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BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter April 6, 2016

Cyberbullying in a population of Slovak teenagers (quantitative research)

Kamil Kopecký
From the journal Human Affairs

Abstract

This paper looks at the research results of research into the risky behaviour of Slovak children on the Internet, implemented in late 2013 and 2014 by a research team at the Centre for the Prevention of Risky Virtual Communication, Palacký University in Olomouc. In this article we focus on a key part of the research—cyberbullying from the perspective of victims and attackers. The paper describes the most common forms of attacks Slovak children are exposed to and also focuses on role-switching from victim to attacker which occurs fairly frequently among the Slovak population. The article also looks at the most common Internet services and communication platforms which are exploited in attacks.

Introduction

Research on Risky Behaviour of Slovak Children on the Internet in 2014 is a new research project being carried out by the Centre for the Prevention of Risky Virtual Communication, Palacký University, Olomouc, in cooperation with Seznam.cz, Google and Vodafone. The research concerns the occurrence of risky events associated with Internet communication in a population of Slovak children. In the following article, we will consider one of five basic areas of the research (cyberbullying, sexting, cyber grooming and meeting with online strangers, sharing personal information, and sources of help): cyberbullying and its penetration among a population of children aged 11-17 years.

The definition of cyberbullying used is one based on an existing definition of traditional bullying: aggressive, intentional, repeated acts or behaviour carried out against individuals or groups that cannot easily defend themselves (Whitney & Smith, 1993, Olweus, 2006). It is also understood to be a form of harassment based on a perceived imbalance of power and the systematic abuse of power (Smith & Sharp, 1994, also Rigby, 1997). The term cyberbullying adopts these definitions and expands on them (especially in relation to information and communication technologies).

A more specific definition of cyberbullying is given by Hinduja and Patchin (2008) and Dehue, Bolman, Völlink, and Pouwelse (2008). Hinduja and Patchin (2008) define cyberbullying as intentional, repeated hurtful activity using a computer, mobile phone or other electronic devices. Dehue et al. (2008) describe cyberbullying as torture, threats, humiliation, embarrassment or other forms of attack among teenagers using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.

For the purposes of our research, we defined cyberbullying as a form of aggression that is carried out against individuals or groups using information and communication technologies, which occurs repeatedly (Belsey, 2004; Slonje, 2008). It may be performed by the original aggressor or secondary attackers. As Kowalski, Limber, and Agatston (2007) state, it refers to bullying that occurs through the use of e-mail, ICQ, mobile phones (SMS, MMS, phone calls), chat, web pages and other ICT.

In recent years, a great deal of research into cyberbullying has been carried out in many countries around the world. Brown, Demaray, and Secord (2014) from the USA, for example, point out that gender differences do not matter in cyberbullying (girls are not more frequent victims of cyberbullying than boys). Riebel, Jäger, and Fisher (2009) from Germany confirm that cyberbullying also occurs among German children. Although the prevalence is only 5% of the population, in practice it affects more than 600,000 children.

Kopecký, Szotkowski, and Krejčí (2014) from the Czech Republic (the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic formed a single country till 1993) point to an increase in serious cases of cyberbullying involving children being extorted and threatened, and encouraged to share intimate material that will then be used in an attack. Kováčová (2012), Čechová and Hlistová (2009) and others point to an increase in the number of victims of cyberbullying in the Slovak Republic (up to 39% of children). Hollá (2013) summarizes comparative cyberbullying research in Europe carried out in Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Ireland and the Slovak Republic. Hollá performed research on a sample of 446 pupils (8th and 9th grade) and found that 11% had experienced threatening telephone calls, 30% threatening emails and text messages, 68% humiliating and insulting pictures of friends, 17% humiliating photographs and 23% videos of friends in incriminating situations.

Research on Risky Behaviour of Slovak children on the Internet in 2014 focuses on the most frequent forms of cyberbullying experienced by Slovak children. The survey compares these findings with the results of research carried out in the Czech Republic as part of the Danger of Internet Communication IV survey (the same research tool was used in both).

Methods

Characteristics of the research sample

A total of 1466 (n = 1466) respondents aged 11-17 years participated in the research carried out in the Slovak Republic. In total 71% of the sample consisted of children aged 11-14, while 29% were aged 15-17 years. Boys accounted for 45% of the sample and girls 55%. The research was conducted in all regions of Slovakia, but most of the respondents came from Trenčín Region (44%) and Bratislava Region (19%).

