Machackova, H., Cerna, A., Sevcikova, A., Dedkova, L., & Daneback, K. (2013). Effectiveness of coping strategies for victims of cyberbullying. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(3), article 5. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-3-5
Effectiveness of coping strategies for victims of cyberbullying

Effectiveness of coping strategies for victims of cyberbullying

Hana Machackova1, Alena Cerna2, Anna Sevcikova3, Lenka Dedkova4, Kristian Daneback5
1,2,3,4 Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
5 Department of Social Work, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden


Abstract

Although cyberbullying is a well-studied online risk, little is known about the effectiveness of various coping strategies for its victims. Therefore, this study on 2,092 Czech children aged 12-18 examined which coping strategies were applied most often and to what extent victims of cyber aggression judged them to be effective. Effectiveness was measured in two ways: the extent to which the coping strategy buffered negative emotions, and the extent to which it stopped the cyber aggression. The subsample of 422 respondents (68% girls) who experienced online attacks was divided into two groups: victims of cyberbullying, who experienced long-term and severe victimization, and victims of less severe online harassment. The selection of strategies was compared between these groups and the most prevalent and effective strategies were identified. Overall, respondents in both groups used more than one strategy at once, but for victims of cyberbullying, most of the strategies proved less effective. Both groups showed similar patterns in their use of technical solutions, and both quite frequently sought social support. Also, both groups showed a low tendency for retaliation. Large differences were found in how respondents employed cognitive responses, such as trying to detach mentally from bullying incidents; these strategies were less frequent among victims of cyberbullying. In terms of effectiveness, victims of harassment considered technical solutions such as blocking contacts on social websites, seeking support, or ignoring the bully on purpose the most effective in stopping victimization, as opposed to victims of cyberbullying, who found them less effective, even though they used them as frequently as victims of online harassment. Differences in the effectiveness of coping strategies are discussed with regard to the intervention and prevention of cyberbullying.

Keywords: cyberbullying; coping strategies; effectiveness

doi: 10.5817/CP2013-3-5

Introduction

Recently, academic as well as public concern has been drawn to cyberbullying, a new form of bullying that has appeared with the spread of electronic communication technologies.

An analogue of school bullying, cyberbullying can be very harmful, especially to those among whom cyberbullying is the most prevalent—children and early adolescents (Cappadocia, Craig & Pepler, 2013; Wade & Beran, 2011). Previous research has shown that cyberbullying can be more serious (as perceived by the victims) than traditional bullying, mainly due to the (often inevitable) publicity of online attacks (Smith et al., 2008; Sticca & Perren, 2013). Given the potential for an unlimited audience, and the difficulty of escaping or controlling the harassment, cyberbullying can constitute severe harm and lead to serious psychological impairment in victims (Machmutow, Perren, Sticca, & Alsaker, 2012; Perren et al., 2010; Ševčíková, Šmahel, & Otavová, 2012; Šléglová & Černá, 2011) and, in the most severe cases, be a deciding factor for the onset of severe depression and suicidal behavior (Bonanno & Hymel, 2013).

Parents, teachers, and other professionals who work with children need to equip themselves with knowledge about children's reactions and the coping strategies they choose to apply in order to deal with this harmful phenomenon. Currently, a large body of research exists on responses to cyber aggression (Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig, & Ólafsson, 2011; Ortega, Mora-Merchán, Calmaestra, & Vega, 2009; Perren et al., 2012; Walrave & Heirman, 2011; Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2007). And yet, despite the attention this topic has received, few studies have been published focusing on the specific strategies children take to overcome the negative emotions that result from incidents of cyber aggression. Moreover, little is known about the effectiveness of the children’s responses to cyberbullying. This study thus aims to contribute to knowledge in this area by examining cyberbullying coping strategies in detail. We investigate not only how frequently different strategies were applied, but also which strategies, if any, can buffer negative feelings and stop cyberbullying. These questions will be addressed in relation to the extent of harm caused by cyber aggression, a factor that may influence the choice of coping strategies and their effectiveness.

