Online Bullying Really Not That Common

from the moral-panics dept

To hear some people tell it, “cyber bullying” is some huge and awful problem where “something” needs to be done. It’s a classic moral panic situation, but usually seems to involve parents totally overreacting. We’ve pointed out in the past that kids don’t view it as bullying and now some new research from the folks at Pew have pointed out that online bullying and general “meanness” really isn’t all that common. Yes, it does happen. And it sucks for those who are the target of such bullying. But that’s no reason to overreact and need to pass crazy legislation to wipe out the First Amendment in some quixotic effort to outlaw being mean.

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Comments on “Online Bullying Really Not That Common”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Its the panic we get to add to anything by adding the adjective Cyber to anything.

The issue with bullying has always been around, but adding cyber preys on the imagination that much more.

The problem is we allowed parents to think they are powerless to stop bullying. That they can’t possibly fix this, and they need to turn to the Government and experts to tell them how to fix it.

We need to demand more from parents, it is sad that we have to remind them THEY are the parents. If your child is being bullied online, try to talk to the other childs parents, pull them off of Facebook, teach them that people can not put you down without your permission. If we shove them to the victim pile why do we expect them to behave like anything else?

We used to have methods to deal with bullys, society had unwritten rules on how to deal with bad behavior. Now we have experts telling us its not the bullys fault, and we should feel as bad for them as we do the victim because they can not know any better. This is one of those times when everyone gets a ribbon, no one keeps score, etc. are bad ideas. Now if a teacher tries to stop an assault they face being sued by the parents saying how dare you discipline my child! We someone should be doing it, and it is clear you are not. Its not polite but maybe if we stop trying to not hurt feelings, call a bully a bully, demand there be real consequences for actions, and stop trying to wrap your kids in nerf.

The world is a harsh place, do you think your doing your child any favors by trying to hide that fact from them until they are 18 and completely unprepared for real human interaction?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You see, I saw once a bully being ignored by an entire group of people they got tired of the guy always bullying everyone and stop talking to him, and it worked.

What kind of thing you want people to do with a bully?
Kids are learning, if the bully is a manager I am all for old fashioned physical contact, but one must be prepared to face justice, that burden should be there so people don’t go accusing anyone willy nilly it has to be hard so only the really bad is addressed, now when they are kids, teachers should talk them and point the little idiots in the right direction.

G Thompson (profile) says:

The old schoolyard rhyme was:
Sticks and Stones may break my Bones,
Though words will never hurt me

The Nanny-state version is:
Sticks & Stones are deadly weapons
and words needs regulating for your own good

The kids version is:
Sticks and Stones? That’s old style & wacked
Lets Facebook, now that’s our communication

What it should be now:
Sticks and Stones can break your bones
Though words may hurt your feelings … Life WILL hurt even more

I’m actually in the process of putting together a presentation for some social workers, school teachers, and other community groups that basically scares the crap out of them regarding facebook and social media and then explains that kids (especially teenagers) do not worry about it and learn how to control and manage disputes better than even they could as teenagers. Also it delves into why pre-existing mental health issues are problematic when dealing with so called ‘cyber’ harassment.

Bullying strangely is a necessary part of growing up, and learning how to deal with it effectively and to understand it, and to accept that EVERYONE does it and has had it done to them sometime in their life as kids gives them the skills to manage it as an Adult.

High-end harassment on the other hand that has its intention to inflict damage on the victim is NOT bullying and needs to be dealt with whether it is via a computer, face to face, or using carrier pigeon, in the same way. Their is NO distinction and to try to differentiate them actually dispossesses victims of non-cyber high end harassment.

Sadly humans, especially those with ego complexes need to label everything so they can blame something else for the worlds ills.

Nicholas Alexander (profile) says:

The New

When a new thing comes along, the old rules look for ways to attach themselves to it attempting to water down difference. The shock of the new is levelled by the mollifying effect of democratic institution. We are afraid, as we get older, that new ideas will replace our sagging fame.

