Bullying Survey 2017: Cyberbullying impacts young people's real lives

Ditch the Label --an international anti-bullying charity working across the UK, US and Mexico that participated in a recent United Nations Academic Impact co-organized ‘Prevention Forum’ (https://academicimpact.un.org/content/prevention-forum-participants-disc...)—has just published the findings of the largest ever UK study of bullying.

The charity surveyed 10,020 young people between the ages of 12 and 20, in partnership with schools and colleges across the UK, to gather data and to gain insight into the extent of bullying behaviour among young people and the impact on their lives.

The focus for this year’s research was technology and the lives that young people live online, covering areas such as cyberbullying, online abuse, online behaviours, online personas and social media addiction.

The key findings include alarming statistics about the lives of young people and how they are affected by issues, events and situations which take place online. The research found that bullying affects over half a million young people every week. 68% of those surveyed had been sent a nasty private message, 39% had a nasty comment posted on their profile and 41% had rumours posted about them online.

As for social media and online behavior, 69% of people surveyed admitted to doing something abusive to another person online. This included sending nasty messages, comments, ‘trolling’ in online games, creating fake profiles to annoy others, liking or sharing something online which openly mocked another user and sending screen shots of statuses to laugh at in group chats.

Cyberbullying continues to be one of the biggest challenges that young people face, with 1 in 3 being scared that they will be bullied online, and 41% reporting to have experienced social anxiety as a result of online abuse. It is clear that cyberbullying is having very real impacts on their lives and wellbeing. Children are becoming more exposed to the antagonistic nature of online platforms where they most commonly receive abuse on social media networks, such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Liam Hackett, founder and CEO of Ditch the Label, expresses his concerns with regards to the survey’s findings; “Young people are being given unprecedented access to a world of information from an incredibly early age, and often, without being taught the appropriate social or media information literacy skills required to critically and responsibly navigate around, and engage through the internet.”

The report indicates that there is believed to be a stark difference between behaviour online versus behaviour offline, which is also impacts upon young people’s perceptions of themselves. Half of those surveyed said that they felt more confident, and 25% said that they believed they were funnier, online.

Just under half of respondents said that they considered ‘real life’ to be things that only happen offline. This highlights the perceived lack of accountability from young people who are unaware of healthy ways to behave and interact with each other online, which suggests that as a society we need to invest more time in teaching ‘netiquette’ in schools and colleges to help young people navigate the web in safer ways.

The data also show that young people feel more able to ‘be themselves’ online rather than offline, indicating that the internet is providing a positive space for them to express themselves, to self-identify and be closer to their true personalities. However, there appears to be an increasing reliance upon social media for validation and affirmation, with 61% admitting that they can’t go longer than a day without accessing social media, and 9% reporting feelings of anxiousness and loneliness after being offline for just a day.

We now look to educators, society and social media platforms to help this generation become the responsible internet users that they need to be in order to navigate their digital lives in safe and healthy ways. A greater investment in safeguarding of young people and online moderation would be beneficial along with establishing a better balance between online and offline engagement.

Greater transparency of the context behind ‘perfect’ content can help to improve young people’s perceptions of themselves and others online. Additionally, by moving away from the notion that online isn’t ‘real life’, young people can become more aware of the impacts of their online behaviour and become better digital citizens.

Ditch the Label, “The Annual Bullying Survey, 2017” is available  here: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/the-annual-bullying-survey-2017/