Cyberbullying

Prior research has defined cyberbullying as an intentional and aggressive act carried out through electronic media (Juvonen & Gross, 2008; Tokunaga, 2010), which may be repetitive in nature (Nocentini et al., 2010). Cyberbullying is mostly connected to misusing electronic devices and applications such as mobile phones (texts, calls) or the Internet (instant messaging, email, social networking sites, chatrooms, gaming sites) (Smith et al., 2008; Willard, 2007). With the continual development of electronic devices and online applications, cyberbullying takes on different forms: uploading hurtful pictures, spreading someone else’s intimate or personal materials, misusing an e-mail account or a profile on a social networking site (SNS), or exclusion from an online group (Schenk & Fremouw, 2012; Smith et al., 2008).

Just as a single antagonistic remark does not necessarily indicate school bullying, we should be also careful when labeling online aggressive acts as cyberbullying. It is necessary to distinguish between cyberbullying and separate incidents of cyber aggression or generally less harmful online harassment. Across other studies, several criteria have been proposed for identifying and characterizing cyberbullying: the intent to harm, a power imbalance between the victim and the bully, repetition, and harm perceived by the victim (see e.g. Dooley, Pyżalski, & Cross, 2009).

In most cases, cyberbullying is interconnected with school bullying (Juvonen & Gross, 2008; Beran & Li, 2007); however, the distinct features of each of these forms of aggression need to be recognized. In cyberbullying, the perpetrator can be a complete stranger or a distant acquaintance, the harmful material can be easily copied and spread (increasing the ability to cause harm even after the aggressor have stopped his activities), and the victim is unable to hide from the attacks (i.e. by stopping using the internet) without being socially isolated. However, the victim is often also physically distant from the aggressor at the time of attacks (Beran & Li, 2007; Dooley et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2008), which may also influence the perceived severity of the attack(s).

Strategies for Coping with Cyberbullying

The above-mentioned differences between school and cyber bullying are also reflected in our knowledge of coping strategies available to the victim. Some of the coping strategies that are available for victims of traditional bullying are clearly not available to cyberbullying victims, and vice versa. For example, the victim of traditional bullying, who encounters the aggressor face-to-face, can try to physically escape or stand up to the bully. While cybervictims cannot employ these strategies, there are technical solutions available to them that are not available to victims of traditional bullying (such as blocking the aggressor’s account, reporting the incident to the administrator of a website, and other cyberspace-specific coping strategies) (Perren et al., 2012).

Coping strategies are generally defined as an individual's behavioral, emotional, and cognitive responses to stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Coping serves to eliminate or modify a problem by neutralizing its negative character, which helps the individual regulate his or her emotional response (Pearlin & Schooler, 1978).

In coping research, efforts have been made to put coping strategies into distinct categories and to build a model of coping based on these categories. The best-known and the most often used theories of coping are the transactional model (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and the approach-avoidance model (Roth & Cohen, 1986). Stemming from those two theories, coping strategies are often categorized along the axes of problem-focused/emotion-focused (after primary and secondary appraisal; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) or approach/avoidance (Roth & Cohen, 1986). Although it is necessary for us to categorize coping strategies somehow in order to understand the data (and, most importantly, the situation behind the data), such dichotomous categories often fail to describe the actual coping situation (Parris, Varjas, Meyers & Cutts, 2011). This is firstly because, as further investigation into subjects' coping strategies has shown, many can be considered both problem-focused and emotion-focused (or both approach and avoidance) (Parris et al., 2011; Riebel, Jäger & Fischer, 2009; Tenenbaum et al., 2011). For example, avoidance strategies are described in some studies as problem-focused, in other studies as emotion-focused or mixed (Šléglová & Černá, 2011; Tokunaga, 2010). Secondly, victims of cyberbullying often readily use multiple coping strategies that serve multiple purposes, so coping with cyberbullying is highly complex and does not seem to be very well understood using the previously established models of coping (Parris et al., 2011). Parris et al. also, based on their qualitative work with students, suggest that any model attempting to describe coping in cyberbullying should involve inaction, as opposed to being classified as approach or avoidance. Their respondents mentioned, for example, that accepting that such things (i.e. aggressive online behavior) are a part of life was very important strategy. This includes neither an attempt to actively approach nor to avoid cyberbullying, and should rather be seen as a specific category that deserves more attention.

As Perren et al. (2012) suggest, based on existing literature, we can recategorize responses to cyberbullying on the basis of whether reactions are (1) targeted toward cyberbullies (e.g., retaliation, constructive contacting), (2) involve ignoring the aggressor (e.g. doing nothing, deliberately ignoring the cyberbullying, avoidant behavior, cognitive reframing, or other forms of emotional regulation), or (3) involve seeking either instrumental or emotional support (e.g. from adults, teachers, friends, or external institutions). In addition to traditional coping strategies, cyberbullying victims may also deal with this problem by using (4) cyber specific technical solutions (e.g., report abuse buttons, blocking the sender) (see Aricak et al., 2008; Juvonen & Gross, 2008; Kowalski, Limber, & Agatston, 2008; Livingstone et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2008; Stacey, 2009).

