According to new research by the Pew Research Center, 59% of teens have been a victim of cyberbullying.
That’s a frightening figure, that raises fresh concern among parents, teachers, and authorities. The statistics reflect this, with 52% of parents worried about their children becoming bullying victims over social media.
The internet isn’t going anywhere. With younger generations spending more time online, understanding this phenomenon is more important than ever.
Parents, children, and responsible parties need to understand the causes and motivations to tackle this issue at its root.
Kids are spending more time on the internet
According to a study by Pew Research, 95% of kids have access to a smartphone while almost 45% say they are almost constantly online. 85% use YouTube, 72% use Instagram, 69% use Snapchat, 51% use Facebook, and 32% use Twitter.
Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that have a strong social and visual aspect seem to be the most popular.
This is well-known to parents. 85% of parents with children between 13-17 years old are aware they have a social media account. It’s only natural that teens will exhibit both positive and negative behavior on these platforms.
What is worrying is that teens’ “online life” is becoming an increasingly substantial life experience. This gives the effects of cyberbullying added weight.
Bullying adversely affects girls and sexual minorities
Data by Cyberbullying.org shows that 40.4% of girls versus 28.8% of boys have been victims of cyberbullying.
The fact that girls report spending more time online using social media, while boys favored video games seems to be a contributor. This creates a feedback effect where girls are more often both the victims and the perpetrators.
This also shows the correlation between more time spent online and increasing cyberbullying.
61% of cyberbullying cases seem to involve appearance. This is telling, as girls usually face more pressure in this regard than boys. Sexuality also ranked quite highly as being the cause 15% of the time. Students that don’t fall into gender norms face this type of bullying more than others.
It may also be the reason why Instagram seems to be the platform most have experience bullying using.
Nearly 60% of respondents to the Pew report indicated their parents did a good or excellent job of addressing cyberbullying.
However, most teens felt law enforcement, teachers, elected officials, and social media companies themselves weren’t doing enough. In fact, 79% of respondents were unhappy with the efforts of elected officials and 66% with those of social media companies.
Not a huge surprise as both have been slow to address similar issues, like online terrorism and hateful speech. Another 83% of respondents believe social media companies should do more – highlighting this aspect.
Motivating factors of cyberbullying
Without motivating factors, the statistics above wouldn’t matter. These are the ones most often identified by both bullies and victims:
- Bullies believe the victims deserve it: Lowering someone’s social standing, heightening their own, jealousy (for academic achievement, etc.), or revenge are strong motivators.
- Bullies are bored: A lack of attention or positive stimulation at home can lead to bullying as an low-cost form of distraction.
- Bullies are insecure: The feeling of “safety in numbers” makes it easy to gang up and lower accountability.
- Bullies think everyone is doing it: Because of peer pressure, and seeing this behavior from others, bullies feel a need to participate.
- Bullies are motivated by revenge: Cyberbullying can be an easy way to get payback or to vent after being victims themselves.
- Cyberbullies think they won’t get caught: Cyberbullies often act anonymously. Even when their identity is known, they don’t believe they’ll be physically punished for online actions.
- Cyberbullies are less empathetic: Cyberbullies show a lower degree of empathy and don’t believe their actions can have a serious impact.
The reluctance of bystanders to stand up for victims is particularly worrying. According to research by Pew, 90% of teens report having witnessed cyberbullying where no one stood up for the victim. 35% say they frequently do the same.
Most fear becoming victims themselves too much to stick out their necks.
How can we tackle cyberbullying in the digital world?
Considering the motivators, it seems more productive to address the root cause instead of treating the symptoms. Most bullies have underlying behavioral or situational issues that lead them down this path, which is facilitated by easy access to technology and the internet.
More of the following could help weed out this abuse of technology:
- Teaching children to behave more empathetically
- Putting structures in place for children to report abuse without fear
- Additional measures by social media companies to identify and flag this behavior