A recent study by the British think tank Demos reveals some eye-opening statistics about cyberbullying, an increasing trend that many believe is driven by new technologies and an erosion of character and morality among teens, which can be resisted through intentional character-formation lessons and technology use.
Demos surveyed 668 students aged 16–18 through Facebook, held focus groups with dozens the same age in Birmingham and London (UK), analyzed trolling attacks on Twitter, and convened a roundtable with teachers and other experts who work with youth.
The London-based think tank released the findings from its nine-month project on Monday.
The research finds 26 percent of those surveyed have “bullied or insulted someone else” online, and 15 percent have “joined in with other people to ‘troll’ a celebrity or public figure,” while 88 percent reported they have offered emotional support to someone targeted by bullies online.
A whopping 93 percent of those who bullied or insulted others online had themselves faced similar treatment, according to the study.
“Parents make a direct link between media technologies and bullying, and their main concern is that various new mediums—namely, social media and cell phones—facilitate inappropriate interactions between peers,” according to the report.
“Something about these forms of communication encourages uncivil, negative, mean, and caustic exchanges. Parents feel the technologies also give kids constant access to each other; there is no place to hide.
“While bullying is not new, a bullied child used to just have to make it through the school day, but could find safety from the enemy when he or she returned home,” the report states. “No such safe place exists anymore.”
Demos argues that the troubling situation on both sides of the Atlantic points to a real need for more character education in schools.
“Demos research finds that young people’s character—or the personal traits, values, and skills that guide individual conduct—may be significant in determining the extent to which they engage in positive or negative behaviors online,” the think tank reports.
“Young people who admit to engaging in risky or unethical behavior online are, for example, found to demonstrate lower levels of moral sensitivity to others, and have lower self-reported character strengths,” according to the Demos findings.
“Certain traits such as empathy, self-control and ‘civic mindedness,’ seem particularly closely linked to different types of behavior,” Demos reports. “Those with higher levels of empathy and self-control exhibit reduced likelihood of engaging in bullying over social media, while those with high levels of ‘civic mindedness’ are more likely to post about political or social issues.”
The think tank gave several suggestions for addressing the issue, centered on bolstering education about character and citizenship.
“Schools should look to deliver Digital Citizenship education which contains a strong emphasis on moral implications of online social networking, with a focus on participatory approaches which seek to develop students’ moral and ethical sensitivity.”
Demos also offers recommendations for social media companies like Facebook.
“Facebook, and other social media providers, should work with youth charities and digital citizenship campaigns to develop effective ways of disseminating information that supports good character online,” Demos suggests.
“Social media providers should use Corporate Social Responsibility budgets to provide financial and technical support for research into ‘what works’ in promoting healthy youth engagement with social media.”