Characteristics of the research tool

The quantitative research was carried out using a questionnaire. The verified research tool (validity, reliability, Cronbach’s alpha = 0.73) containing a total of 71 items (40 dichotomous, 2 polytomous, 22 multiple choice and 7 open question) was compiled on the basis of theoretical knowledge and arranged in such a way as to reflect the research objectives and any emerging topics (new forms of attacks, new uses of technology—webcam trolling etc.).

The online questionnaire was divided into five parts: the first concerned cyberbullying (victim/attacker point of view), the next focused on sexting (sharing/sending one’s own intimate materials via the Internet), while another group of questions targeted the online sharing of personal information. The subsequent part looked at the use of social networks and the last part at meeting with online strangers in real world.

The questionnaire has been used in five nationwide research projects carried out since 2010 in the Czech Republic on a target group’s of more than 10,000 respondents (since 2013 more than 20,000 respondents). The questionnaire was created specially.

The questionnaires were distributed electronically (online) to respondents using the E-Bezpečí/Centre for the Prevention of Risky Virtual Communication questionnaire system, which contains the e-mail addresses of schools, educational institutions, associations for children and young people and other institutions in the Czech and Slovak Republics. The list of addresses was created by members of the research team in 2013-2014 from publicly available sources. The target group was contacted via public school e-mail addresses—the research team contacted the heads and teachers, who ensured the questionnaire was completed in class—during school lessons.

The data obtained were analyzed separately for the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. In this paper, we focus only on the data gathered using the Slovak version of the questionnaire. There are limitations to the data collection—we only contacted schools with e-mail addresses indexed in www search engines and we did not use a central register of schools. Another limitation may be that the questionnaire was electronic and so could be completed only where an internet connection was available (e.g. in computer classrooms, libraries).

The anonymous questionnaire was distributed to teachers in Slovak schools who ensured that pupils completed the questionnaire in class. The questionnaire automatically verified where it was sent from (IP address, regional affiliation, monitoring of respondents’ behaviour using Google Analytics, etc.) and invited respondents to supply the school e-mail address, providing their representatives with a means of contacting the research team.

The preparation stage of the research was launched on 1st October 2013 and data collection took place from 1st December 2013 to 31st March 2014. The evaluation was carried out in April 2014. The data were mainly measured at the nominal and ordinal levels, and these corresponded to subsequent processing, applied statistics and numerical operations.

The advantage of using the electronic questionnaire was that the data could then be collected automatically and displayed in table form. Once the data had been sorted, processed and evaluated, we used descriptive statistics to seek the answers to the research problems. We then used inductive statistics, specifically, the chi-square test for independence, to verify the research questions. The software used was Statistica 12.

The data obtained through the open questions (text questions) were analyzed using Atlas.ti. Respondents’ answers were coded and allocated to the semantic categories and subcategories created during the analysis. The most frequent answers were assigned the greatest importance (e.g. category: reasons for sharing intimate material) and the results were generated in the form of concept maps and word clouds.

The research questions relating to cyberbullying were as follows:

  1. How many victims of cyberbullying are there in relation to individual occurrences and on which platforms does the cyberbullying take place?

  2. How many originators of cyberbullying are there in relation to individual occurrences and on which platforms does the cyberbullying take place?

  3. Which communication platform is most commonly used for cyberbullying?

  4. Who do victims contact if they experience cyberbullying?

  5. Are there any signs of attackers and victims switching roles? How many victims of cyberbullying are there and how many cyber offenders?

Other research questions related to sexting, online meetings in cyberspace, the sharing of personal information online etc, but the results of these are not included in this paper.

The pupils answered a series of questions relating to their experiences of cyberbullying (all the pupils answered, we did not distinguish between victims, attackers or onlookers).

Results

Monitored forms of cyberbullying

Within the research we observed these forms of cyberbullying attacks on children:

  1. Verbal attacks in cyberspace—harm in the form of humiliating, insulting, ridiculing, embarrassing a child.

  2. Children being bothered by drop-calls.

  3. Children being threatened and intimidated.

  4. Identity theft.

  5. Blackmailing of a child.

  6. Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of photos.

  7. Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of videos.

  8. Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of audio.

