New Microsoft Study Measures Pervasiveness of Cyberbullying

July 11, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Research & Studies, Students

While it’s not always called by the same name and its definition varies across cultures, cyberbullying—bullying using digital media— is a universal problem that has more than peppered our news headlines over the past year. To gauge just how pervasive online bullying has become, Microsoft recently commissioned a study [pdf] asking children about their negative experiences online. Instead of using buzz words like “cyberbullying,” which some children may be hesitant to use, the study used terms on par with the language of each child’s age group. Questions about being “called mean names” or “teased” were asked in particular.  One of the main objectives of the study was to learn about the harm that happens online by all who experience it, regardless of whether they consider it  “bullying” or not.

According to its results, 37 percent of children surveyed said they have been subjected to “a range of online activities that some may consider to be bullying or to have adverse effects,” for example mean or unfriendly treatment, teasing, and name-calling online. The sample was composed of children from 25 different countries, ages 8 to 17. Microsoft did not say how many children were included in the study, or provide detail their survey methods.

The findings fall into five main sections:

  • Knowledge and concern
  • Bullying
  • Steps to help protect children online
  • School policy and education
  • Demographics

While responses were nearly split down the middle regarding awareness and concern about being bullied online, the study found that most bullying still occurs where it has for decades – offline. Results also showed that those who bully online are approximately twice as likely to be victims of cyberbullying themselves.

Teens (aged 13 to 17) are more likely to be bullied online than those ages 8 to 12. This finding likely relates to the increasing amount of time teens are spending online, as well as having less parental supervision than younger children. As expected, teens were also slightly more knowledgeable about cyberbullying, and better educated on how to deal with harmful online situations.

Another noteworthy finding is that parents take an average of three steps to ensure their children’s online safety. According to youth surveyed, half of parents talked with them about online risks, and 44 percent monitored their use of the computer. It was unclear if this monitoring included mobile devices.

Youth weighed in on the kind of education they had received outside the home as well. According to survey findings, 23 percent of schools have formal policies addressing online bullying, and 37 percent provide some form of education. Out of that 37 percent, fewer than half offer guidance to parents, and only 8 percent provide training for teachers.

We understand the importance of educating the educators on cyberbullying, which is why Common Sense Media has a free online cyberbullying toolkit just for teachers. The toolkit is categorized by age group, with each section designed to prepare students for online situations they may not be expecting. Lessons cover everything from teaching young children to be a positive “upstander” in their online communities, to encouraging high school students to “dial down” online cruelty when they see it. The curriculum is equipped with thorough resources for administrators, kids, teens, and parents; and also includes a brand new cyberbullying response flowchart for school officials.

Raising awareness about cyberbullying has become a growing mainstream concern. Just this past week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill requiring teachers to take action against cyberbullying, regardless of whether it occurs off campus. Even high-profile celebrities have taken stances against the issue, the most noteworthy being Lady Gaga. Earlier this year the pop singer launched the Born this Way Foundation aiming to foster a “more accepting society” and encourage youth to create safe environments to foster individuality.