Good news: Humanity may be less horrible than online comment threads indicate. A new study shows that a small number of cyberbullying teens are likely responsible for a large portion of online cruelty. And yes, the anonymous commenter calling you “fugly” may well be too young for a learner’s permit.
Researchers at the University of Georgia studied 428 typical teens nationwide, who averaged a whopping seven hours online daily, with some spending as many as 12 hours online. Teens logging the most hours were predominantly male, and more likely to be aggressive and critical online—behavior that can also earn more likes and shares.
“The perpetrator doesn’t get a chance to see how damaging their bullying is and to learn from their mistakes and do something different,” says lead author Amanda Giordano, an associate professor of behavioral addictions at the University of Georgia. “It’s a scary situation because they don’t have the natural consequences they do with offline bullying.”
The internet can be a “safe” place for cyberbullies to lash out. “Some people engage in cyberbullying online because of the anonymity and the fact that there’s no retaliation,” Giordano notes. “You have these adolescents who are still in the midst of cognitive development, but we’re giving them technology that has a worldwide audience and then expecting them to make good choices.”
The solution, she says, is not chastising cyberbullies, but instead redefining their relationship with technology, which includes helping them explore their definition of self-worth and limiting their screen time. “They really need to explore their relationship with social media and address social media addiction, not just the cyberbullying.”