Applied Psychology OPUS

“Cyberbullicide:” When Cyberbully Victims Can’t Escape

by Josephine M. Palmeri

“Text-messaging isn’t going away. Bullying isn’t going away. That combination killed my son.”
-Mother of cyberbullicide victim (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007)

            Advancement in modern technology has influenced a new method of victimization that has taken traditional bullying to a new extreme. Cyberbullying, the voluntary and repetitious abuse that is inflicted through computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010), is a modern method of victimization that has affected over 40 percent of adolescents in the past year (National Crime Prevention Council, 2010). Similar to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is used to exert power and dominance over another person (Beran & Li, 2005). Cyberbullying, however, accomplishes this control through text messaging, instant messaging, or social networking websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (Beran & Li, 2005), enabling the cyberbully to harass, threaten, or ridicule the victim in both public (e.g., the internet) and private domains (e.g., text messaging). While traditional in-school bullying is still prevalent amongst adolescents, cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week, amplifying the frequency of the abuse. The cyberbully is able to attack the victim in a place where the victim should feel safe—within his or her own home. In doing this, the cyberbully may take away the victim’s sense of security altogether. Daily, about 160,000 children stay home from school for fear of being bullied by their peers (Bullying Statistics, 2009). However, with the increase of cyberbullying, staying home from school may no longer be enough to avoid victimization.

         Cyberbullying’s unique components can be especially detrimental for victimized adolescents. For example, a cyberbully victim can receive an unlimited amount of harassing messages through several different networks. Within a matter of minutes the cyberbully can post a rumor on a victim’s Facebook status or send harassing text messages that fill the victim’s inbox. Each of these methods attribute to the inescapability of cyberbullying by broadening the potential audience of the cyberbully attack (Sourander et al., 2010). If a cyberbully posts something embarrassing or defaming about the victim on any social networking website, everyone who is friends with the cyberbully or the victim has the potential to see the post. The victim not only has to deal with the embarrassment of being victimized, but also with the knowledge that everyone who has access to the Internet is able to witness this humiliation. Another damaging component of cyberbullying is the cyberbully’s ability to remain anonymous (Sourander et al., 2010). The cyberbully is able to setup a fake social networking account, email, or screen name in order to hide his or her identity when harassing the victim. In fact, while 84 percent of cyberbullies have targeted attacks at specific individuals, only 31 percent of victims reported knowing who is cyberbullying them (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004). As a result, the victim often becomes afraid of going to school, and is also suspicious of everyone around them (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007).

         Much research on cyberbullying has examined short-term consequences of victimization, while there is a paucity of research pertaining to the relation between being cyberbullied and victims’ long-term psychological health. However, being that cyberbullying and traditional bullying share similar goals (e.g., exerting dominance and power over the victim), it can be suggested that the two forms of bullying share potential psychological consequences, such as loneliness, peer rejection, low-self esteem, poor mental health (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010), depression, isolation, and hopelessness (Pranjic & Bajraktarevic, 2010). Considering that depression, hopelessness, and isolation have been linked to suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010), if cyberbullying is linked to an increased level of these issues in the victim, then the experience of being cyberbullied may increase adolescents’ suicidal thoughts and attempts as well.

            In 2007, suicide was found to be the third leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 to 24 years old (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2007). Despite the research linking traditional bullying to suicide (Brunstein-Klomek, Sourander, & Gould, 2010; Pranjic & Bajraktarevic, 2010), the research directly linking cyberbullying and suicide has been limited. However, Hinduja and Patchin (2010) have coined the term “cyberbullicide” from their recent survey of 2,000 middle school students to describe suicide that occurs indirectly or directly through experiences of online aggression. The study assessed peer harassment, online and offline bullying, and thoughts about suicide. Results showed that both victims of traditional bullying and cyberbullying scored higher on a scale of suicidal ideation than students who were not victims of either form of bullying. Moreover, research has found that even victims of infrequent cyberbullying have had high levels of suicidal thoughts (Brunstein-Klomek et al., 2010). These findings suggest that cyberbullying is just as detrimental for adolescent victims as tradition bullying, and must be taken just as seriously (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010).

            There is still an extensive amount of research that needs to be done in order to fully understand cyberbullicide. Being that cyberbullying is a relatively new concept, most of the research on this topic only assesses the degree to which victims are cyberbullied, rather than the potential long term psychological outcomes of being cyberbullied (Sourander et al., 2010). Conducting further research may help anti-cyberbullying and intervention programs focus on particular ways to prevent cyberbullying as a whole (Sourander et al., 2010). More specifically, conducting long- itudinal studies that assess the effects of cyberbullying over time may give a more precise understanding of how cyberbullying evolves, as well as the victim’s long term psychological issues influenced by this evolution. Therefore, by increasing our knowledge on the psychological outcomes of cyberbullying, as well as the steps that lead the victims to cyberbullicide, we may be able to help decrease the number of victims who are pushed to that extreme.


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