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Menesini, E., Nocentini, A., Palladino, B. E., Frise´n, A., Berne, S., Ortega, R.,… Smith, P.K. (2012). Cyberbullying definition among adolescents: A comparison across six European countries. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 455–463.

Cultural aspects can play a role in the definition of cyberbullying since countries might use different words to describe bullying. During recent years researchers have debated whether the three criteria proposed by Olweus for defining conventional bullying, namely, intentionality, repetition, and imbalance of power, also applies to cyberbullying. Two additional criteria have been proposed that might be specific to cyberbullying: anonymity, and public versus private. Anonymity may intensify negative feelings in the victim, such as powerlessness. Young people consider the attack as more serious when an embarrassing picture is uploaded public than when something nasty is written privately, because of the potentially large audience. The researchers investigated the role of five definitional criteria for cyberbullying, in six European countries. These criteria (intentionality, imbalance of power, repetition, anonymity, and public vs. private) were combined through a set of 32 scenarios, covering a range of four types of behaviors (written-verbal, visual, exclusion, and impersonation).

Method: Participants were 2,257 adolescents from middle to high schools across six European countries: Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, and France. A set of 32 scenarios was created combining the presence or absence of the criteria. In addition, four types of behavior were covered: written-verbal, visual, exclusion, and impersonation, giving a total number of 128 cyberbullying scenarios. Eight versions of questionnaire were created, each comprising 16 scenarios. Participants were asked of each scenario, whether it was cyberbullying or not. Preliminary focus groups, carried out before the construction of the scenarios, were conducted in each country to find the best term to label cyberbullying. In France cyberbullying was referred to cyber violence.

Results: The highest levels were characterized by imbalance of power followed by intentionality and at a lower level, anonymity. For all of these scenarios, exclusion showed lower percentages as compared with the other types of behavior. In terms of country differences, French participants more often perceived the scenarios as cyberbullying as compared with those in other countries.

Discussion: When adolescents evaluate a scenario as cyberbullying they mainly consider the presence of the traditional bullying criteria with an exception: the criterion of repetition. The strongest criterion needed to define cyberbullying is imbalance of power. The second dimension that emerged is intentionality. Finally, another criterion seems to define the second dimension together with intentionality: the anonymity. When the imbalance of power is not present, we have a higher probability to perceive it as cyberbullying if the attack is intentional and nonanonymous. Nocentini et al. showed that although anonymity can raise insecurity and fear—if the perpetrator is familiar and he/she is someone who can be trusted—this can hurt the victim more. Public versus private criterion did not show any relevance for the definition of cyberbullying; it seems that an act is defined as cyberbullying regardless of the fact that it is spread to a large audience or not. The French language does not have a direct translation of the term bullying and the term violence is generally used. During 2010, a massive media campaign about school violence and cyber violence was disseminated at the school level in France. Also cyber violence is very broad and can include a wider range of behaviors than the other terms used.