Parents and teachers need to realise that cyberbullies can very often be friends of their victims, according to psychologists.
Traditionally, it has been thought that friendships provide support against bullying. However, research shows that cyberbullying also happens among friends.
An academic study of 16- and 17-year-olds in Dublin showed how bullying often starts with a “trigger incident”, whereby one friend annoys another.
Such bullying can take place through text, with inappropriate comments about or pictures of the victim on Facebook, and through anonymous sites such as Ask.fm, where the bully can remain anonymous.
The research also found how cyberbullying by friends makes it even harder for the victim to talk to other friends and to parents.
The research, to be presented at the Psychological Society of Ireland conference later this week, shows how this type of cyberbullying often occurs “if someone did something stupid” or as “a way to get back at them” for some incident.
The teenagers interviewed also said cyberbullying of friends is often motivated by jealousy or insecurity and can be more prevalent among girls than boys.
When your best friend enjoys cyber bullying you on twitter :( #WhatAFriend :/ @Lwhiteside34— l o g a n † (@_logan_alexis) November 6, 2012
According to interviewees, cyberbullying among friends can impact seriously on a group, causing fights, affecting trust, and leading to a rejection of the bully or the victim by other friends. It is also seen as confusing and isolating for victims, who cannot come to terms with how the dynamic has changed among their friends.
The research was conducted at UCD by Moya Farrell under the supervision of Suzanne Guerin.
Meanwhile, one Dublin primary school has revealed how nearly 100 of its 450 pupils have said they have Facebook accounts.
Facebook policy states children under the age of 13 should not up sign up to the social media site.
A number of the children using Facebook at Holy Rosary Primary School in Firgrove on Dublin’s southside were as young as 8.
Pretty sure I'm the only human being who hasn't seen cyberbully— Amy Cameron (@missamycameron) November 6, 2012
School principal Max Cannon conducted the research after an incident at the school where one pupil was found to be sharing unsuitable messages.
“We thought this was phenomenal, and I have no doubt that you will find similar numbers in most schools around the country,” said Mr Cannon. “It is with this in mind that we are working to update our school bullying policy to include cyberbullying. We’re trying to be proactive.”
In the aftermath of the survey, the school sent a letter to all parents warning them of their responsibility to monitor their children’s internet usage, and that children under 13 should not be on the site.
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