The research followed the recurrence of these types of cyberbullying over the course of a year (where the pupils had repeatedly been victims of cyberbullying in the last year). A time limit was set because we wanted to monitor the progression and evolution of cyberbully within a one-year timeframe. Once that had concluded, we compared any changes (increase/ decrease in type, differences, changes etc.). The respondents reported whether, for example, they had been victims of cyberbullying (repeated attacks), the tools they had used (email, sms, social networks) etc.

The research followed the phenomenon of cyberbullying from several aspects:

  1. The victims of cyberbullying (incidence, the number of victims within the time frame, platforms on which the attacks took place)—how many pupils reported that they had been victims of cyberbullying in the last year.

  2. The originators of cyberbullying (incidence, the number of attackers within the timeframe, platforms used for attacks)—how many pupils reported that they had tried to cyberattack other pupils.

  3. People involved in addressing cyberbullying (whom the victim could contact when experiencing cyberbullying). The respondents could choose to contact parents, teacher, other adults, youth friends etc.

  4. Related phenomena (specific forms of cyberbullying committed, for example, breaking into an account and subsequent identity theft).

Cyberbullying – victims

The table presents the absolute and relative frequencies of selected forms of cyberbullying in a group of more than 1,300 pupils. The total number of respondents was different for each question (not every pupil answered every question). Each form of cyberbullying was examined separately. We analyzed where the cyberbullying took place (on social networks, chat, instant messenger…), how it was done (form of cyberbullying, combination of forms), what the role of the child was in the cyberbullying (victim, attacker, onlooker).

Table 1

Cyberbullying in Slovak children (according to type) – victims

N (freq)%N (total)
Verbal attacks416281,466
Threatening and intimidation230171,368
Identity theft129101,355
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of photos182131,427
Blackmail9571,368
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of video7351,380
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of audio4731,376
Breaking into an account365271,355

Note: A pupil could be the victim of several forms of cyberbullying (mixed cyberbullying), for example a combination of verbal attack, blackmailing and intimidation.

Verbal attacks are the most common form of cyberbullying, with more than 28% of the children confirming this. The other positions on the scale belong to account penetration (breaking into online accounts) (27%), and threats and intimidation are also relatively widespread (17%).

In the following parts of the research, we focused on the forms of cyberbullying used by child aggressors. The following table summarizes the findings.

Cyberbullying – attackers

Table 2

Cyberbullying in Slovak children (by type) – attackers

N (freq)%N (total)
Verbal attacks161141,168
Threatening and intimidation7461,245
Identity theft3741,016
Blackmail4741,264
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of photos7961,262
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of video4641,269
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of audio3931,266
Breaking into an account291291,016

The distribution of the various forms of cyberbullying committed by aggressors corresponds to the distribution of the forms of cyberbullying experienced by victims. The most frequent form of attack, according to child aggressors, is breaking into a person’s account (29%), followed by verbal attacks (14%).

Over 48% of Slovak respondents confirmed that repeated attacks occur in cyberspace. Cyberbullying often occurs in the public environment as well—public chat, social networks with open access, websites (29% of attacks) and non-public (20%) chat (instant messengers, VoIP, private chat rooms).

A particularly dangerous form of cyberbullying is blackmail. The blackmailing of children on the Internet has become a taboo topic because of the nature of the materials used in blackmailing. However, efforts to avoid harming the victim mean it is likely that blackmail cases will be covered up and solved by other means (e.g., without police intervention); thus, researchers inadvertently create the impression that these cases are not taken seriously by children and their online predators.

Platforms used

The most common Internet platforms used in cyberbullying are social networks (especially Facebook and Ask.fm).

In recent years, webcams have increasingly been used in attacks. They make it possible for audiovisual materials to be obtained from the victim and then used in a subsequent attack. The use of webcams in cyberbullying was confirmed by 3% of the respondents. The more frequent forms of webcam misuse are webcam trolling, webcam chat with sexting (for example an attacker videochatting with children, recording their faces, forcing the child to strip, have virtual sex, and cybergrooming children) etc. In the next part of the research, we focused on whether children would contact their parents or teachers if they experienced cyberbullying.

Figure 1 Platforms used for cyberbullying (average figure vs. blackmailing)

Figure 1

Platforms used for cyberbullying (average figure vs. blackmailing)

Who would the children contact

Figure 2 Who would the children contact?

Figure 2

Who would the children contact?

In practice, the more dangerous the cyberbullying, the more often children turn to adults for help. Respondents would mainly contact their parents in cases of extortion (47% of respondents) and threats (5%). This compares with the 32% of Slovak children who would contact their teacher in cases of blackmail and the 29% who would do so in cases where the children feel threatened. Approximately one third of the children stated that if cyberbullying were to occur they would not contact either their teachers or parents.