Cyber-bullying “is no different to real bullying” goes the trope, except that it is different. The “bully” can be blocked, publicly flogged, and exposed to the whole world in a matter of seconds.

There was a phase of cyber intimidation but is it not just the old passives who shout at their television screens having their last gasp as shared intellect overruns their shallow world?

Griff says:

Misrepresentation of bullying going on

Bullying that I have seen is not (as seems to be described by some posters here) misbehaviour of a single miscreant (“the bully”). It is frequently (esp in cyber cases) more than one (the “in crowd”) being mean to someone “less cool”.

And in those circumstances most weak willed onlookers won’t go against the in crowd.
So asking the bullied one to ignore the miscreants does not result in the bullies being somehow ostracised by the general populace, unless the bullied one can somehow engineer a huge PR coup and be “cooler than them”.

I got in a near flame war (maybe in TD) saying this once before but I’ll say it again. The victim often exhibits some behaviour that makes them more likely to be a victim. (They move schools, it starts all over again). Everyone knows this but is too PC to admit it.
(This is not the case if the bullying is rooted in racism, agreed, but I would contend this not the case in most cases).

Note that I am NOT SAYING it is the victim’s FAULT.
But that part of the power to stop it happening rests with them.
And we do the victim a disservice if we don’t try to give them that power.

Sure, punish the bully. That obviously needs to happen to show everyone there is justice in the world, and to stop him/her doing it again to someone else.
But that alone does not address the problem – there will just be another bully later.

I attempted to ignore a group of bullies as a kid for years
until I saw another of their victims fight back with sudden massive (disproportionate) force. And it stopped there and then. And the victim got a lot of cudos because everyone secretly hated the bullies. Having seen that, what do you think would I teach my own kids ?

Fighting back and exposing the bully as a coward in an online setting takes a different set of actions to retaliating physically in the playground but it’s something that a victim should be taught to do (IMHO).
Running away (telling the victim to just “not go in facebook”) is just confirming the victim status. And the same dynamic will be played out through the rest of the person’s life.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Misrepresentation of bullying going on

No flame wars here – I can get behind this 100%

Lots of bad things that happen to a person, and even that a person does themselves, are not really their fault – indeed there’s a philosophical slippery slope that makes it easy to attribute ALL behaviour to circumstance, upbringing, etc.

And that’s not bad – it’s good and human to have some amount of sympathy for everyone from perennial victims to addicts to those who are simply directionless – and even for the violent and criminal. But that must be balanced with a recognition that there is simply no better remedy for anyone than personal, proactive change – even in cases where it is arguably “unfair” to place that burden on the person.

The funny thing is that society tends to waffle around this when a person is partially or wholly responsible for their circumstances, but not when they are innocent. If someone has a physical or mental disability, we know what to try to do: not coddle them, but help them as much as necessary to empower them to still live a self-directed, dignified life. We help them overcome their disability. But if someone is antisocial or foolish or weak, we go to great lengths to frame it as a disability, and then don’t help them overcome it. It’s bizarre.

Clyde Smith (user link) says:

Limitations of the referenced research

I appreciate your humoring me on Twitter last night.

I’ve got a question in to the researchers but, from looking at the Pew study that the Cnet article you reference is discussing, it looks like there’s no attempt to find out what kids think they’re responding to when words such as “bullying”, “cruel” or “mean” are used. This is a common problem with Pew surveys and typically creates the situation of them doing a study that doesn’t really tell you what kids or adults are actually thinking when they respond. Which makes it hard to draw conclusions when we don’t really know what the respondents think they’re responding to or discussing.

I’m also concerned by the fact that the only other research they cite are other surveys for trends. Any analysis of young people that jettisons such fields as human development and brain-related research is going to be incomplete. There’s just a real limit to what you can understand about a topic through survey research, especially when you’re interviewing kids with multiple choice questions and parents present.

