All About Cyberbullies: Who They Are and What They Do

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Mar 22, 2011

Almost every adolescent has access to the internet nowadays and most of them have a mobile phone. Therefore it is not surprising that cyberbullying, or bullying through these new technologies, is increasing. To put cyberbullies to a stop it is necessary to know who they are, what they do, and why they bully. That was the reason for a study in which we interviewed adolescents on their experiences with cyberbullying.

Interviews through MSN-Messenger

Information about cyberbullies was obtained by interviewing 61 adolescents between 12 and 18 years old via MSN Messenger. Cyberbullies, cybervictims, adolescents who were both, and adolescents who had witnessed cyberbullying, all talked about a cyberbullying event.

The Cyberbullies

Digital communication has created a new way to bully. This may enable some adolescents to become bullies, who might not have been bullies otherwise. Are cyberbullies simply traditional bullies who use new methods to bully or are they a new group? Cyberbullying and traditional bullying are related.

  • Almost 70% of cyberbullies also bullied in real life (“allround bullies”). Of them, more than half bullied the same victim in both ways.
  • The remaining 30% of cyberbullies bullied only in the cyberworld (“pure bullies”). Cyberbullies do have experience with traditional bullying, however only as a bully; they had little experience with victimization.

What differentiated “pure cyberbullies” from “allround bullies”? Pure cyberbullies did not match the profile of a ‘typical’ traditional bully, who is often dominant, popular, but disliked. In addition, they were less dominant and deviant than allround bullies. These results support the idea that a different group of adolescents is able to bully in cyberspace. Pure cyberbullies do not have to be ‘tough’ to be able to bully. However, pure cyberbullies also shared characteristics with allround bullies. They did not differ in levels of empathy, social intelligence, relational aggression, or school achievement. Neither did they differ in the motives for their bullying behavior.

Even though cyberspace lends itself perfectly for bullying by unknowns, as in traditional bullying, many cyberbullies were peers close to the victim such as classmates, friends, and schoolmates. Cyberbullies were more often boys, while cybervictims were most often girls.

Why do Cyberbullies Bully?

Participants were asked why they thought the cyberbully engaged in his or her behavior. The perceived cyberbullying motives were divided in nine categories.

  • Peer acceptance and jealousy were common motives. For girls, jealousy was often related to cliques. A best friend would meet someone outside their clique; as a result the girl would cyberbully her together with the other girls of the group.
  • A revenge motive was also frequently mentioned, for example, to get back at someone who said something out of line at school to the cyberbully or a friend of the cyberbully. Friends or romantic couples took revenge after a rejection or break up of their relationship.
  • Entertainment and the need for resources were mentioned, but not often. Adolescents who were motivated by getting control over resources commanded their victim to make their homework.
  • Dominance, self-esteem, attention getting, and venting personal problems were mentioned very infrequently.
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