Fall 2011

Cyber-Bullying: A Virtual Plague in the Lonely World of the Ex-Communicated

Open University Researchers:
"We Need a National Program"

One out of every two students in middle school (aged 13-16 years) can be classified as a cyber-bully perpetrator, victim or by-stander.
"One out of every two students in middle school (aged 13-16 years) can be classified as a cyber-bully perpetrator, victim or by-stander." These are just some of the preliminary results of a new 4-year research study conducted by Dr. Tali Heiman, Head of the University's Department of Education and Psychology and Dr. Dorit Olenick-Shemesh, member of the Department of Education and Psychology.

The rapid proliferation of cellphones, Facebook, emails, social media, iPhones, blackberries, google chat -- has led to a virtual plague of cyber-bullying.

Bullying has always existed in society -- the strong preying upon the weak, the confident undermining the unconfident, the 'groupies' against the 'outsiders.' But, with the internet and mobile phones in nearly every home, and their characteristic accessibility and extensive reach, have led to evil being proliferated at a faster and easier rate.

According to the US-based National Crime Prevention Council, cyber- bullying is defined as: "when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person."

Google cyber-bullying and up pops a series of stories about persecuted teens who committed suicide. One in particular receives extensive coverage: Megan Meier, a 13-year old Missouri teenager, who hung herself. A year after their daughter's suicide her parents prompted an investigation into her death, which was eventually attributed to cyber-bullying through the social networking website My Space. The foundation established in her memory is dedicated to bringing about "awareness, education and promoting positive change... preventing bullying and cyber-bullying."

Cyber bullying in Israel: 4-Year Study

Dr. Tali Heiman and Dr. Dorit Olenick-Shemesh joined a 4-year study simultaneously being conducted by the European Union on cyber- bullying among 13-16 year old students in middle schools. They selected 600 students from the center of the country, and extended their parameters to also include teachers and parents. The objective of the study was to both identify the extent of cyber-bullying and offer ideas for effective intervention.

Consider these statistics:

"Within less than 10 years, we are witnesses to a dramatic growth in cyber-bullying. Where 10 years ago, some 2-3% of teenagers were involved in cyber-bullying, today 20% are actively involved," according to Dr. Tali Heiman.

That is a 10-fold increase. But, this belies an even stronger undercurrent of involvement. Dr. Heiman and Dr. Olenick-Shemesh also examined students who "know that there is bullying going on, may even receive pictures or messages, see postings on My Space or Facebook," explains Dr. Olenick-Shemesh, "don't directly participate in it, but also don't do anything to prevent it." The statistics that the two researchers gathered showed some 33% of students who can be classified as by-standers. That means that one out of every two teenagers in their study is somehow involved in cyber-bullying to one extent or another.

The focus of Heiman and Olenick-Shemesh's study was on the psychological reactions of teenagers as a result of cyber-bullying. "We examined the extent to which social support eroded, absences from school increased, signs of depression and a vast range of other social-emotional-behavioral aspects appeared" the researchers explained.

There is no doubt that cyber-bullying has an adverse effect on teen victims:
  • 20.4% reported that they have fewer friends
  • 21% claimed that their marks deteriorated
  • 42% reported that they are experiencing concentration problems
What did the victims do? In most cases, they did nothing. "Some 57% said that they didn't do anything at all, and surprisingly 36% said that they just dropped out of the internet (i.e.Facebook, My Space, etc.) But, almost half -- 46% -- did try and strike back."

In terms of perpetrators, the results showed a strong bias against boys:
  • boys are more frequently perpetrators, while girls are more frequently victims.
  • there is a higher percentage of girl-perpetrators in cyber- bullying than in face-to-face bullying.
And among bystanders,
  • the numbers point to more boys than girls.
Heiman and Olenick-Shemesh believe that there is a strong correlation between cyber-bullying and face-to-face bullying. Indeed, two-thirds of the victims of cyber-bullying were also victims of face-to-face bullying.

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