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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Filed Under: bullying, online

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  1. identicon
    Clyde Smith, 12 Nov 2011 @ 9:35am

    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:


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