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Is Cyberbullying Worse than Traditional Bullying? Examining the Differential Roles of Medium, Publicity, and Anonymity for the Perceived Severity of Bullying

Abstract

Cyberbullying, a modern form of bullying performed using electronic forms of contact (e.g., SMS, MMS, Facebook, YouTube), has been considered as being worse than traditional bullying in its consequences for the victim. This difference was mainly attributed to some specific aspect that are believed to distinguish cyberbullying from traditional bullying: an increased potential for a large audience, an increased potential for anonymous bullying, lower levels of direct feedback, decreased time and space limits, and lower levels of supervision. The present studies investigated the relative importance of medium (traditional vs. cyber), publicity (public vs. private), and bully’s anonymity (anonymous vs. not anonymous) for the perceived severity of hypothetical bullying scenarios among a sample of Swiss seventh- and eight-graders (study 1: 49 % female, mean age = 13.7; study 2: 49 % female, mean age = 14.2). Participants ranked a set of hypothetical bullying scenarios from the most severe one to the least severe one. The scenarios were experimentally manipulated based on the aspect of medium and publicity (study 1), and medium and anonymity (study 2). Results showed that public scenarios were perceived as worse than private ones, and that anonymous scenarios were perceived as worse than not anonymous ones. Cyber scenarios generally were perceived as worse than traditional ones, although effect sizes were found to be small. These results suggest that the role of medium is secondary to the role of publicity and anonymity when it comes to evaluating bullying severity. Therefore, cyberbullying is not a priori perceived as worse than traditional bullying. Implications of the results for cyberbullying prevention and intervention are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF No. 100014_130193/1) to the second author. The authors would like to acknowledge the collaboration of Françoise Alsaker, Ursina Rumetsch, Katja Machmutow and Sabrina Ruggieri, as well as all students involved in data collection. Furthermore, we would like to thank all participants, teachers, and parents for the participation over the whole duration of the study.

Fabio Sticca developed the specific research question and designed the study design and method. He also participated in data collection. Furthermore, he did all data analyses and wrote the first version and the revisions of the paper. Sonja Perren was principal investigator of the netTEEN study. She supervised data collection and collaborated in the development of the specific method. She reviewed and supervised the process of data analysis and manuscript writing. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Fabio Sticca.

 

 

Appendix 1 Block exclusion used in study 1
Appendix 2 Block humiliation used in study 1
Appendix 3 Block threatening used in study 2
Appendix 4 Block humiliation used in study 2

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Sticca, F., Perren, S. Is Cyberbullying Worse than Traditional Bullying? Examining the Differential Roles of Medium, Publicity, and Anonymity for the Perceived Severity of Bullying. J Youth Adolescence 42, 739–750 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9867-3

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Keywords

  • Cyberbullying
  • Traditional bullying
  • Perceived severity
  • Publicity
  • Anonymity
  • Experimental