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Cyberbullying Versus Physical Bullying: Differences Highlighted

It has taken a few years, even with the increased hubbub (and rightly so) about cyberbullying, where the internet is used to harass and bully an individual rather than physical bullying. But researchers are finally starting to take note that physical bullying and (current) cyberbullying are not the same thing. Both can be devastating, but the very different mediums mean that different methods must be used to tackle the two.

The research was conducted by Jennifer Shapka, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia who is presenting this research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Vancouver. She surmised that the dynamics of online bullying are very different to those of physical bullying.

Of course a primary difference is the current lack of embodiment and sensory immersion online. Physically you can be cut, bruised, physically attacked. Without a physical body to target online, or a direct connection to the senses, there is no way to cause physical pain, with mental pain the only avenue open. Even when full embodiment is finally a reality, physical damage to the user's body is not going to occur. However, physical pain without accompanying physical damage will be a possibility, which means yet another approach to online bullying will need to be investigated when we reach that point.

For the moment online interactions are not capable of that level, however, they are still capable of damaging interactions, and they have to be handled as the type of interaction they are. Jennifer's primary concern is effectively dealing with this type of bullying, particularly with the most at risk group – children.

"There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well," she stated. "What we're seeing is that kids don't equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying. As such, we shouldn't assume that existing interventions will be relevant to aggression that is happening online."

She is presenting a study that involved 17,000 Vancouver, B.C. students in Grades 8 to 12 and a follow-up study involving 733 Vancouver, B.C. youth aged 10-18.
Results of the studies show that about 25-30 per cent of youth report that they have experienced or taken part in cyberbullying, compared to 12 per cent of youth who say they've experienced or taken part in schoolyard bullying.

The biggest worry she has is as she says: "Youth say that 95 per cent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only 5 per cent was intended to harm. It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying.“

This is the biggest concern, and a very poignant one. Because there is a complete lack of physical damage – or the visible indicators of pain that come with an avatar body attached to the target's nervous system; perhaps even because of the limitations in communication on current online methods, many even most people who participate in cyberbullying are truly unaware of how much psychological damage their activirties are causing. Borth bullies and witnesses are often blissfully unaware of the effects of their actions – they have no cues of just how much damage they are doing, so they go much further than they would with the same actions offline.

As the researcher puts it, "Students need to be educated that this 'just joking' behaviour has serious implications."
Being victimized online can have consequences for a person's mental health, developmental well-being, and academic achievement, according to Shapka. In extreme cases, there have been reports of suicide.


Cyberbullies Say At Least We Are Not Real Bullies

Dr Shapka

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