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One-in two Victims Suffer from Cyberbullying

Update Date: Jul 25, 2012 11:48 AM EDT

Researchers from Germany's Bielefeld University have discovered that young people who fall victim to cyberbullying or cyber harassment suffer most when fellow pupils make them objects of ridicule by distributing photographic material.

Researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 students living in Germany about their experiences with cyberbullying as a victim, offender or witness.

About half of the victims feel very distressed or severely distressed by this type of behavior.

Cyberbullying is attacks by one or more persons through the Internet or by mobile phone - where Facebook or an instant messenger, for instance, are used to denigrate or humiliate someone or harm their social relationships. Researchers say a weaker person is the target of repeated and intentional attacks.

Researchers found that those affected find some forms of cyberbullying more distressful than others. More than half of the victims considered the posting of personal photos and videos distressful if it was aimed at humiliating them or making them the object of ridicule. Researchers say this form of cyberbullying is difficult to control because digital photos and videos can often be duplicated and distributed any number of times and thus made available to a potentially unlimited audience.

Mocking, insulting, abusive and threatening behavior was perceived as very distressful or severely distressful by about 25 percent of the respondents. Researchers say that it might be because this form of cyberbullying can be aimed directly at the victim with relatively few witnesses and adolescents might consider such attacks as normal, everyday behavior among their peers. 

"It's easy to send someone offensive messages by e-mail or instant messenger or post them on their wall, for example in Facebook," Peter Sitzer said. "But for a bully to be able to pass on private messages or confidential information to third parties in order to humiliate or ridicule the victim, he must have knowledge of such messages or information."

Attacks through the Internet or by mobile phone, where they had been subjected to derision, insult, abuse or threats were reported especially frequently by the victims questioned. In many instances, the victims also claimed that rumors had been spread about them or hateful comments made. Schoolgirls among the victims claimed comparatively often that they had been the subject of cyberstalking and that, against their will, someone had wanted to talk to them about sex.

"Our findings underline that cyberbullying is not a trivial matter but a serious problem which demands preventive countermeasures," Sitzer said.

More than half the offenders surveyed said that their attacks had not resulted in any negative consequences for them. The researchers also noted that the victims of cyberbullying must be taken seriously and need help to overcome these experiences and return to an everyday life worth living.

Researchers say it is the parents, educators and teachers' responsibility to teach students how to behave in a socially responsible manner towards other users. At the same time, it is important that firm action be taken in cases of cyberbullying.

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