Cyberbullying: aggressors also victims, study reveals cycle of attack and retaliation

One in four teens experience cyberbullying, 30% admit instigating bullying, with over half of bullies themselves past victims of cyberbullying

A study on the incidence and effects of cyberbullying found that the majority of those who instigate cyberbullying on others have themselves been on the receiving end of cyberbullying.

In fact, among instigators of cyberbullying 59% were cyberbullying victims while 41% were not.

The study, published on the Malta Medical Journal by psychologists Faye Grech and Mary Anne Lauri, investigated the effects of cyberbullying among a sample of 367 adolescents aged 14-16.

The study found that one in four teens participating in this study reported having experienced cyberbullying while one in three admitted to having instigated cyberbullying.

Often, belligerent messages were sent via messaging, through for example, Facebook, Whatsapp and other social networking sites. 

Cyberbullies reported that the motivations for bullying include retaliation or revenge, jealousy and sometimes teasing.

According to the authors of the study “the fast-paced online world blurs the line between bully and victim in that it does not allow time for the victim to consider their response”. In this way, in many cases the exchange of bully and victim roles occurs frequently and spontaneously.

“The cyberworld is carried in our pockets, with immediate and quick access, and posting without much consideration is an easy feat. Instigation and retaliation are easy behaviours in the online world.”

Moreover in the context of the fast-paced, rapid and ever-changing electronic environment, this change of roles occurs very quickly. “Impulsivity and lack of self-control are the cogwheels which power the cycle,” the authors say.

Cyberbullies reported their motivations for bullying include retaliation or revenge, jealousy and sometimes teasing. 

In 53% of cases the main motivation was retaliation against an attack. In 44% of cases the motivation was sheer disagreement.

But victims were also targeted for their physical appearance (10%), their sexual orientation (5%), their nationality (5%), their origin (5%) their language (5%) their skin colour (5%) and their religion (4%). This suggests that in nearly a quarter of the cases the attack was motivated by xenophobia or racism.

In 10% of the cases the motivation was the physical appearance of the victim while in 5% the motivation was the sexual orientation of the victim.

The results also show that 18% of victims of cyberbullying resorted to self-harm and 30% had suicidal thoughts. 18% experienced lowered academic performance, 58% wanted to avoid the individuals who bullied them and 42% felt distressed by rereading and reviewing what was posted.

According to the authors of the study, cyberbullying needs to be given more importance by health professionals since it manifests itself in various negative outcomes affecting wellbeing.

The study also found that among the 90 participants who experienced cyberbullying, 67, that is 74.4% also experienced face-to-face bullying.

For this study, classes of students aged between 13 and 16 from five schools were recruited. These were two State schools, two Church schools and one was an Independent school.

The study calls for a national policy targeting cyberbullying since addressing cyberbullying requires different measures then addressing traditional bullying. This phenomenon needs to be given more importance through a trans-disciplinary approach.

The authors also advocate the ‘Stop, Block and Tell’ strategy, where children are urged to take four steps for managing the situation: stop and calm down to avoid adverse reactions, block the cyberbully, limit communication to a friend list and finally report such episodes to a trusted adult.