9 Jan 2023

9 in 10 adults online admit cyberbullying - study

6:49 pm on 9 January 2023
hands on laptop

Photo: Thomas Lefebvre / Unsplash

By Claudia Forsberg

New research suggests that nine in 10 adults have committed an act of cyberbullying.

Led by RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), but conducted in the US and India, the study found more than half of its participants admitted they often committed cyberbullying, while only 6 percent said they would never commit cyberbullying.

It also highlighted two of the most prevalent characteristics of a cyberbully: higher education and psychopathy.

Now the Australian researchers behind the study want to replicate it in their country, to see if it can help shape the battle against toxic online behaviour.

Lead RMIT researcher Mohammad Hossain was somewhat shocked that 94 percent of study participants admitted to cyberbullying.

"The most surprising and disappointing thing is nine out of ten adults who use social media said they have committed some form of cyberbullying," Hossain said.

But he said the most important findings related to the characteristics of a cyberbully.

The study also examined demographic variables such as age, gender and education level, as well as a list of personality traits in an effort to determine people who are more likely to engage in toxic online behaviour.

"By looking at the configurations, the social media administrators can predict cyberbullying acts beforehand, and they can take measures to stop those," Hossain said.

Males aged 23 to 30 were most likely to engage in such behaviour, as were those people deemed emotionally unstable. So were the highly educated and those with psychopathic personality traits.

But Hossain stressed it was still difficult to distil an exact profile of a cyberbully.

"You can't explain someone's behaviour with one or two characteristics," he said. "They possess a unique combination of characteristics that do not work in isolation.'

Countries chosen for differences

The researchers recruited a total of 313 respondents from the US and India using an online survey platform called MTurk.

Participants were all adults over 18, from a range of different backgrounds and genders, who have used at least one social media platform (namely Facebook or YouTube) for at least 3 years.

These adults were asked a series of questions about behaviours such as posting hurtful, rude, or mean content that targets someone, spreading rumours or untrue information about someone, or publicly embarrassing or pranking someone.

They were asked to rate whether they had committed any of these acts which were classified as cyberbully on a scale of "Never" to "Very frequently".

Hossain said the two countries were intentionally chosen due to their "cultural and political differences, as well as differences in cyber law policies and implementation".

"We expected that because of those differences, the cyberbullying behaviour would be different," he said.

But the results found very similar cyberbullying patterns between the two countries.

Hossain said this might make the results relevant to other countries, but he would like more data.

"The next stage is we [will] try to find out ... whether the findings are applicable to Australia," he said.

The main aim was to use the research to inform policymakers and social media administrators in identifying people and preventing toxic online behaviour.

"Looking at this research, the policymakers can design actionable plans [and] preventive measures and behavioural programmes targeting those people," Hossain said.


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