• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 28th April, 2011

The dark side of the net

Circulating sexually explicit photographs of another young person on the Internet, delivering death threats via instant messengers and posting video footage of physical attacks online. Each of these examples of “cyber bullying” highlight the disturbing, darker side of social networking devices like Twitter and Facebook and other new forms of communication like smart phones. While the different forms cyber bullying can take are various, a recent study in Adolescent Psychiatry summarises it as “targeted harm inflicted through the use of text or images sent via the internet, cell phones or other communication devices”. This rapidly evolving technology has fundamentally changed and influenced the way in which young people interact and communicate. As a consequence, Gerson and Rappaport argue, parents and practitioners are at a loss as to know how best to deal with the problem of cyber bullying. Indeed, the authors’ search to uncover the victims and aggressors involved in cyber bullying was muddied by the fact that the answer was found to vary considerably across studies, with no clear or consistent profile emerging. Some found aggressors at school are the same as aggressors online (Juvonen and Gross 2008), whereas others revealed aggressors at school can actually be the victims online (Raskauskas and Stoltz). Nonetheless, cyber bullying appears to be easier than more “traditional” forms of bullying. The authors argue that cyber bullying does not require social skill, standing or physical strength and provides the aggressor with some level of anonymity. As a consequence those who do not engage in what the authors define as “an extension of older forms of bullying” find an outlet online.So what is the impact of cyber bullying? Gerson and Rappaport found that its victims display double the number of depressive symptoms compared with those who were not bullied in this manner. However, while considerable evidence exists illuminating the negative impact of bullying in general, there is little research, which exclusively examines cyber bullying itself. And the dearth of research could partially explain the limited number of evidence-based interventions (See: ‘Sexting – young people only get the message’). The potential solutions to cyber bullying are, however, more complicated than simply instructing young people to switch off all communication devices. Not only would this be impractical, but the fear of the potential reaction from parents and practitioners could prevent young people speaking out when they are experiencing this form of bullying.Instead, the report suggests in order to effectively tackle cyber-bullying work must take place in both at school and at home. For instance, they propose parents and clinicians should be aware of blocking and monitoring software. This knowledge can, in turn, be used to encourage children to make us of blocking tools available on social networking sites when they experience cyber bullying. However, as the authors point out, even this potential solution is not the panacea it may at first appear: research indicates one reason young people go online is to find out what is being said about them (Juvoven and Gross 2008). Drawing from existing research illuminating the detrimental impact ‘traditional’ bullying can have on its victims, more work is needed to understand the mechanisms behind cyber-bullying. Such work will have the potential to help develop more effective intervention programmes that target cyberbullying. Gerson and Rappaport conclude their review by stating ‘research is urgently needed to inform legal proceedings and lawmaking’.References:Gerson, R. and Rappaport, N. (2011). Cyber Cruelty: Understanding and Preventing the New Bullying. Adolescent Psychiatry, 1, 67-71. Juvonen J. and Gross, E. F. (2008). Extending the school gounds? Bullying experiences in cyberspace. Journal of School Health, 78, 496-505. Raskauskas, J., & Stoltaz, A. D. (2007). Involvement in traditional and eletronic bullying among adolescents. Deveopmental Psychology, 43, 564-575

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