A Closer Look At Cyberbullying & Bystander Interventions

Here's why teens don't always speak up if they see cyberbullying.


According to a semi-surprising statistic, 90 percent of teens admit they've seen cyberbullying happen, but ignored it. Actually, when you think about it, maybe that stat isn't too shocking... There could be any number of reasons that adolescents ignore mean comments—the fact that the bullying takes place on a screen makes it feel a bit more distant. (Even though that doesn't make it any less painful!) Perhaps the teens don't want to risk getting picked on themselves, or they just don't want to exacerbate the situation. Trying to better understand these reasons, a new study took a look at bystander behavior and how it affects cyberbullying. The results are pretty eye-opening.

Published by the National Communication Association, the research found that the factor of anonymity in cyberbullying makes it less likely a person would step in and say something. In the two-part study, one group of college students recalled incidents of cyberbullying where they knew the victim and then recalled how they reacted. As for the other half? They imagined a hypothetical situation where embarrassing photos were posted on a friend's Facebook without their permission. How would they react? Would they intervene?

The results showed the "diffusion of responsibility" effect, where the more bystanders there are, the less likely a person would intervene. Essentially, if there are a lot of people aware of the situation, people pretty much assume that someone else will take care of it and it's not their responsibility. The study's press release further explains:

"Moreover, the perceived anonymity of 'bystanders' also reduced the likelihood of intervention. However, the closeness that a particular 'bystander' felt toward the victim was most consistently related to his or her decision to intervene."

Hopefully knowing that a lot of people don't take action can help teens decide to take a stand. Sticking up for someone else can make all the difference!

Be sure to check out our "Which Of Them Is A Cyberbully?" and "Are Anonymous Apps Spreading Hate?" stories from past issues of Choices.