In the next sections, we focused on role-switching between the victim and the attacker.

Role-switching

In the research, we monitor two basic forms of switching:

  1. the victim becomes the attacker, using the same form of attack they experienced as a victim,

  2. the victim becomes the attacker using any form of cyberbullying.

Many researchers (Ybarra, 2004; Chráska, Kopecký, Krejčí, & Szotkowski, 2012) have described the phenomenon of role-switching between victim and attacker in cyberbullying. Victims of cyberbullying feel frustrated and attempt to attack not only their original attacker but also innocent children and adults. They often seen their attacks as legitimate, fair and reasonable, and they do not perceive their behaviour as being wrong.

The following figures indicate how often role-switching occurs in the sample.

The percentages were calculated from a group of cybervictims. The green bars show the children who do not switch to becoming an attacker, while the red bars are victims who switch roles and attack another user using any form of cyberbullying.

Figure 3 Victim-attacker role-switching (using any form of attack)

Figure 3

Victim-attacker role-switching (using any form of attack)

The research results show that child victims quite often become aggressors—e.g. a child who was blackmailed in 58% changes to an attacker who uses any form of attack against children. Less frequently attackers use the same form of attack, as the graph below shows.

Figure 4 Victim-attacker role-switching (using the same form of attack)

Figure 4

Victim-attacker role-switching (using the same form of attack)

The switching of roles is captured in detail in the following table. The Victims (n) column shows the number of victims of various forms of cyberbullying. The other column represents “role-switching”—the victim becomes an attacker who uses the same form of attack used against him/her (Attacker A), or becomes an attacker who uses any form of attack (Attacker B).

Table 3

Victim-attacker role-switching (data)

Victims (n)Attacker A (n1)Attacker B (n2)
Verbal attacks416106153
Threatening and intimidation23042115
Blackmail951655
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of photos1824084
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of video731942
Humiliation, embarrassment caused by the sharing of audio471625
Breaking into an account365135152

Discussion

The research findings show that the Slovak children most often encountered verbal forms of cyberbullying and had their Internet accounts broken into (email accounts, social networking accounts, etc.) and that they were less likely to encounter more serious forms of cyberbullying. The Slovak children would confide in their parents or teachers about cyberbullying only if the attack was serious and they were not able to solve it. Then they would seek help from adults.

A very interesting finding is the switching of roles between victims and aggressors. It is particularly common in serious forms of cyberbullying (blackmail, threats), where more than 50% become aggressors. They do not usually confine themselves to one form of attack but carry out combined attacks.

Role-switching occurs most frequently in serious forms of cyberbullying—in online extortion and cyberbullying conducted through the sharing of videos—approximately 58% of children switch role from victim to attacker. These results correspond with the results of research carried out in the Czech Republic and also in the USA for example (Ybarra, 2004). Compared with the results from the Czech Republic (Kopecký, Szotkowski, & Krejčí, 2014), role-switching takes place more frequently in the Slovak Republic. In the Czech Republic, for example, 44% of extortion victims switch roles. This difference may have been affected by the number of respondents, but there were also other potential reasons that were not monitored in the research, such as the fact that respondents do not describe their experiences of cyberbullying in detail. Switching to becoming the attacker in cyberbullying is very easy—there are a lot of tools that can be used in an attack (chat, website, social networks, instant messengers, video portals, etc.). An attacker on the Internet can be anonymous, the person involved may not have physical superiority over the victim, or need to be a member of the group, and he/she may also perform a solo attack on the victim.

Most studies agree that attackers commit cyberbullying in order to take revenge, or because they want “just play” with the victims. Cyberbullying offenders sometimes see it as a means of ensuring just retribution for the wrongs that have happened to them. (König, Gollwitzer, & Steffgen, 2010; Sanders, Smith, & Cillessen, 2009). It is thus clear that a large number of attackers are recruited from among the victims.

The survey carried out on the Slovak pupils has its limits—currently the research sample is still not representative and so the results cannot be generalized to the entire population. Nevertheless, the results provide a good basis and inspiration for our further research into the different manifestations of cyberbullying, the motivations for cyberbullying and the impact on the victim.

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Published Online: 2016-04-06
Published in Print: 2016-04-01

© 2016 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences

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