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Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L. M., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Wolak, J. (2015). The role of technology in peer harassment: Does it amplify harm for youth? Psychology of Violence

Among youth who experienced traditional harassment in the past several months, about 18% also experienced cyber-victimization during that time and among cyber victims, about 95% had experienced traditional victimization (Wang, Iannotti, Luk, & Nansel, 2010).

Method: Telephone interviews with a sample of 791 youth in the United States ages 10–20 were conducted as part of the Technology Harassment Victimization (THV) Study. Interviewers read the following statement before asking questions about harassment: Now I am going to ask you about some mean things that some people do to others. We are not talking about things done in a joking way. For now, I am only going to ask you about things that happen online, or that involve the Internet or a cell phone in some way. When we say online, this could include things like pictures or videos posted online or through text messages, comments made about you online or through text messages or on social networking sites. The types of things I want you to think about are: When kids call someone mean names, make fun of them, or tease them in a hurtful way; when kids exclude or ignore someone, or get others to turn against them; when kids spread false rumors about someone, or share something that was meant to be private (like something they wrote or a picture of them) as a way to make trouble for them; or when kids hit, kick, push, shove or threaten to hurt someone. Think about the past year and only about incidents involving the Internet or a cell phone in some way. Did anyone other than a family member do something like this to you? If respondents said yes, they were asked “Did something like this happen more than once in the past year?” Interviewers then asked all youth about harassment incidents that did not involve technology, using the same preamble and format but specifying, “Now I am going to ask you about some mean things that some people do to others that do not happen online, or involve the Internet or a cell phone in any way.” Interviewers also asked youth about the perpetrator of the harassment (e.g., number of perpetrators, age, gender, relationship to respondent), duration and location of the event, and type of harassment. Youth were asked a series of questions aimed at assessing the emotional impact of the bullying; they were asked whether the incident made them feel upset, afraid, embarrassed, worried, angry, sad, or unsafe.

Results: Thirty-four percent of youth reported harassment incidents in the past year. 54% of incidents involved no technology (in-person only), 15% involved only technology (technology only), and 31% involved both technology and in-person elements (mixed incidents). Youth reporting in-person– only incidents were significantly younger than those in the other two categories and more likely to be boys. Technology-only incidents involved similar proportions of boys and girls, with more girls in mixed incidents. Almost half of all harassment incidents involved two or more perpetrators and sixty-five percent of perpetrators were male. Technology-only incidents were less likely than in-person– only incidents to result in injury, involve a social power differential, and occur a series of times. Mixed episodes were more likely than technology-only episodes to happen a series of times, last for one month or longer, and involve physical injury. Compared with in-person incidents, technology-only incidents were less likely to involve multiple episodes and power imbalances. They were seen by victims as easier to stop and had significantly less emotional impact. Mixed incidents had the most emotional impact.

Discussion: Victims of mixed harassment were the least likely to say they could get away or remove themselves from the situation quickly; this could be related to the fact that they were being victimized across multiple environments. Perpetrators of mixed incidents were also more intimately connected to victims as current or past friends and romantic partners. The results suggest that those seeking to prevent the most detrimental forms of bullying should focus less on cyberbullying and instead focus on traditional bullying and victims of mixed incidents.