Positive messages fight online bullying best

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — It’s better to be positive when using Facebook to fight cyberbullying, which can be as harmful as being bullied physically, say researchers.

The first of two studies, which is published in the International Criminal Justice Review, suggest parents, school officials, and policymakers should consider bullying experiences both on and offline when creating anti-bullying policies and procedures.


“We should not ignore one form of bullying for the sake of the other,” says Thomas Holt, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. “The results suggest we should find ways to develop school policies to combat bullying within the school environment and then figure out how to translate that to the home, because the risk goes beyond the schoolyard.”

Holt and colleagues, using survey data from more than 3,000 third- through 11th-grade students in Singapore, analyzed the relationships between physical bullying, cyberbullying and mobile phone bullying on skipping school and suicidal thoughts. The study, one of the first to explore bullying in Southeast Asia, echoes research findings from the United States and Canada.

According to the study, 22 percent of students who were physically bullied skipped school or thought about skipping. By comparison, 27 percent of students who were bullied online (which includes email, blogs, and chat rooms) and 28 percent who were sent bullying text messages on a mobile phone skipped school or thought about skipping.

Similarly, 22 percent of students who were physically bullied reported suicidal thoughts, while 28 percent of those who reported cyberbullying and 26 percent who were bullied via cell phone said they considered suicide.

In addition, girls and younger students were more likely to consider suicide, which reflects other research findings.

Warning signs

Holt says parents should pay attention to warning signs of bullying such as mood changes, sadness, school failures, social withdrawal, and a lack of appetite.

When it comes to cyberbullying, he says “careful supervision of youth activity online, including the use of filtering software, can help reduce the likelihood that the child is targeted by bullies via the Web.”

Managing the child’s mobile phone use is encouraged, Holt says, although there is evidence kids are less likely to report this type of bullying for fear of losing their phone.

“Thus,” he says, “parents must carefully educate their children on the risk of bullying victimization via mobile phones and ensure that they can speak to one or both parents about negative experiences.”

Getting their attention

In a second study, researchers found that one effective way of fighting cyberbullying is by using the medium where it tends to flourish. The key, say the researchers, is to your anti-cyberbullying messages positive, not negative.

“In order to get people excited about a certain message or issue—in this case cyberbullying—positive messages will work better because positive stimuli lets us be more approaching,” says Saleem Alhabash, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and one of the team members. “Being more approaching means we are more open to persuasion.”

In the study, the team created a fictitious anti-cyberbullying Facebook page—sayNOto Cyberbullying. About 360 college students were recruited for the study, shown screen shots of the page and then asked to comment on what they thought were the most effective messages—ones that were more positive in nature, ones more negative, or ones that were both positive and negative.

The majority of the students approved of the more positive messages.

“We’ve established with our research that anti-cyberbullying messages that are framed in a negative way are not getting kids’ attention,” says Anna McAlister, an advertising and public relations assistant professor and team member.

Sources: Michigan State University releases about Holt, Alhabash