (Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2007) where the harmful acts are “more unique, once-only acts or behavior” (Jönsson, Muhonen, Forssell, & Bäckström, 2017, p. 478). A specific type of online harassment is trolling, which is still in the early stages of being defined in scholarly research. Craker and March (2016) describe trolling as “an interpersonal antisocial behaviour prominent within Internet culture across the world” (p. 79) that includes argumentative communication intended to intentionally engender a reaction from the target.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Media Manager: The person or persons who post content to organizations’ social media accounts.

Online Harassment: Instances of users communicating negatively online with others who they may or may not know in offline enviornments.

Situational Crisis Communication Theory: A theoretical framework that proposes that different organizational crises require different crisis responses; requires organizations to consider how characteristics of a crisis influence responses.

Cancel Culture: Pressuring organizations into punishing or terminating an employee who has inappropriate online content or interactions.

Organizational Crisis: A sudden and unexpected organizational indicent that poses a significant threat to an organization’s operations and its financial well-being and reputation.

Cyberbullying: Using online methods to continually communicate negatively or share undesirable content with people from offline environments.

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