Research Cyberbullying on social networking sites: A literature review and future research directions 2021 | Stop Pesten NU



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Research Cyberbullying on social networking sites: A literature review and future research directions 2021

Onderzoek cyberpesten op sociale netwerksites: een literatuuronderzoek en toekomstige onderzoeksrichtingen 2021 Tommy K.H. Chan, Christy M.K. Cheung, Zach W.Y. Lee

(Nederlandse vertaling Google translate)

Cyberpesten op sociale netwerksites is een opkomend maatschappelijk probleem dat veel wetenschappers heeft aangetrokken aandacht. Het doel van dit onderzoek is om de bestaande kennis te consolideren door middel van een literatuuronderzoek en analyse. We bespreken eerst de aard, onderzoekspatronen en theoretische grondslagen. Vervolgens ontwikkelen we een integratieve raamwerk op basis van sociaal-cognitieve theorie om te synthetiseren wat bekend is en te identificeren wat nog moet worden geleerd, met een focus op de triadische wederkerige relaties tussen daders, slachtoffers en omstanders. Wij bespreken de belangrijkste bevindingen en belichten kansen voor toekomstig onderzoek.
Cyberbullying on social networking sites is an emerging societal issue that has drawn significant scholarly
attention. The purpose of this study is to consolidate the existing knowledge through a literature review and
analysis. We first discuss the nature, research patterns, and theoretical foundations. We then develop an integrative
framework based on social cognitive theory to synthesize what is known and identify what remains to be
learned, with a focus on the triadic reciprocal relationships between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. We
discuss the key findings and highlight opportunities for future research. We conclude this paper by noting
research contributions and limitations.


SNS bullying has attracted increasing attention from researchers, policymakers, and practitioners over the last decade. However, a consolidated and systematic understanding of the current knowledge on SNS bullying is generally missing. Therefore, this study (1) reveals the state of SNS bullying research and (2) synthesizes the findings of SNS bullying research into an integrative framework that presents the variables related to the different roles of SNS bullying. Based on our observations and findings in Sections 4 and 5, we discuss the research gaps and opportunities and propose avenues for future research. We also discuss research contributions and limitations.

6.1. Future research directions

The previous sections have identified ten promising research questions for future studies of SNS bullying. In this section, we consolidate these questions into four areas of future research and discuss potential interdisciplinary, theoretical, and methodological links that will be useful for closing research gaps. Table 9 presents an overview of the research avenues and related research questions.

Table 9. An overview of future research avenues and research questions.

Avenue for future researchCorresponding research question
1Behavioral manifestations and triadic reciprocal relationshipsRQ1: What are the different forms of SNS bullying?
RQ5: What coping strategies are adopted by victims of SNS bullying, and how effective are they in mitigating the negative impacts of SNS bullying victimization?
RQ8: How do bystanders’ responses to SNS bullying affect perpetrators and victims?
2Roles and effects of social and technological factors on SNS bullyingRQ4: How do social and technological inputs induce/reduce bullying on SNSs?
RQ7: How do social and technological inputs influence victims’ cognitions, affects, and coping behaviors in response to SNS bullying?
RQ10: How can technology-based intervention encourage positive behaviors and reduce negative ones among bystanders?
3Boundary conditions and applicability of classic theories and frameworksRQ2: What are the boundary conditions for the effects of sociodemographic properties on SNS bullying?
RQ9: How can existing theories and frameworks be adapted to explain SNS bullying?
4New approaches to addressing ethical and methodological challengesRQ3: What negative emotions drive bullying behaviors on SNSs, and what are the underlying mechanisms?
RQ6: How can SNS bullying victimization be studied in a nonintrusive manner?

6.1.1. Behavioral manifestations and triadic reciprocal relationships

The first potential research avenue is a more in-depth investigation into the behavioral manifestations and triadic reciprocal relationships between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. First, our study shows a lack of a holistic understanding of the behavioral manifestations enacted by each participant. Prior studies have conceptualized and measured perpetrators’ aggressive acts, victims’ coping strategies, and bystanders’ intervention tactics differently. If the full range of these behavioral patterns and their associated SNS affordances could be identified, then personal and environmental determinants could be more systematically classified, and the empirical findings could be more parsimoniously organized. Thus, developing conceptually appropriate and comprehensive typologies and taxonomies for organizing, scrutinizing, and refining the behavioral patterns manifested by perpetrators, victims, and bystanders of SNS bullying is desirable.

Furthermore, prior studies have often focused on a single role in SNS bullying: perpetrators, victims, or bystanders. Future studies should expand their focus from a single type of participant to explore how the triadic reciprocal online social interactions between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders alter SNS bullying's dynamic and development. For instance, how do perpetrators react to victims’ and bystanders’ responses to or ignorance of the incident? Do such reactions reduce their motivation to engage in bullying or intensify it? How do different bullying types (e.g., harassment, exclusion, and impersonation) affect victims’ coping strategies and bystanders’ intervention tactics? How do different coping strategies adopted by victims (e.g., problem-focused vs. emotion-focused, adaptive vs. maladaptive) affect perpetrators’ and bystanders’ subsequent responses? Future studies could also examine how triadic reciprocal relationships vary across different settings. As SNSs have blurred the boundary between private and professional life [136], workplace cyberbullying is another promising research area. Future research could investigate whether the SNS bullying dynamic between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders differs between college students and professional workers.

