The use of the Internet with students has many benefits but it does require a set of skills to ensure a measure of online safety, states Gerry White in DERN.


Studies previously reported on DERN have shown that students are conscious of their online identities, have a notion about privacy and understand the boundaries of reasonable behaviour. However, the issue of cyberbullying continues to be a concern for educators and authorities.

A very simple guide to research between 2008 and 2012 into bullying including cyberbullying has been recently published by The Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The document Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review has been written in a structure and format that makes the task of locating specific aspects of bullying and cyberbullying simple and easy. Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review’ has been divided into two parts: ‘What is bullying’ and ‘What can be done about bullying’. Then in each part, the sections have been organised to begin with a short analytical summary which is then followed by several dot points about significant research findings. This comprehensive literature review of research into bullying is an ideal reference guide for busy educational leaders.

The research indicates that ‘online and offline bullying are more similar than different’ (p. 5) and focusses on school aged students from a young age to 18 years. Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review provides a literature review from a diverse range of disciplines such as ‘child and developmental psychology, educational, criminology, public health, paediatrics, and Internet studies’ (p. 6) giving the reader a rare and well-rounded picture of bullying.

The research is largely consistent in defining bullying although the ‘legal definitions of bullying vary and are often not identical with research definitions’ (p. 10). Bullying is a form of aggression that is intentional, involves a power imbalance, and is repetitive and occurs over time (p. 8). The research shows that this definition also accounts for online bullying (p. 11). Interestingly, the research indicates that students do not use the same rhetoric as adults to refer to cyberbullying but instead ‘teens use the term “drama” as a means of blurring the line between serious and non-serious social conflict, eliminating the need to identify either bully or victim’ (p. 11).

The report examines the roles of participants in cyberbullying and enables a good understanding of the characteristics, involvement and effects on each. Bullies, victims and bully-victims are all affected by cyberbullying in similar ways ranging from low self-esteem to decreased academic performance although that is not the case for bystanders. Bystanders are the ‘group of individuals who witness or observe an act of bullying’ (p. 12) that play a significant role in the incidence and frequency of bullying.

Studies reported in Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review found that ‘online bullying, as with physical and verbal bullying, related significantly to negative school climate, lack of peer support, and the views of students that approved of bullying’ (p. 14). However, studies also found that ‘offline bullying remains more prevalent’ (p. 15) than online bullying. Research found that in the online context, ‘youth still bully more by using instant messaging than social networking’ (p. 16) and that there is a ‘lack of association between age and victimization’ (p. 17).

One reported study found that students ‘who publish personal information online, such as on a blog, are at higher risk of cyberbullying victimization’ (p. 26) than those who do not. The same European study found that ‘other risk factors include chatting with older strangers or virtually known contacts and sharing passwords with online partners’ (p. 26). In relation to Facebook, one study found that conflict or “drama” as teens symbolise it, can escalate ‘when social norms from different social groups come into conflict’ (p. 31). Most reporting of cyberbullying was to parents by bystanders although ‘in response to cyberbullying, children and teens often consult with friends or unilaterally confront cyberbullies,’ (p. 33) found one meta-synthesis.

Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review reports that studies have found that zero-tolerance policies, harsh penalties and banning online services have not been effective in curbing cyberbullying because work-arounds have been easily found by students. In fact, the literature review reports that ‘overly punitive school policies toward online bullying may potentially have unintended consequences’ (p. 38). On the other hand, evidence based programs that are studied and evaluated for their implementation effectiveness have been found to be successful in reducing cyberbullying.

The report finishes by summarising the research and notes that ‘research shows little reason for online bullying to disproportionately cloud our understanding of teens’ social interactions online. Teens’ activities online can produce positive experiences, including exposure to diverse perspectives, which is helpful for positive social and intellectual growth’ (p. 47).Bullying in a Networked Era: A Literature Review is an excellent literature review that superbly summarises the research into the interrelated elements of bullying and cyberbullying.



Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN (free registration required)

Image: Flickr /mag3737



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