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Abstract

Participants were 439 college students who were asked how often they had experienced each of a series of bullying behaviors since they have been in college. Results indicated that 38% of college students knew someone who had been cyberbullied, 21.9% had been cyberbullied, and 8.6% had cyberbullying someone else. It was apparent that some forms of electronic media are more commonly used to cyberbully others than are other forms. All the cyberbullying behaviors and traditional bullying behaviors were significantly positively inter-correlated. There were no significant gender or ethnic group differences in any of the cyberbullying behaviors.
Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
A
vailable online at www.sciencedirect.com
1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.12.436
WCLTA 2010
Cyberbullying among college students: prevalence and demographic
differences
Christine D. MacDonald
a
*, Bridget Roberts-Pittman
a
a
Department of Communication Disorders and Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN
47809, USA
Abstract
Participants were 439 college students who were asked how often they had experienced each of a series of bullying behaviors
since they have been in college. Results indicated that 38% of college students knew someone who had been cyberbullied,
21.9% had been cyberbullied, and 8.6% had cyberbullying someone else. It was apparent that some forms of electronic media are
more commonly used to cyberbully others than are other forms. All the cyberbullying behaviors and traditional bullying
behaviors were significantly positively inter-correlated. There were no significant gender or ethnic group differences in any of
the cyberbullying behaviors.
© 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: Bullying; Cyberbullying; Adolescents; College Students; Demographic differences
1. Introduction
In 1998, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development conducted a national survey known as
the Health Behaviour of School-aged Children (HBSC). The purpose of the study was to gain an understanding of
the prevalence of bullying by using a nationally representative sample of school-age children and over 15,000
students from public and private schools in the United States in grades 6-10 completed the survey. The researchers
explored bullying behaviors by examining differences in gender, grade, and race. The results revealed 10.6% of
children reported bullying others “sometimes” while 8.5% reported being bullied “sometimes”. These findings
suggest that over 1,000,000 children in the United States are either demonstrating bullying behaviors, are victims of
bullying, or both. In terms of gender, bullying behaviors and being bullied were reported at a higher rate among
males in comparison to their female peers. Further, males more often reported bullying in terms of physical acts
such as hitting or pushing. In contrast, females reported bullying more often in terms of verbal behaviors such as
rumors or sexual comments. Bullying tended to be more prevalent among middle school children than among high
school children and occur more frequently among Caucasian children than Hispanic or African-American children.
No differences were found when comparing children from urban, suburban, and rural areas (Nansel et al., 2001).
While the HBSC survey reveals the significant problem bullying poses in the United States, the bulk of the
literature continues to focus on the K-12 school environment (e.g., Espelage & Swearer, 2003), although there have
also been a number of articles on bullying and harassment in the workplace (e. g., Ferris, 2004; Glomb, & Liao,
2003). To date, only two research articles have examined bullying during the college years (Chapell et al., 2004;
Chapell, Hasselman, Kitchin, Lomon, Maclver, & Sarullo, 2006). Yet, bullying behaviors do not simply come to a
halt during the college years. Additionally, with the increase in availability of new technologies – social networking
Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.
Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.
2004 Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
programs, text messaging, instant messaging -- there have been individuals taking advantage of these technologies
to harass and bully others. One recent study (Li, 2006) reports as many as one in four junior high school students
have been cyberbullied. The present research study is designed to fill in a gap in the research literature by better
describing the cyberbullying experienced by college students.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Participants were 439 college students enrolled at a midsize Midwestern university in the United States. The
sample was 71.9% female and 28.1% male; and predominantly (81.7%) white; predominantly able-bodied (95.2%);
and predominantly heterosexual (91.5%). The average age was 22.97 years (SD = 6.62). Eighty-seven percent of
the students were enrolled in undergraduate programs, 11.4% were in graduate programs, and .7% were non-degree-
seeking students.
2.2. Measure
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire asking how often they had experienced each of a series of
bullying and harassing behaviors since they have been in college. Specifically regarding cyberbullying, students
were given a definition of cyberbullying as “sending or posting harmful or cruel text or images using the Internet or
other digital communication devices” (Williard, 2007, retrieved from www.cyberbully.org/cyberbully).