6.1.2. Roles and effects of social and technological factors on SNS bullying

The second potential research avenue is studying the effects of social and technological factors on the participants' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As SNS bullying is a dynamic and complex phenomenon, no single factor can sufficiently explain why and how perpetrators, victims, and bystanders think, feel, and behave. Therefore, a thorough consideration of the personal factors and environmental determinants such as incident characteristics, cues from other participants, and social relationships is critical. Several areas require particular attention, such as the setting (e.g., school, workplace, or other social groups) and interpersonal ties among the participants (e.g., strong, weak, or absent).

Furthermore, SNSs differ in many aspects despite some commonalities. For example, unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular SNSs, pictures, and messages generated on Snapchat are only available to other users for a short period before becoming inaccessible. This unique technological characteristic of Snapchat introduces a specific “temporality affordance” that might affect victims’ perception of the severity of the incident and thus influence their coping strategies. Therefore, researchers should endeavor to incorporate platform-specific variables into their investigation of any technology-mediated bullying to yield a contextualized understanding. The study of technological factors could also shed light on the suitability of technology-based interventions to halt undesirable behaviors. For instance, since anonymity is one of the main causes of SNS bullying, Lowry, and colleagues suggested using accountability interfaces to deter SNS bullying [12,13].

6.1.3. Boundary conditions and applicability of classic theories and frameworks

The third potential research avenue is identifying boundary conditions of the relationships identified in existing theories and frameworks. Our review shows that studies of the effects of sociodemographic properties on SNS bullying between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders have yielded inconsistent findings. Such inconsistencies signal the existence of boundary conditions that alter the effects of the factors within an SNS bullying episode. Specifically, each study on SNS bullying has been conducted within a single research context, such as within a specific country, region, culture, or group of participants. Few studies of SNS bullying have been conducted in multiple cultures or research contexts. Furthermore, some studies have measured SNS bullying in a specific setting (e.g., a school or a social group), whereas others have measured SNS bullying in general. To address such inconsistencies, researchers could perform a meta-analysis to test the strength of the relationships between sociodemographic properties and identify the possible contextual moderators that should be validated in future studies.

Furthermore, little multidisciplinary research examines the dynamic interactions between humans (i.e., perpetrators, victims, and bystanders) and technology (i.e., SNSs). We believe that collaborations across disciplinary borders are promising and imperative to extend the traditional theories and frameworks and derive a contextualized understanding of the phenomenon. Specifically, SNS bullying represents a novel context that differs from other forms of bullying. As noted by McFarland and Ployhart [29, p. 1], “some of the features unique to social media may challenge the ability of existing theories and frameworks to explain cognition, affect, and behavior.” These theories and frameworks need to be expanded and adapted to new contexts to understand SNS bullying fully. For instance, does transactional theory of stress appraisal and coping [137] remain valid to explain the primary and secondary appraisals and coping strategies of victims of SNS bullying? Similarly, how do SNSs reduce or amplify the bystander effect, namely pluralistic ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, and evaluation apprehension [103]? The research that emerges from such cross-disciplinary approaches will offer interactional insights that enrich both the information systems literature and the cyberbullying literature [138].

6.1.4. New approaches to addressing ethical and methodological challenges

The fourth potential research avenue involves developing solutions to the ethical and methodological challenges of SNS bullying research. Specifically, ethical concerns and technical difficulties in SNS bullying research have hindered the development of longitudinal investigations that examine the long-term effects of SNS bullying. First, existing studies have suggested that social desirability bias remains an essential issue in collecting data on the behavioral patterns of perpetrators and bystanders: respondents who engaged in socially undesirable acts tended to underreport their participation, whereas respondents who engaged in socially desirable acts tended to overreport their participation, in order to be viewed favorably respectively [12]. Second, research on victimization is constrained by the ethical need to avoid “harming” the participants. These concerns have driven researchers to adopt a self-reported, cross-sectional survey, or scenario-based methods to investigate SNS bullying, making it difficult to capture its long-term effects. To overcome these obstacles, researchers should explore alternative research methods that can extend the currently restricted scope of study on SNS bullying, such as considering nonintrusive techniques like diaries and ethnography/netnography. In a recent study, Wenninger et al. [139] found diary methods to be useful in validating the relationship between reciprocity-evoking SNS activities (e.g., chatting, giving, and receiving feedback) and positive emotions, demonstrating the use of SNSs in promoting subjective well-being. Similar research methods could be used to study SNS bullying experiences over time. Researchers could then analyze how specific cognitions and affects influence perpetrators’ intention to bully, seeking to understand the effects of SNS bullying on perpetrators, victims, and bystanders' well-being. Rachoene and Oyedemi [40] demonstrated the viability of using ethnography to observe and analyze SNS bullying among South African youth. A nonparticipatory netnography approach captured detailed observations of the dynamic state and development of SNS bullying in six Facebook pages. These alternatives to single cross-sectional surveys or experiments allow researchers to derive meaningful insights into the triadic reciprocal relationships between personal factors, environmental events, and behavioral patterns concerning perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, respectively.

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