How is Cyber Bullying Unique from Traditional Bullying?

by pagatston on February 13, 2011

In order to truly understand cyber bullying, it is important to understand traditional bullying. Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus found three key components to bullying behavior. Bullying behavior is aggressive, repetitive, and power-based. In other words, the person being targeted has a hard time defending him or herself. In many ways cyber bullying fits this definition. Certainly the behavior is aggressive in nature, designed to hurt the other person’s feelings or relationship with others, or even to frighten him or her. Cyber Bullying is usually repetitive, or by it’s very nature it can be viewed multiple times by the person who is targeted digitally. Granted a one-time nasty text message may not fit the definition of bullying behavior. But is cyber bullying power-based?

Ask those who are targeted by cyber bullying and they will often tell you that they have a hard time defending themselves because a humiliating message has spread and been viewed by many individuals. Sometimes the targeted individual is not sure who posted particular comments or set up a fake profile, so not knowing who their abuser is can also lead to a sense of powerlessness.
But there are also some unique features that we need to be aware of in regards to cyber bullying. In traditional bullying the identity of the perpetrator is usually known. We also deal with the phenomenon of disinhibition, where people say or do things online that they wouldn’t normally do because they feel invisible. Yet the data is not suggesting that we have a larger population of youth engaging in cyber bullying because of the disinhibition or the ability to be anonymous. However the research does suggest that a majority of youth who are cyber bullied are also experienced traditional bullying. In many instances the digital representation of bullying is making obvious the problems youth are experiencing in their relationships that may have been invisible in previous years. But the ability for an abuser to have a vast audience and for their digital abuse to intensify the pervasiveness of an experience of bullying is a significant issue and one that must be addressed in efforts at bullying prevention. I will be speaking about whole school approaches to address cyber bullying at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference panel on cyber bullying March 19th in New York City. A blog that I wrote on the topic of “whole school approaches” can be found here.

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