They were
then asked a series of questions beginning with the stem: “Given this definition, since you’ve been in college, have
you ever: (a) known someone who was cyberbullied, (b) been cyberbullied, and (c) cyberbullied someone else?
Students were also asked how often they had experienced cyberbullying via a number of specific media (e.g., “had
someone send you harassing or threatening text messages?”). Students were also given a definition of bullying and
asked “Given this definition, since you’ve been in college, have you ever: (a) seen another student being bullied in
college by another student, (b) been bullied in college by another student, and (c) bullied another student in college?
All of these questions were answered on a 4-point Likert type scale, with 1 = Never and 4= Very Frequently.
Additionally, students were asked to report demographic information, including gender, ethnicity, and sexual
orientation. Given the small numbers of students in certain minority categories, ethnicity was categorized into two
groups: white, US citizen and non-white and/or foreign national. Similarly, sexual orientation was categorized into
two groups: heterosexual and minority sexual orientation (including gay/lesbian, bisexual, and other).
2.3. Procedure
Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
2005
Survey data was collected three ways: (a) via large section undergraduate classes, (b) by setting up a booth in the
food court of the student union, and (c) by posting a link to the online survey. Additional questions regarding
specific types of cyberbullying, as well as sexual orientation and physical ability/disability were added to the survey
after the first round of data collection, so data on these is only available for 357 participants.
3. Results
3.1 Prevalence Rates
In order to examine prevalence rates for these behaviors, frequencies and percentages for each of the responses
(never, once or twice, frequently, very frequently) for each the cyberbullying behaviors (known someone who was
cyberbullied, been cyberbullied, cyberbullied someone else) were compiled for the entire sample, as well as by
gender and ethnic group (See Table 1). Results indicated that 38% of college students reported knowing someone
who had been cyberbullied, 21.9% reported having been cyberbullied, and 8.6% reported cyberbullying someone
else.
When gender was examined, the prevalence rates for males and females were comparable. Of the male students,
37.4% reported knowing someone who had been cyberbullied, 21.9% reported having been cyberbullied, and 11.4%
reported cyberbullying someone else. Of the female students, 38.5% reported knowing someone who had been
cyberbullied, 22% reported having been cyberbullied, and 7.6% reported cyberbullying someone else. There also
did not appear to be differences between the rates for white US citizens and non white or foreign national students.
Of white students who were US citizens, 39.2% reported knowing someone who had been cyberbullied, 21.5%
reported having been cyberbullied, and 8.4% reported cyberbullying someone else. Of nonwhite or foreign national
students, 32.1% reported knowing someone who had been cyberbullied, 23.7% reported having been cyberbullied,
and 9.9% reported cyberbullying someone else.
Next, the specific media through which college students had been cyberbullied were examined. In this sample,
25% of the college students reported having been harassed or threatened through a social networking site; 21.2%
reported that someone had sent them harassing or threatening text messages; 16.1% reported receiving harassing or
threatening email messages; 13.2% had received harassing or threatening Instant Messages (IMs); 9.9% had had
someone write negative or embarrassing things about them in a chat room; and 6.8% had had someone post negative
information or images of them on a website. Based on these results, it is apparent that some forms of electronic
media are more commonly used to cyberbully others, with social networking and text messages being the most
common, and chat rooms and other websites the least common.
