YouTube comments aren’t good for much, but they do provide a telling indication of how easy it is for people to abuse one another online. This is especially the case when people are hidden behind an anonymous username. Of course, most professional communities require people to post using their real identity, but as Facebook only too gladly shows, this does not provide immunity. Indeed, in 2007, 37% of social network users reported having been cyberbullied at some point.
Some new research by Michigan State University looks at how you can tackle bullying should it occur on your own community. The research was split into two studies, both published in the International Criminal Justice Review.
The first study looked at the relationship between bullying, cyberbullying and mobile phone bullying, and stats on truancy and having suicidal thoughts amongst youngsters in Singapore. It found that 22% of people who were physically bullied skipped school as a result. Interestingly though, people who were bullied online, ended up skipping school 27% of the time. Bullying via mobiles resulted in 28% of respondants skipping school.
The numbers were very similar for suicidal thoughts as a result of bullying, with both online and mobile bullying having a bigger impact than physical bullying.
“We should not ignore one form of bullying for the sake of the other,” says Thomas Holt, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. “The results suggest we should find ways to develop school policies to combat bullying within the school environment and then figure out how to translate that to the home, because the risk goes beyond the schoolyard.”
What can community managers do to help?
Sadly the first study doesn’t provide much in the way of solutions for community managers, focusing most attention on how parents and other supervisors can look out for changes in real-world behaviour.
The second study however does provide some advice. It recommends that anti-bullying messages be positive rather than negative.
“In order to get people excited about a certain message or issue—in this case cyberbullying—positive messages will work better because positive stimuli lets us be more approaching,” says Saleem Alhabash, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and one of the team members. “Being more approaching means we are more open to persuasion.”
So if you want to stop cyberbullying on your community, the message is clear. Be positive.