A new paper presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting has examined youth cyber aggression in an effort to show how close relationships, both friendly and romantic, have an influence over the chances of becoming a target.
The report, “Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization,” used a sample of 788 students between eighth and twelfth grade in a longitudinal study of a New York school to take a closer look at networks of friendship, dating, and aggression. In all, 17% of participants reported some instance of cyber aggression within the past week.
LGBTQ students were found to be four times more likely to be targeted than their heterosexual peers, with females more often shown to be victims than males. Rates of aggression were 4.3 times higher among friends than they were between friends of friends.
Authors Diane Felmlee and Robert Faris suggest that rates of electronic aggression were seen more frequently among current or former friends and dating partners due to competition, revenge, or attempts to put off romantic rivals. They add that youth aggression can have a number of negative psychological, physical, and academic consequences for both the victims and perpetrators.
The use of the Internet, mobile phones, and social media made way for the introduction of cyber bullying. A 2005 survey of 7,182 school-age children across the United States found 14% reporting having been bullied electronically at least once in the past two months. A meta-analysis found that 20-40% of all youth have experienced cyberbullying at least once in their lives.
Victims of such abuse often report feelings of emotional distress, low self-esteem, and higher instances of suicidal thoughts. Youth within this group are also more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not been attacked. Felmlee and Faris suggest this is due to how easy it is for others to join in the harassment online when compared to face-to-face bullying.
The authors state that such bullying is more likely to occur between individuals who share a direct link, either through friendship or romance. The findings show that friendships increase the likelihood of future instances of electronic bullying, rather than decreasing these incidents, even after previous dating relationships and victimization have been controlled for.
“Comments on the part of the study participants underscore the crucial role of friendship. Two people taunted each other on the Internet, according to one student, ‘because they used to be friends. Another youth laments: ‘Sometimes your own friends bully you . . . I don’t understand why, why my friends do this to me.’
The authors conclude that there are a number of reasons for the strong connection between friendship and dating and electronic aggression. They suggest that people with strong connections have more information on the other person than those with weak connections do. In addition, these connections cause people to spend more time together, which results in more chances for misunderstandings to occur.
Lastly, they say that friends are typically more likely to find themselves in competition for the same club or sport, which could result in conflict and aggression.