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 @ 6:14pm

    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.

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