Cyberbullying Research in Belgium: An Overview of Generated Insights and a Critical Assessment of the Mediation of Technology in a Web 2.0 World

  • Wannes HeirmanEmail author
  • Michel Walrave
  • Heidi Vandebosch
  • Denis Wegge
  • Steven Eggermont
  • Sara Pabian


As one of the most recent forms of peer aggression, cyberbullying has emerged in our communities as a societal problem affecting the mental health of contemporary youth. As the prefix “cyber-” suggests, this type of bullying occurs through the use of an electronic medium. Following some widely covered cases in media (e.g. The Megan Meier story, the Amanda Todd case), scholarly attention devoted to this topic has significantly increased during the past decade (Tokunaga, Computers in Human Behavior 26(3), 277–287, 2010). Also in Belgium, scholars have put their efforts together to gain a better understanding of cyberbullying. In this context, the research group Media, ICT/Interpersonal relations in Organisations and Society (MIOS) has adopted the role of a Belgian pioneer in studying this form of negative online conduct among youngsters on the Internet and via mobile devices. The first aim of the chapter is to provide an overview of the outcomes of these research efforts. Both the prevalence rates, observed across five large-scale studies conducted by MIOS on cyberbullying, and the predictors of victimization and perpetration identified in these studies will be discussed.

As a second aim, we want to address the question whether cyberbullying has an amplified impact as compared with the harm caused by traditional bullying. This amplification of harm has been suggested both in media and in academic coverage on cyberbullying. In the context of these discourses, technology is said to operate as a facilitator of maladaptive behaviour among youth for various reasons. More specifically, five features of technology are commonly discussed as facilitating cyberbullying. These are technology’s potential to (1) safeguard perpetrators with anonymity, (2) to allow offenders to remain unnoticed for adult supervision, (3) to decrease perpetrators’ empathy caused by a lack of non-verbal cues in the online realm, (4) to provide them with a large (theoretically) infinite audience and finally, (5) to allow them to invade 24/7 in victims’ lives.

In response to the increasing demand for clarity, this study offers a conceptual framework in which all technology-related aspects are integrated and critically appreciated with respect to their potentially exacerbating role in cyberbullying. This critical assessment encompasses the following discussions: (1) how these features may aggravate the impact of cyberbullying, (2) whether some of these aspects can also have beneficial outcomes for young people’s well-being, (3) whether these aspects are exclusively applicable to the area of cyberbullying (or whether these aspects also feature non-electronic forms of bullying) and, moreover, (4) how the impact of some of these issues may have changed during the shift of the static World Wide Web into a more dynamic and interactive Web 2.0 environment.


Cyberbullying Anonymity Cockpit effect 24/7 target Disinhibition Detection problems 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wannes Heirman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michel Walrave
    • 1
  • Heidi Vandebosch
    • 1
  • Denis Wegge
    • 1
  • Steven Eggermont
    • 2
  • Sara Pabian
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Communication StudiesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.School for Mass Communication ResearchUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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