Table 1Frequencies and Percentages of Cyberbullying Behaviors for Entire Sample and by Gender and Ethnic Group, N = 439
Never Once or Twice Frequently Very Frequently
Entire sample
known someone who 271 (62.0%) 142 (32.5%) 20 (4.6%) 4 (.9%)
was cyberbullied
been cyberbullied 342 (78.1%) 82 (18.7%) 12 (2.7%) 2 (.5%)
cyberbullied someone else 400 (91.3%) 36 (8.2%) 1 (.2%) 1 (.2%)
Male (n = 123)
known someone who 77 (62.6%) 41 (33.3%) 4 (3.3%) 1 (.8%)
was cyberbullied
been cyberbullied 96 (78.0%) 23 (18.7%) 3 (2.4%) 1 (.8%)
cyberbullied someone else 109 (88.6%) 13 (10.6%) 0 1 (.8%)
Female (n = 312)
known someone who 192 (61.5%) 101 (32.4%) 16 (5.1%) 3 (1.0%)
was cyberbullied
been cyberbullied 244 (78.0%) 59 (18.8%) 9 (2.9%) 1 (.3%)
cyberbullied someone else 289 (92.3%) 23 (7.3%) 1 (.3%) 0
2006 Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
White US citizens (n = 358)
known someone who 218 (60.9%) 122 (34.1%) 16 (4.5%) 2 (.6%)
was cyberbullied
been cyberbullied 281 (78.5%) 67 (18.7%) 9 (2.5%) 1 (.3%)
cyberbullied someone else 328 (91.6%) 28 (7.8%) 1 (.3%) 1 (.3%)
Non-White and/or Foreign National (n = 79)
known someone who 53 (67.1%) 20 (24.7%) 4 (4.9%) 2 (2.5%)
was cyberbullied
been cyberbullied 61 (76.2%) 15 (18.8%) 3 (3.7%) 1 (1.2%)
cyberbullied someone else 72 (90.0%) 8 (9.9%) 0 0
Note: For each item, the stem was “Since you have been in college, have you ever:” Not all students answered all
questions, so the number of responses may not sum to 439.
3.2. Correlations
Correlations were performed to determine the interrelationships between cyberbullying, “traditional” bullying,
and demographic variables including gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The results are presented in Table 2.
All of the cyberbullying behaviors (including all of the questions about specific media) and the traditional bullying
behaviors were significantly positively correlated. Thus, it appears that those who are involved in cyberbullying
(either as a bully, as a victim or both), may also be involved with traditional bullying as well. The correlations
ranged from .22 to.65, indicating overlap in these behaviors as measured by r
2
ranging from .05 to .42.
Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
2007
Among the demographic variables, gender correlated significantly negatively with bullying other students (r =-
.15, n = 427, p = .002), indicating that men were more likely than women to bully others in traditional formats.
Interestingly, this correlation was not replicated for cyberbullying. Ethnicity was not significantly correlated with
any of the cyberbullying or bullying variables. Sexual orientation was significantly positively correlated with
knowing someone who had been cyberbullied (r =-.13, n = 437, p = .007), having had someone post negative
information or images on a website (r =-.17, n = 356, p = .002), and having bullied someone in a traditional format
(r =-.15, n = 429, p = .003). For each of these, having a minority sexual orientation was associated with higher rates
of the behavior.
Table 2Correlations between Cyberbullying, Traditional Bullying, and Demographic Variables
Variable 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
1. Known Cyber .62** .45** .42** .37** .35** .36** .37** .30** .40** .36** .22** .02 -.01 .13*
2. Been Cyber -- .58** .64** .61** .54** .50** .46** .42** .32** .48** .32** -.00 .04 .03
3. Cyberbullied -- .45** .40** .41** .41** .51** .37** .28** .33** .37** -.07 .01 .10
4. Social Networking -- .65** .51** .51** .52** .42** .28** .38** .33** .04 .05 .04
5. Text Messages -- .65** .57** .45** .41** .32** .41** .40** .01 .01 .09
6. Email -- .57** .39** .28** .27** .30** .26** -.04 .00 .09
7. IMs -- .51** .45** .30** .36** .32** -.04 -.03 .12
8. Chat Room -- .55** .32** .36** .44** -.09 -.01 .13
9. Website -- .37** .41** .52** -.09 .01 .17*
10. Seen Bullied -- .45** .35** -.05 -.05 .12
11. Been Bullied -- .44** .06 .07 .01
12. Bullied -- -.15* .02 .15*
13. Gender -- .05 -.11
14. Ethnicity -- -.04
15. Sexual Orientation --
Note. Known Cyber = known someone who was cyberbullied; Been Cyber = been cyberbullied; Cyberbullied=
cyberbullied someone else; Social Networking = been harassed or threatened through a social networking site ; Text
Messages = been sent harassing or threatening text messages; Email = been sent harassing or threatening email
messages ; IMs = been sent harassing or threatening IMs ; Chat Room = had someone write negative or
embarrassing things about you in a chat room ; Website = had someone post negative information or images of you
on a website; Seen Bullied = seen someone bullied by another student; Been Bullied = been bullied by another
student; Bullied = bullied another student.
