With the increasing ubiquity of smart phones and social networking, predatory online behavior is affecting people on an unprecedented scale. Researchers at Ohio University conducted a qualitative study to develop a better understanding of the effect of cyberbullying and online aggression on college students, a surprisingly understudied population concerning these phenomena. Their results are available in Deviant Behavior, a journal publication from Routledge.

Free Access Article
“I Hate Everything About You”: A Qualitative Examination of Cyberbullying and On-Line Aggression in a College Sample, Rebecca Rafferty, Thomas Vander Ven

The researchers defined cyberbullying as “repeated unwanted, hurtful, harassing, and/or threatening interaction through electronic communication media,” and online aggression as “hurtful, harassing, and/or threatening behavior that is not repeated.” The scope of knowledge surrounding these behaviors is expanding, but most prior studies have sampled K-12 students, while studies of older populations have overlooked cyberbullying’s causes and consequences, limiting the reach of potential solutions.

221 college students were surveyed regarding their experiences with cyberbullying and aggressive online behavior. Their responses identify cyber sanctioning, power struggles, and entertainment as three primary motivations. Cyber sanctioning refers to peer pressure exerted online, primarily through insults and shame, in an attempt to modify the behavior of its target. Power struggles were defined as “the attempt to hurt, humiliate, or influence the behavior of another individual in order to gain or regain access to some valued resource.” Entertainment, or “trolling,” is cyberbullying for the purpose of amusing the perpetrator, often facilitated by anonymity.

While the goal of this study was to expand knowledge of the cyberbullying problem, the authors recognize the importance of working towards solutions; future research on how to train individuals of all ages to intervene in cyberbullying and online aggression is suggested.


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