Bullying is not a new phenomenon. It occurs at all ages, in all cultures, and in all classes of people. But nowhere are we more aware of bullying than in our schools and among young people.
Bullying that takes place online is referred to as cyberbullying. It can happen anywhere online, but it typically plays out on social media channels. As a result, social networks are often blamed for causing cyberbullying. But research shows that cyberbullying occurs due to an array of factors outside of any social network, app, or platform.
iCanHelpline.org and Net Safety Collaborative founder Ann Collier explains this in a recent article that summarizes research by bullying expert Dorothy Espelage. Referring to Espelage’s research, Collier explains that “the context of cyberbullying is really young users’ school climate, what’s happening in their peer groups, not media.” This helps explain that an app or platform alone does not cause bullying. Rather, a “child’s psychosocial makeup and home and school environments are better predictors of online risk than any technology the child uses.”
Collier highlights insights from The Internet Safety Technical Task Force’s review that “bullying predicts cyberbullying more than social media use does,” echoing the last of the review’s 4 key takeaways:
- “Not all youth are equally at risk online.
- The young people most at risk online are those most at risk offline.
- Harassment and bullying are by far the most common risk youth face online.
- A child’s psychosocial makeup and home and school environments are better predictors of his/her online risk than any technology the child uses.”
Summarizing the task force’s work, Collier notes that, “It underscores that what our children and teens (not to mention all of us) experience online has much more to do with what’s going on in and around us in everyday life – family makeup and values, social skills and experiences, peer relations and influences, etc. – than the media environment where all this is expressed.”
Social media companies aren’t “off the hook.” Each social network is responsible for educating users on how to civilly interact with others on their platform. One way social media companies can deliver on this responsibility is by having enforceable guidelines for users’ behavior on their site and remove users who violate these policies and guidelines.
Bullying happened before social media and continues to occur on it. Collier and the task force’s opinions highlight a person’s environment having more of an impact on cyber bullying tendencies than the platforms of exchange themselves. Whatever the case is, we can continue to do work as educators and models for our young people to show ways of interacting with our peers that are healthy and not harmful.
This post was written by Nick Chmura and the After School Communications Team.