As my eyes tend to be super sensitive to statistics and data related to cyberbullying, I was taken aback by the findings from a study mentioned in this recent FoxNews article. It states:
According to Parry Aftab, an Internet security and privacy lawyer and founder of WiredSafety.org, 85 percent of 5,000 middle-school students surveyed said they had been cyberbullied. Only 5 percent of them said they’d tell someone about it.
Parry does good work, and she may be citing someone else’s project, and the writer of the article may be misinterpreting or misquoting someone, but 85% is ridiculously high. In addition, 5% is incredibly low – we consistently find that youth are willing to tell a friend…and a growing number are definitely turning to adults for help.
Finally, the article states that cyberbullying peaks in 4th and 7th grade. I agree that the phenomenon is extremely prevalent among middle schoolers, but I’ve talked to a number of 4th graders across the country and while some kids have experienced very mild forms of it (at that age), it definitely doesn’t peak at 4th grade. What does that even mean, and how does that even make sense?
Anyway, wild outliers tend to color our perceptions of any phenomenon. Statistics like these are only going to lead to knee-jerk reactive responses and moral panic. I don’t think we (or the media) need to convince society of the reality of cyberbullying. As Justin pointed out previously, it is extremely important to understand exactly how cyberbullying is specifically defined, and how data are collected. Otherwise, we will continually have wide variation in stated frequencies of cyberbullying, which will only confuse everyone as to the actual extent and scope of the problem. We know what it is, and we know (generally) how often it occurs among youth. We now need to zero in on exactly what can be done about it.