Cyberbullying prevention programs: What do we know?

Cyberbullying prevention programs: What do we know?

Cyberbullying is a more recent phenomenon than face-to-face bullying, however, its impact on children and young people’s health and wellbeing is concerning. Research on cyberbullying is relatively new. We still have a lot to learn about the predictors and consequences of cyberbullying and how it differs from face-to-face bullying.

We are also in the early stages of research on programs to prevent and intervene with cyberbullying. However, a systematic review and meta-analysis of current programs was published this year in Aggression and Violent Behavior.

The published paper clearly set out that the definition of cyberbullying applied was that used for face-to-face bullying. The key feature of cyberbullying is that bullying is carried out using information and communication technologies (ICTs). The three core components of bullying are:

  1. Intention to harm the victim;
  2. The actions are repeated; and
  3. A power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim.

It is recognised that there are challenges in applying this definition to cyberbullying. For example, the requirement for repetition may occur through reposting or sharing of material rather than a repeated action by the perpetrator.

About the review
The review was conducted by Hannah Gaffney, David Farrington, Dorothy Espelage, and Maria Ttofi. Twenty-four publications were included in the review. A meta-analysis was completed to combine and analyse the results of the evaluations (18 for cyberbullying perpetration and 19 for cyberbullying victimisation). The number of evaluations here is much lower than the 100 evaluations included in another paper by Gaffney and colleagues on school-based bullying. The studies of cyberbullying included school-age children and young people and were conducted in Europe, Australia, and the United States of America.

The review and meta-analysis included randomised controlled trials (the gold standard but not always possible in school settings) and other “quasi-experimental” study designs that may be more feasible in school settings.

Studies that had not been published in academic journals were also included (i.e., grey literature). The collection of studies was current to December 2017.

What was found
Published studies on the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs for cyberbullying are new with the first studies appearing in 2012 (i.e., only 5 years before the review was conducted).

Overall, the cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs were effective in reducing cyberbullying victimisation by around 14-15% and cyberbullying perpetration by about 9-15%.

Randomised controlled trials showed larger effects than other study designs for cyberbullying perpetration and victimisation.

Implications of the findings
Given that research on cyberbullying is new, we do need more studies on the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs. A number of the studies included in the review also measured face-to-face bullying so it will be possible to examine whether there are differences in the effectiveness of programs for reducing face-to-face versus cyberbullying. We do not yet know whether we need program components that focus specifically on face-to-face bullying only and cyberbullying only. An important next step in evaluation studies of cyberbullying programs is to identify the components of the program critical to reduce cyberbullying perpetration and victimisation.  

Finally, watch this space! There will be a lot more studies being reported on this topic in coming years.

Further information
Gaffney, H., Farrington, D.P, Espelage, D.L. & Ttofi, M.M. (2019). Are cyberbullying intervention and prevention programs effective?: A systematic and meta-analytical review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 45, 134-153.

Sheryl Hemphill, PhD, is a freelance writer, presenter, and researcher focusing on sharing research findings with schools and the broader community. She holds Adjunct/Honorary positions at La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.