I have some questions about parents’ claims that they’re actually monitoring behavior in anything like a complete manner but I need to look at what they’re claiming more closely. It looks suspect to me given what I do know about how parents and kids actually relate.

I think there are also problems with the conclusions that can be drawn from Danah Boyd’s research. I need to look at more than just that one post about it but it basically seems to be a study of how kids define the term “bullying”. So it’s going to be insightful in terms of how kids view what they describe as bullying and how they can be reached to address bullying as defined in a scientific, psychological or even legal manner.

For my part, I feel that one in five children saying that they were bullied, given that we don’t really know what they mean, suggests that too much of whatever bullying might be to them is happening.

When I attacked you on Twitter, it regarded the issue of you making statements like “only bullying really not that common” which is separate from the issue of how bullying should be addressed in terms of education and legislation.

I think cruel treatment of other humans is something that we need to address in education and legislation. There are many laws on the books related to those topics, though not necessarily using those terms.

As long as terms are being thrown around without definitions, we can’t really communicate effectively about such topics and research that doesn’t work with a solid definition as a baseline or doesn’t develop a solid definition that allows it to be compared with and connected to other research on the topic is incomplete.

I’m not convinced that these studies are adequate to make the claim that “online bullying [is] really not that common”, especially given that you don’t define such terms as “bullying” and “common.”

How often something occurs does not necessarily relate to what should be done about it. If kids were only occasionally raped, I still think laws against and education about rape should be a basic part of our social system. That’s obviously a more extreme example than bullying though it may be part of a continuum when practiced by other kids.

The fact that speech is already regulated legally and socially, via social norms, hiring practices, community censure, etc., means that “free speech” doesn’t mean what it sounds like to everyday people.

But I agree that legislators and panicked adults tend to come up with totally ridiculous responses to such social concerns, in part, because they rarely study actual research on anything related to kids. Most just consume it via mass media which is typically a reporter putting their spin on a press release put out by a pr person at a university, research institute or corporate research department who may or may not have talked to the researchers and certainly haven’t actually looked at the study or how it was conducted.

And we can’t leave “common sense” out of the picture given that relying on common sense is why so many people fuck up so many aspects of daily life.

So that’s my off-the-cuff response. If I do more, I’ll follow up.

Mike, I would appreciate some kind of response to this comment so I can know if there’s any point I should address directly and also to know whether or not it’s actually worth proceeding.

You could respond here or by email:


Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Limitations of the referenced research

I think cruel treatment of other humans is something that we need to address in education and legislation.

How? This is my problem with it. Does bullying occur? Sure. But is it as big a problem as we keep hearing about? There’s almost no evidence I can find to support that.

My problem is that every single attempt to “educate” or “legislate” around this issue doesn’t do anything useful. The simple fact is, some kids are going to be jerks. I’m not saying bullying is okay, but I’m saying it happens, and anti-bullying classes don’t help at all. Legislating that it’s illegal to be a jerk doesn’t help at all.

It all just seems totally pointless. If and when bullying rises to the level of existing crimes, then use those laws.

And, no, I’m not trying to minimize the impact on those who have been bullied. But, honestly, I don’t think we’d *want* to stop all bullying. Learning how to respond to bullies is an important part of growing up. Can bullies go too far? Yes. But deal with those individual circumstances, rather than this ridiculous effort to paint anyone who’s a jerk as a bully and then trying to wipe out all bullying.

Focus on the extreme cases, which can already be dealt with via existing laws.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Limitations of the referenced research

I think saying that it’s fine until someone goes too far could be construde as ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’. It’s almost reactive to the point of negligence, where surely there are some proactive things that can be done before a case becomes extreme?
From what I’ve read on this subject, most ‘cyber-bullying’ happens from kids to kids and as such should be easier to stop. Kids are not afforded the same rights as adults and as such can be restricted easier than adults.

