Bystander Intervention in Cyberbullying

Nicolas Brody & Anita Vangelisti investigated the connection between research topics often addressed separately, bystander situations and cyberbullying, to compose their article “Bystander Intervention in Cyberbullying”. The primary goal of this article was to learn how to better predict communication during cyberbullying episodes. To do this they examined bystander behavior to better understand the bystander effect in cyberbullying situations.

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This was done by evaluating their main variables; diffusion of responsibility, visual anonymity, and relationship quality. Based on these variables and previous research they came up with 4 hypotheses. Hypothesis 1 and 2 looked at the perceived number of bystanders and the perceived visual anonymity and believed that in those scenarios an individual’s defending behavior and supporting would decrease, however their passive observing behavior would increase. Hypothesis 3 suggests that if bystanders feel like they are not visible they are less likely to engage in active defending behavior, more likely to engage in passive observing behavior, and less likely to offer support behavior which means that perceived visual anonymity controls those relationships. Hypothesis 4 suggests that a person is more likely to engage and defend or support if they know the victim.

To investigate their hypotheses the authors performed two studies. The first study asked participants to complete an online study where they were to write about a time in the last six months where they observed someone they knew being bullied on Facebook. The population of this study were 265 undergraduates at a university in the south west. 75% were female, 25% male between the ages of 18-42. Most participants were Caucasian (61%) followed by Hispanic (15%), Asian American (10.2%), with the last 24% composed of African American, other, Middle Eastern, and Native American. Within this sample, Brody and Vangelisti looked for the presence of additional bystander, visual anonymity, relationship/closeness to the victim, bystander behavior, social support, personal experience with cyberbullying and degree hurt.

The second study had participants read a scenario of an online bullying incident. After which they completed a survey where they were assigned to 1 of 8 different conditions and the 3 variables from study 1 (number of bystanders, visual anonymity, relationship with victim) were manipulated and examined. There were 379 undergraduate participants in this study within the age range of 18-50, majority were Caucasian. They found that when the scenario reported being a close friend to the victim participants were more likely to exhibit active defending behavior, emotional support, and network support.

The findings of this article showed that the greater the number of bystanders, the greater the likelihood that the participants would observe passively and the less likely bystanders were to get involved and stop the situation. It was noted that perceived visual anonymity played a significant role in whether bystanders would engage in passive observing behavior or in social support and active defending behavior. Data showed that “Perceived visual anonymity was positively related to passive observing behavior and negatively associated with social support and active defending behavior” (Brody & Vangelisti, 2016, p.105). It was also observed that the closeness of a relationship between the bystander and the victim was related to greater social support and active defending. These results supported Brody and Vangelisti’s original hypotheses. A difference that was found between the two studies was that in Study 2, participants were more likely to engage in active defending behavior if it was close friend, they could identify the victim, and there were less bystanders there to witness the cyberbullying.

There were some limitations to this study. Mainly that the data was self-reported. This is always subject to personal biases. It would also be valuable to consider contextual norms and group membership. More research in this subject matter is always beneficial and could provide a better understanding of the processes that occur within bystander intervention during cyberbullying. The applications of this study in the future are widespread as they suggested variables that correspond with a bystander’s likelihood to intervene. Future research can be done around the main variables of perceived number of bystanders, visual anonymity, and closeness of participant relationships. The studies conducted for this article add more research into the fields of cyberbullying and bystander effect. It also gives a greater understanding to areas such as technology, relationships, and bullying behavior. A major application of this research is understanding why bystanders can be less likely to support or defend and teaching others to change that, either by having people be more aware of what an emergency looks like or by teaching people where resources and help is available.

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