CHILDREN with lots of friends can still be persecuted by cyber-bullies – despite the fact that popularity is a good deterrent to schoolyard aggression, research has shown.
Professor Mona O'Moore, of the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College Dublin, warned that cyber-bullying can be far more pervasive than traditional bullying as it has the potential to reach large audiences and for an indefinite period of time.
Professor O'Moore was speaking at 'Screenagers', a conference on the use of digital and social media in youth work, organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI).
She defined cyber-bullying as "an aggressive, wilful act" using electronic communication.
It is primarily indirect, rather than face to face, and possibly anonymous, so the aggressor does not see the victim's reaction, at least not immediately.
"We found that text messaging was the most common form of cyber-bullying among girls both in and out of school, whereas boys relied more on the camera and video clips."
Professor O'Moore said that recent research shows that one in five young people – one in four girls and one in six boys – are involved in cyber-bullying, either as bullies or victims and sometimes a mixture of both.
She also stressed that traditional bullying is at least twice if not three times as common as cyber-bullying and that most people who bully online or through text also bully in the traditional sense.
Quoting the international heavyweight of bullying research Dan Olweus, Professor O'Moore said: "Cyber-bullying is an over-rated phenomenon."
However, she said that like traditional bullying, it "prompts a strong reluctance on the part of young people to report it".
Young people with high parental support and those with a good relationship with their parents are less likely to be involved in bullying, she said.
"This makes it extremely difficult for adults to intervene and to provide the much-needed support, especially for those who are both cyber- and traditionally bullied, as this increases the risk of depression, low self-esteem and loneliness", she said.
NYCI Director Mary Cunningham said that while it was vitally important to acknowledge the potential risks in using online tools with young people, the conference was focused on "looking at ways to help young people to use digital and social media in a safe way and to engage positively with the opportunities our digital world presents".
Also speaking at the conference, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte stressed that bullying "can be very damaging to those who fall victim to it".
He added: "Whether it occurs on or off line, we all need to do whatever we can to tackle it. The problem is one involving cruelty of some individuals towards others."
What and who's involved in this scourge
What is cyber bullying?
An aggressive, wilful act carried out by an individual or group using electronic communication. The people involved fall into three groups, as they do with traditional bullying:
Those who bully only, by aggressively harassing others in order to attain their own specific goals eg, to dominate, control or gain social status.
Those who provide little defence against their aggressors. Those most at risk are cautious, sensitive, quiet and unassertive.
Provocative or aggressive victims who are both bully and bullied. They are characterised by their poor ability to manage or regulate their emotions and easily fly off the handle. Children with special needs such as ADHD, autism or conduct disorders often fall into this category.
Definitions from Professor Mona O'Moore of the Anti-Bullying Centre, Trinity College Dublin