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Cyberbullying: no place to hide

Published on
24 Jan 2017
Written by
Taha Yasseri

In an excellent cross-cultural study on Wikipedia edit/revert behaviours [1], Tsvetkova and her colleagues argue among other things for a mediating effect of culture in accounting for different dominance patterns to the editings in different language editions of the online encyclopaedia. The Wikipedia Humane-Machine Network is biased in some sense towards large geographical reach and network size, along with high human agency, low workflow interdependence, but low network organisation. And facebook, as highlighted in a previous post, also displays high human agency, again geographically disparate across a very extensive network. What might these vast networks with a great deal of human agency, but only moderate social tie strength do?

One area that is increasingly brought into focus, however, is cyberbullying [2]. Individuals, especially those in public focus (Jonah Lehrer) or who might be expected to know better (Justine Sacco), may be subjected to the cascading effects of viral relational or indirect aggression in full view of the virtual world (Ronson, 2015 [3]). The vulnerable and impressionable, such as children, may be subject to grooming as well as aggression, with little chance of refuge [4], leading to potentially greater affective trauma especially in connection with real-world bullying [5]. Situated within a generalised model of aggression [6], cyberbullying may be subject to similar social factors [7] as offline behaviours such as an assumed reluctance to intervene [8] and a diffusion of responsibility [9].

Perhaps the reality though, as underlined by the HUMANE profile for these networks, is that network size and geographical dispersion along with high levels of human agency and few controls (low network organisation) lead to what Suler had put down in part to the combination of dissociative anonymity, invisibility and the asynchronic nature of communication and interactions [10]. The perpetrators of online aggression are not easily identifiable, when they hide behind pseudonyms and different online personae, whilst social contagion [11] creates the domino effect.

We might ask whether increasing Tie strength might mitigate against cyberbullying, by encouraging a shared understanding of its detrimental effects [12], facilitating participative discussion and understanding [13] and developing social identity which might encourage protective intervention [14]. Networks with high levels of human agency, as well as large membership and geographic distribution will need to consider carefully how to handle potential problems therefore of latent or weak Tie strength. A number of strategies are possible (see the forthcoming D2.2). But for the unauthorised distribution of personal data  and unwanted behaviours outlined here, the risk of not adopting those or similar strategies may be detrimental to the interests or well-being of human participants in the HMN.

Picture credit: By User:Sonia Sevilla – Own work, Public Domain,


[2]; see also

[3] Ronson, J. (2015). So You’ve Publically Shamed. Oxford, England: Picador

[4] Tokunaga, R. S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 277-287. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2009.11.014

[5] Schneider, S. K., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R. W. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 102(1), 171-177. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300308

[6] Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231

[7] Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological bulletin, 140(4), 1073. doi:10.1037/a0035618

[8] Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. (1969). Bystander” Apathy”. American scientist, 57(2), 244-268; though see also Levine, M. (2012). Helping in Emergencies: Revisiting Latané and Darley’s bystander studies. In J. R. Smith & S. A. Haslam (Eds.), Social Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies (pp. 192-208). London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd

[9] See the early Bandura study: Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(2), 364. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.71.2.364

[10] Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(3), 321-326. doi:10.1089/1094931041291295

[11] Langley, D. J., Hoeve, M. C., Ortt, J. R., Pals, N., & van der Vecht, B. (2014). Patterns of Herding and their Occurrence in an Online Setting. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 28(1), 16-25. doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2013.06.005; Pentland, A. (2014). Social physics: How good ideas spread-the lessons from a new science: Penguin.

[12] Slonje, R., Smith, P. K., & FriséN, A. (2013). The nature of cyberbullying, and strategies for prevention. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(1), 26-32. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.05.024

[13] Although not about online activity, see, for example, Veale, A., McKay, S., Worthen, M., & Wessells, M. G. (2013). Participation as Principle and Tool in Social Reintegration: Young Mothers Formerly Associated with Armed Groups in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Northern Uganda. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 22(8), 829-848. doi:10.1080/10926771.2013.82363

[14] Levine, M. (2012). Helping in Emergencies: Revisiting Latané and Darley’s bystander studies. In J. R. Smith & S. A. Haslam (Eds.), Social Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies (pp. 192-208). London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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