Beating the bullies – with statistics

The advent of the web as a social medium has had an unhappy consequence for a large number of young people, namely cyber-bullying, defined by the UK government as “when one person or a group of people try to threaten, tease or embarrass someone else by using a mobile phone or the Internet”.

Much of this activity takes place on social networks, and pressure groups such as UK charity BeatBullying have called on the most popular sites to introduce functionality that prevents it from taking place. But just like conventional bullying, cyber-bullying is a subtle affair, and understanding precisely how it takes place, and to whom, is challenging.

To bring some clarity to the complex issue, BeatBullying surveyed pupils at 20 schools about their experience of cyber-bullying. The charity analysed the findings of the research using software from SPSS. This, according to policy and research officer Thad Douglas, helped it to establish the statistical significance of its findings – which in turn lent weight to its calls for action by the sites concerned.

Among other findings, the survey revealed that the most frequent online venues for bullying were social network and Microsoft’s instant messaging service MSN Messenger. Shortly after the survey’s findings were published, introduced a button allowing users to report incidents of cyber-bullying to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

BeatBullying’s research also identified groups that are particularly vulnerable to bullying online, which include children with disabilities and those that belong to marginalised groups of society, such as travelers and asylum seekers. Girls, it found, are more susceptible than boys.

The charity argues that both website operators and Internet service providers should take greater responsibility for the acts of bullying that place via their services. That is not something they are likely to do without considerable encouragement, but BeatBullying hopes the statistical validity of its research will help to make the case.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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