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Study probes internet use, social media habits of young ‘cyberbullies’

Teen cyberbully with smartphone
Teen cyberbullies are more likely to spend many hours each day online using social media apps than others… and are also more likely to be boys. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Teens who typically spend many hours a day online using social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are more likely to be cyberbullies – especially if they are boys, a recent study suggests. 

A University of Georgia research team surveyed 428 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19, with a nearly equal number of boys and girls participating. Young people in the study reported spending on average over seven hours online per day, and the maximum hours spent online in a single day was over 12 hours. They were also assessed on a standardized scale that measures social media addiction.

The study found that both number of hours per day spent online and higher social media addiction scores were predictive of cyberbullying. Another key finding was that adolescent boys were more likely to engage in cyberbullying than girls. 

“There are some people who engage in cyberbullying online because of the anonymity and the fact that there’s no retaliation,” explained Amanda Giordano, a UGA assistant professor and principal investigator on the study. “You have these adolescents who are still in the midst of cognitive development, but we’re giving them technology that has a worldwide audience and then expecting them to make good choices.”

Cyberbullying includes many different types of online behavior. It may involve personal attacks, harassment, discriminatory comments, spreading false or defamatory information, misrepresenting oneself to others, spreading private information, social exclusion or cyberstalking.

Because school counselors are not made aware of a cyberbullying incident until after it occurs, Giordano suggested that schools could implement awareness campaigns or support groups to give students a chance to talk about cyberbullying, and help them understand the consequences of their online behavior.

“The perpetrator doesn’t get a chance to see how damaging their bullying is and to learn from their mistakes and do something different,” she said. “It’s a scary situation because they don’t have the natural consequences they do with offline bullying.”

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