* p < .01. **p < .001.
2008 Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
2006). The literature also suggests that students with a minority sexual orientation experience more harassment than
do heterosexual students (Bieschke, Eberz, & Wilson 2000), a finding which was supported in the present study.
4. Discussion
In general, reported rates of cyberbullying were low, but not non-existent. Rates of cyberbullying found in the
present study were quite comparable to previous research, including that of Li (2006), who examined rates among
Canadian middle school students. Li found that 25% of middle school boys and 25.6% of middle school girls
reported having been cyberbullied. This is quite similar to our rates of 21.9% and 22%, respectively. Similarly, Li
found that 22.3% middle school boys and 11.6% of middle school girls reported having cyberbullied someone else.
The present study found rates of 11.4% and 7.6%, respectively. It is interesting to note the trend that the middle
school students were both the victim and the bully via electronic means only slightly less often than the college
students in the present study. It might be expected that all bullying would be less normative with age. Further, it
would be expected that middle school students who are both more open to peer influence and perhaps more
technologically savvy, would experience much higher cyberbullying rates than college students. However, this does
not appear to be the case.
Interestingly, there were neither gender nor ethnic group differences in any of the cyberbullying behaviors
examined. This was surprising, as past the literature has suggested than women and students of color do experience
more harassment on college campuses than do men and white students (Rankin & Reason 2005; Reason & Rankin
Christine D. MacDonald and Bridget Roberts-Pittman / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 9 (2010) 2003–2009
2009
Specifically, a minority sexual orientation was associated with higher frequencies of knowing someone who had
been cyberbullied and having had someone post negative information or images on a website. Yet these students
did not report higher levels of being cyberbullied overall. It may be that negative online interactions are relatively
common for this group of students, so that they may not perceive the behaviors they experience as cyberbullying.
This may suggest that students with minority sexual orientations may be particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying,
and in particular need of interventions in this area.
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Chapell, M., Casey, D., De la Cruz, C., Ferrell, J., Forman, J., Lipkin, R., et al. (2004). Bullying in college by
students and teachers. Adolescence, 39, 53-64.
Chapell, M., Hasselman, S.L., Kitchin, T., Lomon, S.N., Maclver, K.W, & Sarullo, P. (2006). Bullying in
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Ferris, P. (2004). A preliminary typology of organisational response to allegations of workplace bullying: See no
evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 32, 389-395.
Glomb, T., & Liao, H. (2003). Interpersonal aggression in work groups: Social influence, reciprocal, and individual
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Li, Q. (2006). Cyberbullying in schools. School Psychology International, 27, 157-170.
Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Rankin, S. R., & Reason, R. D. (2005). Differing perceptions: How students of color and white students perceive
campus climate for underrepresented groups. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 43-62.
Reason, R. D., & Rankin, S. R. (2006). College students’ experiences and perceptions of harassment on campus: An
exploration of gender differences. College Student Affairs Journal, 26, 7-31.
Willard, N. (2007). Cyberbullying legislation and school policies: Where are the boundaries of the “Schoolhouse
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http://new.csriu.org/cyberbully/docs/cblegislation.pdf
... Females were more likely to be cyber victimized but the effect size was small (Guo, 2016). Among the college-age individuals, there appears to be no gender differences (MacDonald & Roberts-Pittman, 2010). ...
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Empirical investigations of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual college students
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Bieschke, K. J., Eberz, A. B., & Wilson D. (2000). Empirical investigations of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual college students. In V. A. Wall & N. J. Evans (Eds.), Toward acceptance: Sexual orientation issues on campus (pp.29-60). Lanham., MD: University Press of America.
College students' experiences and perceptions of harassment on campus: An exploration of gender differences
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Reason, R. D., & Rankin, S. R. (2006). College students' experiences and perceptions of harassment on campus: An exploration of gender differences. College Student Affairs Journal, 26, 7-31.
Cyberbullying legislation and school policies: Where are the boundaries of the "Schoolhouse Gate" in the new virtual world?
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Willard, N. (2007). Cyberbullying legislation and school policies: Where are the boundaries of the "Schoolhouse Gate" in the new virtual world? Retrieved September 5, 2007 from http://new.csriu.org/cyberbully/docs/cblegislation.pdf