• September 3, 2015

2 Scholars Examine Cyberbullying Among College Students

cyber bully

Baylor U.

Ikuko Aoyama, a doctoral candidate at Baylor U., and Tony L. Talbert, a professor in Baylor’s School of Education, found that "it is easy for victims to cyberbully back others."

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Baylor U.

Ikuko Aoyama, a doctoral candidate at Baylor U., and Tony L. Talbert, a professor in Baylor’s School of Education, found that "it is easy for victims to cyberbully back others."

When Megan Meier hanged herself three weeks before her 14th birthday, in 2006, it sent shock waves through the small town of Dardenne Prairie, Mo. But when an investigation revealed that she had done so after being bullied online by the mother of a friend, Megan's death made national news and helped spark a wave of research on cyberbullying.

While much of the scholarship has focused on adolescents, work has also been done on the phenomenon at the college level. Ikuko Aoyama, a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at Baylor University, presented her work on sex differences in cyberbullying at a recent conference of the American Educational Research Association. She spoke with The Chronicle along with her adviser, Tony L. Talbert, an associate professor in Baylor's School of Education.

Q. What sort of differences have researchers found in male and female bullying?

Ms. Aoyama. In traditional bullying, sex differences are well documented. Males are engaged in more physical types of bullying, such as hitting and kicking; on the other hand, females are engaged in more indirect and psychological bullying, such as social exclusion or rumor-spreading. ... We looked at if the similar pattern was observed for cyberbullying contexts. In the beginning, the results on sex differences were inconsistent across the researchers. However, more studies have found that there are no big sex differences, like in traditional bullying.

Q. Why do you think that might be?

Ms. Aoyama. In cyberbullying, physical strength, or age or sex, is not a factor to determine if they are a victim or a bully, because they don't involve face-to-face interaction.

Q. How does the fact that this is all taking place virtually affect bullying?

Ms. Aoyama. Studies we have done did not identify "pure victims" or "pure bullies," and many students are in a "bully-victim" group. Because students can avoid face-to-face interaction and remain anonymous, it is easy for victims to cyberbully back others.

Mr. Talbert. From adolescence to high school to college, the technology literally becomes almost this great equalizer. It becomes this medium where people create these alternative identities—from Second Life to social-networking sites—but the rules as we understand them from bullying from a physical standpoint have completely changed.

Q. How does the effect of cyberbullying on the victim differ from that of traditional bullying?

Mr. Talbert. The impact from a psychological perspective hasn't really changed. Our laws have not really kept up, and our psychological education of using technology and its impact on the psyche has not kept up, either with the technology or the users of the technology.

Q. What are universities doing now to curb cyberbullying among their students?

Ms. Aoyama. I have never heard of colleges or universities limiting cyberbullying or taking preventive actions, but it is necessary to raise the awareness among administrators and students. For example, our school has "Alcohol Awareness Week" or "Eating-Disorder Awareness Month," and they have posters or speakers all over the campus during the week or month. I wish we could do something like that.

Q. The paper presented at the education-research conference says that "considering the fact that as many as 70 percent of middle- and high-school students have experienced cyberbullying, it is probable that the prevalence among college students will be higher" in the future. Why might that be true?

Ms. Aoyama. Many cyberbullying studies are focusing on middle- and high-school students, and there are few studies on college students. But I don't think many high-school students who experienced cyberbullying will suddenly change once they enter college, even though they may be more mature. I think they already learned that this is a way to put down others.

Q. Students coming to college in 10 or 20 years will be more comfortable with technology from a younger age. How do you think that will affect cyberbullying at a postsecondary level?

Mr. Talbert. As attitudes evolve and as the use of technology evolves among university students, what could be interesting is looking at it from a longitudinal standpoint. Here's this cohort of students in 2010—what happens in 2015? What's interesting is to look at digital natives from 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, and see if we do have a shifting in the moral or psychological attitude.


1. arrive2__net - June 07, 2010 at 05:04 am

I think this is an interesting and important subject especially for those who are intensive web users, not only because as educators we may be called upon to resolve a bullying situations, but because as web users it is a good idea to understand the dynamics ... in case we had to deal with something like that directed at ourselves. The article mentions a "bully-victim" group", but it is not clear what the dynamic there is. I have seen a case of a student who (traditionally) bullied other girls, then filed a complaint of bullying when the girls she had victimized reacted by 'returning the favor'. Yet, the original bully, and her family, allegedly believed that she really was "the victim". There is a lot to understand in the dynamics of bullying.

Bernard Schuster

2. larnston - June 08, 2010 at 05:29 pm

I believe the Megan Meier case was in Missouri (Mo.) (no need to post this)

3. albertov05 - June 09, 2010 at 12:51 am

The relative anonymity encourages this sort of behavior. Legally this ought to be regarded as libel. The point is that the new media allows individuals to broadcast slanderous speech to a wide audience. Uncorroborated claims are distributed to virtually everyone in the world. The Romans called this "fama" or rumor. It is hard to see how anyone can defend against this. In another forum, Rate my Professor comes to mind. Employers actually check this site for evidence against job candidates. Although this is not bullying per se, it is a similar instance of potentially allowing individuals with grudges to inveigh against defenseless targets. The media has become a powerful weapon in the hands of many who may be unscrupulous, and without recourse for the victims. Saying that targets may bully back is disingenuous and smacks of blaming the victim. What heretofore was merely private gossip, limited to small networks of individuals, is now published for all. There are very many problems with this issue. Perhaps the psychological focus of the "dynamics of bullying" is too narrow.

4. chronicle_moderators - June 09, 2010 at 04:29 pm

Thanks for noting that error, larnston. It's now been corrected in the article.

Andrew Mytelka
News Editor
The Chronicle

5. dank48 - June 10, 2010 at 08:34 am

The heart of the matter, it seems to me, is that cyberbullying is anonymous. When the anonymity is abused, as in making libelous attacks, it should be possible to strip away the anonymity and reveal the identity of the bully. So long as accounts are billed to some real person or other responsible entity, there's a way to connect the screen name with the real name.

I'm not saying it would be easy or simple. We encounter dozens of people every day in the real world without knowing their names, and we don't need to know. If, however, someone attacks us, we do.

This isn't advocating a cybergestapo, any more than we want real-world police messing with our real lives. But when we need the police, we hope they can show up quickly and effectively.

6. robbie1 - June 10, 2010 at 09:36 am

Cyberbullying is one logical result of allowing anonymity in cyberspace, a huge invitation to bullying behavior. It is also an example of adopting the "lowest common denominator" of thought and interaction. How sad for us all, mostly the young.
Recognizing the fabulous resource and power that networked computing would offer humanity, MANY knew allowing anonymity was wrong when internet access was opened up to the general public. It is still wrong today.
Communicating with anonymity destroys the accountability humans should exercise in community, and, in short, allows a grand platform for cowards (a category which includes bullies).
Solutions ... "delete" inappropriate content every instance it is noted. Rebuke bullying when detected. (Internet service providers should do that as well.)
Another good solution ... turn off your computer.
It is wrong to blame "the media" for all the rotten behavior of human beings. Such is within each individual, but every individual can decide not to behave in a rotten manner.

7. backfull - June 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

Embrace bullying and turn it into an academic discipline! Lucrative careers have been built by creating vicious rumors and transforming them into "news" in the broadcast media. Much of this is done anonymously, but many of the "distinguished scholars" are well known. Seriously, cyberbullying is not a school-age or an academic phenomenon, but something that is epidemic in our techno-culture.

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