Security & Safety

Cyberbullying Among Teens More Common with Current or Former Friends Than Strangers

Current or former friends or dates are seven times more likely to cyberbully each other than young people who don’t know each other, according to a recent study.

The study, led by Diane Felmlee, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, focused on 800 students from eighth to 12th grades at a public school in a New York City suburb. About 17 percent had been involved with cyberbullying within a week of the research, conducted by Felmlee and co-author Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at UC Davis. Of those involved with cyberbullying, nearly 6 percent were victims; about 9 percent were aggressors; and about 2 percent were both.

Cyberbullying usually occurred through Facebook or texting, the authors said. Girls were twice as likely as boys to be victimized.

“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,” Felmlee said in the study. “The large magnitude of the effects of close relationships on the likelihood of cyberbullying, even after controlling for many other factors, was particularly surprising.”

In the realm of dating, young people often harbor resentments after a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyberaggression, Felmee said.

The aggressors may also think they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from dating someone else, by harassing their former partner, the study said.

Here are some other findings in the study:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth were four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be victims of cyberbullying;
  • LGBTQ students reported being called homophobic slurs and, in at least one case, unwillingly having their true sexual identities revealed to others; and
  • Examples of cyberaggression ranged from threats and posting embarrassing photos and nasty rumors to criminal activities, such as identity theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker wrote about online.

The study, “Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating and Cyber Victimization,” was presented this month during the 111st annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle.

The report also appears in the September issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].