Cyberbullying among teenagers is more likely to involve current or former friends and dating partners, a new study has found.
“A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections,” said Diane Felmlee from Pennsylvania State University in the US.
The study found that the likelihood of cyberbullying – defined as electronic or online behaviour intended to harm another person psychologically or damage their reputation – was about seven times greater between current or former friends and dating partners than between young people who had neither been friends nor had dated.
“We believe that competition for status and esteem represents one reason behind peer cyberbullying,” said Felmlee.
“Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club and/or sport positions and social connections,” she said.
In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression.
They might also believe they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from breaking up with them or dating someone else, by embarrassing or harassing them, researchers said.
The study analysed survey results from nearly 800 eighth-to twelfth-grade students. The survey collected data about participants’ social networks, dating history and cyberbullying experiences.
Researchers found that approximately 17.2 per cent of students had been involved with cyberbullying within a week of their having been surveyed – 5.8 per cent were purely victims, 9.1 per cent were solely aggressors, and 2.3 per cent were both.
In most cases, the cyber aggression occurred over Facebook or text message.
Researchers also found that certain types of students were much more likely than others to be victimised. For example, girls were twice as likely as boys to fall victim to cyber aggression.
“In spite of societal progress regarding gender inequality, there remains a tendency to attribute lower levels of esteem and respect to females in our society, including within schools,” said Felmlee.
The findings were published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.