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Study: Friends, exes turn to cyberbullying

| Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, 5:33 p.m.

Teen cyberbullying usually involves friends and dating partners rather than strangers, according to a new study co-authored by a Penn State professor.

Girls were twice as likely as boys to fall victim to online bullying, the study stated.

“A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections,” lead author Diane Felmlee said in an American Sociological Association press release.

The risk of being preyed upon by cyberbullies was seven times higher among current or former friends and dating partners than among those who had never been friends or dated, according to the study.

Felmlee, a sociology professor, said competition for social status and esteem might serve as an explaining factor.

In the study, titled “Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization,” researchers analyzed data from a 2011 survey of nearly 800 students in grades 8 through 12 at a public school in a New York City suburb. About 17 percent had been involved with cyberbullying in the previous week, the study found.

Nearly 6 percent of those students were victims; about 9 percent were aggressors; about 2 percent were both. Cyberbullying usually occurred through Facebook or texting, the study authors said.

“Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club, and/or sport positions and social connections,” she said. “In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression..”

Melissa Pearlman, principal of Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, did not find the results surprising. Friends and acquaintances have “power and ammunition” to inflict pain on their peers, she said.

CAPA, which houses students from 6th to 12th grade, works with UPMC in holding social media seminars at the school in an effort to teach kids how to safely use it.

“You've got to meet it head on because it's not going anywhere,” Pearlman said of social media. “Parents should also get on the various apps and follow their children because, truthfully, there should not be any secrets.”

Study results also indicated that LGBTQ youth were four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to be victims of cyberbullying.

“Many people may be unaware that current or former friends and romantic partners are the most likely perpetrators of cyberbullying, at least among school-aged teens,” Felmlee said. “We hope parents turn a watchful eye to their teenager's closest associates.”

The report was published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.

Contact Ben Schmitt at 412-320-7991 or

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