From :

“Despite the potential damage of cyber bullying, it is alarmingly common among adolescents and teens. According to Cyber bullying statistics from the i-SAFE foundation:

Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.

The Harford County Examiner reported similarly concerning cyber bullying statistics:

Around half of teens have been the victims of cyber bullying
Only 1 in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyber bully victim
Fewer than 1 in 5 cyber bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement
1 in 10 adolescents or teens have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras
About 1 in 5 teens have posted or sent sexually suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others
Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to be involved in cyber bullying

The Cyberbullying Research Center also did a series of surveys that found these cyber bullying statistics:

Over 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying
About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly
Mean, hurtful comments and spreading rumors are the most common type of cyber bullying
Girls are at least as likely as boys to be cyber bullies or their victims
Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls
Cyber bullying affects all races
Cyber bullying victims are more likely to have low self esteem and to consider suicide”

Just because it’s not reported to the authorities, does not mean that it’s not happening.

Clyde Smith (user link) says:

Pt. 2

I’m sure you’re busy and haven’t had the time to respond since I followed up on my tweets to your point that I hadn’t showed you anything.

Since I discussed the problem with the research, let me discuss the problem with your response to the research.

As Amanda Lenhart, one of the researchers replied in an email:

“There are also additional challenges associated with the term bullying – as a portion of teens will not describe their experiences as bullying even if some adults might.”

If we take the research at face value, an alternate explanation than the one you take is that Danah Boyd’s research shows that kids label many forms of bullying as something else so that they under report incidents of bullying.

If we then look at Pew researchers’ statement linked to in my previous comment:

“One in five teens say they were bullied in the past year.”

This, of course, includes ftf and cyber but here’s what it suggests about bullying.

If kids under report bullying, it’s plausible to up that figure to 2 or 3 in 5. Let’s split the difference and say 50% may be bullied on an annual basis. Over a 12 year period of school, that could easily mean that 100% experience bullying – some every year, some on alternate years, some rarely.

So your conclusion that online bullying is really not that common is likely to be flawed. The research on which you base that claim does not support your statement though that doesn’t rule out the possibility that additional research with clearly defined terms would support your statement.

And explaining away phenomenon by simply changing the meaning of terms is a common rhetorical device that raises other concerns.

It’s quite possible that you are contributing to the historically much more prevalent phenomenon of downplaying bullying and so contributing to a public discourse evident in some of the above comments of talking nonsense and putting it forth as common sense in a manner that contributes to an atmosphere that supports the ongoing existence of bullying.

In your case, given your stance as someone who’s cutting through the bullshit with solid research findings, it’s a particularly bad look as many will scan the headline, swallow your claims whole and go on to contribute to the cluelessness evidenced by so many regarding bullying.

On a methodological note: Danah’s research as presented in that post is a form of qualitative work that is usually not generalizable. So though it may suggest issues to consider, it does not support such conclusions as you make that “kids don’t view it as bullying” beyond the kids with whom she spoke.

If her sampling and interview process is broad enough, which would take a long time to do as an individual, then it may be generalizable but that’s not indicated in the source you cite.

Being wrong is not the end of the world but if you’re going to refer to research, you need to learn more about it and both analyze and apply it correctly.

If I had business interests that were threatened by some of your other work, I would be looking much more closely at your interpretation of research and stats.

As it is, I’m just dismayed that you’re contributing to the confusion around a subject that is one aspect of abusive behavior between humans. And I hope we can agree that abuse is a bad thing.

sta303 (profile) says:

Why does the frequency of a the offense matter? If murder were occurring at a rate less than that of cyber bullying, would we want to decriminalize murder? I am just not sure I see the connection between the rate of occurrence and the need to regulate. I will also point at that no matter the rate of occurrence, if it is happening to you, it is 100%.

As for the 1st Amendment implications, that is why we have SCOTUS. I feel fairly confident that laws can be crafted that adequately protect our liberties.

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