Online Aggression Related to Four Factors, Researchers Find

A report out today by the University of Buckingham and the Sir John Cass Foundation explores themes surrounding the comparatively intense ferocity of online aggression.

The study examined cyber aggression and cyberbullying among teens between the ages of 12-17 to help develop evidence-based prevention and intervention recommendations.

According to the report, online bullying can be more severe and vicious precisely because perpetrators are a step removed from their victims.  Researchers opine that the comparatively greater severity of aggressive behavior online may be connected to four primary factors: Anonymity, avoidance, audience, and access.


The study notes that perpetrators may anonymously engage in online interactions, and behave more aggressively because of a reduced fear of consequences.


As noted in the report, online perpetrators avoid actually confronting and facing a victim’s reaction; as a result, they may effectively be insulated from the harm they caused.


The study notes that greater harm can be inflicted online because photos or comments can reach a much larger audience.


Finally, the study notes that victims face comparatively greater harm in online bullying because the behavior can be relentless, occurring all-hours of the day or night.  Researchers, such as Dr. Popovac, a full-time lecturer at the University of Buckingham and a lead researcher on the issue of cyberbullying, note that continuous accessibility makes it “difficult for victims to escape.”

Underscoring the harm to victims and the attendant urgency of the need for intervention, Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, emphasized the greater severity of online aggression, stating:

It is the very remoteness of cyber-space that can bring out the very worst in human nature.


More takeaways from the University of Buckingham study:

What do teens experience?

  • being called names (70%)
  • embarrassing pictures published (54%)
  • rumors/gossip spread about them (48%)
  • being tricked through impersonation (44%)
  • being threatened (35%)
  • hurtful/embarrassing comments/questions (34%)
  • private communications revealed (32%)
  • being impersonated/hacked (18%)

What does the online aggression relate to?

  • their appearance
  • the way they express themselves online
  • their sexuality or sexual orientation
  • other aspects of their identity (e.g., race/ethnicity/religion)

Who do teen victims tell?

  • a friend (49%)
  • a parent (22%)
  • nobody (15%)

The study also highlights a notable disparity between teens’ experiences with cyberbullying — and what parents think.

For instance, 53% of teenagers reported being the subject of images posted online to embarrass them.  Yet only 22% of parents believed their child had experienced this.

Another example: 20% reported having previously been threatened online – but only 7.2 % of parents thought their children had.

Victims may perpetuate the cycle.

Finally, it is worth noting that the study found  a strong connection between victimization and perpetration:

44% of victims also admitting to being perpetrators in a different context.