An exploratory examination of the bystander effect in cyberbullying
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There are many factors which can affect the bullying process. One such factor is the presence of bystanders during a bullying event. Bystanders can encourage the bullies to continue to bully their victims or they can defend the victim. In an online environment, the role of the bystander is less clear. Garcia, Weaver, Moskowitz, and Darley (2002) found evidence for an implicit bystander effect, the idea that people can experience the bystander effect in the physical absence of other people. In a cyberbullying setting, the idea of the implicit bystander effect could mean that online bystanders could aid cyberbully victims much like bystanders in a face-to-face bullying confrontation. The current research investigated the bystander process in order to ascertain if the bystander effect and the associated mechanisms of diffusion of responsibility, evaluation apprehension, and pluralistic ignorance were apparent in cases of cyberbullying. There was no main effect found for personal intervention between high and low bystander frames, but an interesting trend emerged regarding intervention. Participants were more likely to intervene on the frames with the higher number of bystanders than those with the lower number of bystanders. This trend was seen in every high/low vignette pair and provides an interesting contrast to what is normally seen in real-world bystander effect literature in which bystanders are less likely to intervene when there are more bystanders present. In addition to the counter-literature trend, there were significant group differences found for diffusion of responsibility in five of the eight vignette pairs, indicating that diffusion of responsibility can occur online as well as in the real-world. There also was a significant inverse relationship between likelihood of offering help, gender, and empathy. Males were more likely to intervene than females and those with lower IRI empathy scores were more likely to intervene than those with higher IRI empathy scores. This finding indicates that both gender and empathy might affect if and how people intervene in cases of cyberbullying. As far as attributions, there were no significant effects found for any of the situational attributions but a significant effect found for one personal attribution ‘bullies are always bullies’ was related to lower levels of intervention and suggests that personal attributions that bystanders make about the people involved in a bullying situation can impact their decisions about intervention. Taken together, the findings from this study suggest that the bystander effect can be seen in an online environment and might impact how and when bystanders to a cyberbullying incident decide to intervene.