THE alarming extent and nature of cyber-bullying in Irish schools can be revealed today.
The bullies are most likely to be girls who are in the same year but in a different class to their victim, new research shows.
An NUI Maynooth study also found 17pc of children had been victims of bullying, while almost one in 10 admitted carrying it out. A quarter of victims did not confide in anyone.
The study among Irish second-level students aged 12 to 18 found cyber-bullying usually goes on for one to two weeks, but can last for several years.
Proportionately, more younger (30pc) than older (10pc) participants were likely to become the victims of bullying.
Pupils in two co-educational rural schools were asked a range of questions about cyber-bullying, including whether they had ever engaged in or been subjected to it.
The study found that 17pc of students were victims of cyber-bullying while 9pc admitted being perpetrators.
Meanwhile, 21pc of the same students said they had been victims of traditional bullying during the preceding six months.
But the incidence of cyber bullying could be much higher, partly because the study was limited to only certain types of bullying.
The report is published in the wake of three high-profile teen suicides in recent months.
Erin Gallagher (13) from Co Donegal died last month, and Ciara Pugsley (15) from Co Leitrim took her own life in September, both having been bullied online.
Last weekend Lara Burns Gibbs (12) took her life at home in Kilcock, Co Kildare. Her death has also been linked to cyber-bullying.
The work done by Padraig Cotter and Sinead McGilloway of the Department of Psychology at NUI Maynooth is published in the 'Irish Journal of Education'.
Their research covered four categories of cyber-bullying: text, picture or video clip, phone calls and emails. It found that the most common form was phone calls and text messages.
The students regarded all forms of cyber-bullying, other than that by email, as being worse than traditional bullying, with phone calls and the use of pictures or video regarded as being the most feared.
The teenagers felt that the main reasons cyber-bullying was worse than traditional bullying was the difficulty in escap- ing it, even when at home.
They also feared the potentially large audience who could view the bullying, such as those who may view a picture or video clip.
Students confirmed that cyber-bullying is less likely to be noticed by an adult.
Among the concerns about cyber-bullying is the anonymity it can afford the perpetrator. More than a quarter of victims were unaware of the class, year, gender or number of people who bullied them.
However, the research did find victims were most frequently bullied by a single female, or a small group of females, from a different class but in the same year as the victim.
The least likely cyber-bullies are large, mixed sex groups from younger classes.
The study found no significant relationship between cyber-bullying and issues such as family circumstances or time spent by teenagers using the internet or mobile phones.
The rates for cyber-bullying were generally lower than those found in studies elsewhere, which have typically reported rates of 25 to 35pc for victimisation and 14 to 22pc for bullying others.
But this study did not cover websites, chatrooms and instant messaging, partly because of the time required to complete it.
Much of the concern about cyber-bullying in Ireland recently was related to the teen chat room ask.fm, which was established in June 2010.
The rural base of the schools in the study is also given as a possible reason. Research has previously tended to be conducted in urban regions.
Culture differences may also be a factor, with lower incidences of traditional bullying found in Ireland when compared with other countries such as England and Australia.