Ural Federal University: Researchers Identified Student Engagement in Bullying and Cyberbullying

In most cases, victims of school bullying and cyberbullying do not make any efforts to get out of the uncomfortable and dangerous situation, facing loneliness and intense fear. This is one of the conclusions made by scientists of the Ural Federal University based on results of a survey of students in Sverdlovsk region. The results, according to the university, will help parents and teachers react properly to and prevent bullying episodes at school and on the internet. Researchers published an article describing the research and its results in the Obrazovanie i Nauka (Education and Science) journal.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,760 students from grades 1-11 in schools, as well as students of specialized secondary educational institutions in Ekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk region. The survey was conducted in 2021, at the end of the school year. Students were asked to self-identify whether they felt they were victims, initiators, and coordinators of bullying, instigators, ordinary participants, and witnesses of bullying and cyberbullying.

According to the survey results, researchers found that the level of student engagement in cyberbullying was lower than the level of engagement in school bullying.

“Thus, the opinion that the anonymity of Internet communications and/or the absence of physical contact and, accordingly, the sense of impunity that arises for the aggressor is a special psychological threat can be considered exaggerated,” comments Vladimir Nazarov, professor of the Department of Youth Outreach at Ural Federal University and head of the research group.

The survey also showed that witnesses, victims and stalkers are the most numerous groups in cases of bullying. Witnesses and victims of bullying are more likely than stalkers to play the same roles in cyberbullying cases. On the Web, stalkers are represented in the roles of both instigator and direct aggressor. The least pronounced role is that of a common participant who acts at someone else’s behest, not taking a leadership position in the bullying process.

More than 75 percent of the perpetrators of bullying felt a sense of acute hostility and a desire to do harm, hurt, humiliate (however, the researchers emphasize that these emotions do not always lead to actual harm). Over 65 per cent of bullying victims felt misunderstood, rejected, lonely, about 40 per cent were afraid to go to school, and about a third experienced a strong fear of colliding with their classmates. When faced with bullying and cyberbullying, victims turned to their parents and teachers or social network administrators for help at best, but in most cases did nothing.

When it comes to forms of bullying, the most common are verbal bullying (80 percent of cases reported by victims) and harming the victim and/or their belongings (about 70 percent). The instigators of cyberbullying, by their own words, most often resort to creating or using a fake account, through which they send the victim insults and threats, to deliberately ignoring the victim in class chats and their social media communities.

The originality of the research conducted by UrFU scientists, firstly, is that they covered specifically in-school cyberbullying, while the authors of other works devoted to the same problem do not separate the phenomena of in-school and out-of-school cyberbullying. Although they have fundamental differences. Intraschool cyberbullying harassers transfer to the Internet the relations established in the educational collective and, therefore, known to the victim. Both the aggressor and the victim may act anonymously on the Internet, and sometimes the victim takes on the role of the aggressor. At the same time, it cannot be argued that the victim of school bullying usually compensates for the trauma he or she has received by seeking to become the aggressor in cyberbullying.

Second, for the first time, the authors separated the role of the bully into the separate roles of instigator and rank-and-file in a bullying situation and aggressor, instigator, and rank-and-file in a cyberbullying situation. This approach provided more detailed and better data.

“In designing the questionnaire and evaluating the results, we were guided by humanistic methodology, which relies on the subjective evaluation of interviewees in the study of human beings and human relationships. At the same time, we are aware that not every respondent holds to the truth, even in an anonymous questionnaire. Not everyone is willing to admit to being a victim of bullying, much less the instigator, initiator or coordinator, or even the rank-and-file participant or witness of bullying or cyberbullying. Besides, witnesses may simply not pay attention to what happens in their classrooms,” says Natalia Averbukh, senior lecturer of the Information Security Training and Research Center at UrFU, research participant and co-author of the article.

This means that the results obtained are approximate and cannot be used directly for an accurate quantitative assessment of the psychological situation in Russian schools. In addition, the picture of bullying and cyberbullying in other regions of Russia, as well as in other countries, is different. At the same time, the results of the research indicate the relevance of the problem and create a frame of reference for future research, for the development of ways to identify incidents of bullying and cyberbullying, competent responses by parents and teachers, and prevention of school bullying.

The research was conducted with the assistance of the Institute of Education Development of Sverdlovsk region and with the financial support of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (research project No. 19-29-14176). Further research will focus on the motivation of children’s participation in bullying and cyberbullying and the development of methods to protect them from bullying.

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