On assignment from The Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion (BLD) cf. Measure 19 in the Government’s “Action Plan against Domestic Violence 2012” and Point 184.108.40.206b in the assignment letter for 2012 from the Health Directorate, the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) has summarized this knowledge review about cyberbullying. The purpose was to examine how children and young people in Norway are exposed to bullying and psychological violence, threats of violence, harassment and sexual harassment through digital media.
The data used in this knowledge review have been gathered through searches using the University of Oslo’s literature search engine Primo. The search engine looks through a series of e-resources, including international databases such as PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, Medline, the Cochrane Library, Sage Publications and Google. In addition, several searches were conducted using Google Search and Google Scholar. The keywords used were “digital bullying/cyberbullying/electronic bullying/internet bullying/internet harassment/electronic bullying/cyberbullying/digital bullying/internet bullying/internet harassment/digital harassment/electronic harassment/bullying and digital media/harassment and digital media”. Furthermore, reference lists of articles have been used to identify other relevant articles.
Traditional bullying has received increased attention in recent years, especially after the government’s “Manifesto against Bullying” was implemented in 2002. The prevalence of traditional bullying in Norway has remained relatively stable for several years at around 5-6 per cent. Over the last few years there has also been an increased focus on cyberbullying. Studies have shown that nearly 5 per cent of children and adolescents in Norway have experienced cyberbullying during the past month.
International research has shown a much higher prevalence of cyberbullying than in Norway. For example, a literature review on cyberbullying in the United States found that 24 per cent of respondents had been cyberbullied. This cannot automatically be attributed to actual differences in prevalence, as different definitions have been used, and different requirements for how often the events had to have taken place for it to be defined as cyberbullying.
There are several similarities between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, but it is debatable whether the two forms of bullying should be treated as separate, or as two aspects of the same problem. A key difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is the ability to bully anonymously. In traditional bullying, it is usually clear who is bullying and it is usually clear who observes that the bullying occurs (spectators).
Cyberbullying can take several different forms, including phone calls, text-messaging, video/picture messages by e-mail, chat services, or websites created to defame or hurt someone. Cyberbullying can also occur by posting of unwanted images or videos on the internet, or unwanted comments on social networking sites or blogs. Furthermore, cyberbullying takes place in video games and other virtual environments. Disagreement about how cyberbullying should be defined and understood, however, complicates research on the phenomenon.
Another important point in the debate on traditional and digital bullying concerns the degree of overlap between the two. The majority of studies show a high degree of overlap between cyber-bullying and traditional bullying. This may indicate that the digital bullying is part of a more comprehensive bullying behaviour manifested in different ways.
Who is exposed to cyberbullying and what consequences does it have? Several studies have found a correlation between cyberbullying and being in an already vulnerable group, i.e. lack of a supportive and positive school environment, lack of social support from friends and parents. Children and adolescents in these groups were more vulnerable to cyberbullying than others. Studies of the relationship between gender, age and cyberbullying show varying results.
In addition, several studies have found that exposure to both traditional and digital bullying may be extra harmful, and may cause issues such as depression and anxiety. At the same time, it is difficult to distinguish the specific effects of cyberbullying from traditional bullying.
The way forward
We need to have a continuous and active monitoring of both traditional bullying and cyberbullying going forward. Future research should differentiate between the various types of actions and behaviours in digital aggression. This will enable us to better separate cyberbullying from other forms of digital aggression, and thus give us more specific knowledge about the phenomenon. This will provide increased opportunities for prevention and intervention
Based on the literature reviwed, , the following main points are put forward:
- Digital bullying is a problem that affects children and young people in today’s society.
- There is a great deal of disagreement about what should be considered cyberbullying. A well-established and common understanding of the phenomenon is required.
- There is disagreement about the extent of cyberbullying, but most studies consider cyberbullying less common than traditional bullying.
- Parents, guardians and other adults know little about what their children experience through the use of digital media.
- Already vulnerable groups are more vulnerable to cyberbullying than others.
- It is potentially more harmful to be exposed to both digital and traditional bullying. It is harder to detect specific strains associated to cyberbullying only, but all forms of bullying has a negative impact on those affected.
- Digital bullying and traditional bullying are related.
- There is no basis for saying that cyberbullying is growing rapidly and/or has created many new victims.
- Anti- bullying campaigns should have a holistic focus on bullying behavior that includes both traditional and digital bullying.