In conclusion, on the basis of existing literature on coping, when we describe and attempt to categorize the coping strategies of cybervictims, we should bear in mind that:

a) victims of cyberbullying use multiple coping strategies serving many purposes and tailored to a specific cyberbullying situation

b) coping strategies can potentially be both problem- and emotion- focused at the same time

c) inaction can represent a category of strategies on its own (which cannot cleanly be categorized as approach or avoidance, or emotion- or problem-focused)

The points mentioned above are also very important when assessing the possible efficiency of coping strategies in victims.

Effectiveness of Responses to Cyberbullying

Within the existing body of studies on responses to cyberbullying, we can identify some strategies that are consistently favored by victims. Moreover, some strategies were rated as more effective than others across studies (Livingstone et al., 2011). For instance, technical solutions (namely, blocking the aggressor; Livingstone et al., 2011; Price & Dalgleish, 2010) seem to be applied relatively frequently and are evaluated as helpful and effective (Aricak et al., 2008; Juvonen & Gross 2008; Kowalski et al., 2008; Smith et al., 2008; Stacey, 2009). Seeking support has been generally found to be a very helpful strategy as well, although the individuals in whom the victims confide vary (Aricak et al., 2008; Livingstone et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2008; Stacey, 2009; Topcu, Erdur-Baker, & Capa-Aydin, 2008). On the other hand, victims of cyberbullying seldom seem to see retaliation and confrontation strategies as useful, and they rarely employ them (Price & Dalgleish, 2010; Juvonen & Gross, 2008).

Aside from these active strategies, several other coping strategies share relative popularity, but there is a lack of consistent evidence for their effectiveness: doing nothing or ignoring the aggressive act, for instance by avoiding the websites where attacks happened, staying offline, or just ignoring the bully (Dehue, Bolman, & Völlink; 2008; Hoff & Mitchell, 2009; Livingstone et al., 2011; Price & Dalgleish, 2010; Smith et al., 2008; Šléglová & Černá, 2011; Wright et al., 2009).

Gaining knowledge about how victims cope with cyberbullying is also made problematic by methodological issues. It is no easy task to assess how effective particular strategies can be, and it poses several methodological challenges. Most studies evaluating the efficiency of coping strategies in cyberbullying (and also in traditional bullying) work with the general population of students (not cyberbullying victims specifically) and use hypothetical scenarios to assess cyberbullying events and hypothetical responses (Machmutow et al., 2012; Perren et al., 2012). One recent exception is the previously mentioned study by Price and Dalgleish (2010), who asked victims of cyberbullying about the effectiveness of specific coping strategies. Thus, the measured effectiveness of coping strategies is very often indirect and provided by people who do not have personal experience with severe incidents of cyberbullying. We still have little knowledge of how the actual victims of cyberbullying or online harassment themselves perceive the effectiveness of the coping strategies they use. These might differ from reactions offered in response to hypothetical scenarios. It is important to interview actual victims of cyber aggression; the perceived effectiveness of any given strategy might be different for the individual involved than for a mere observer (Snyder, 1999). Further, in order to understand various coping strategies and their potential effectiveness, we have to consider the context (i.e. what form of cyberbullying is taking place, how severe it is, its social context, etc.). Up to this point, our understanding of coping strategies is limited by the lack of such firsthand knowledge (Livingstone et al., 2011).

Research Problem

As mentioned above, an overview of the predominant responses to cyberbullying indicates that past attempts to evaluate their effectiveness have not been thorough, and for some strategies, we lack any information regarding their effectiveness. Moreover, there is a shortage of findings about the victims’ own evaluation of the effectiveness of the strategies they applied. Therefore, the aim of this study is to expand current knowledge about coping with cyberbullying by focusing on the strategies victims use. We intend to examine which strategies are employed most often and how the victims evaluate their effectiveness; i.e., which of them are associated with stopping online victimization or with buffering the negative emotional impact.

We also aim to distinguish between the coping strategies favored by victims of cyberbullying and those favored by children subject to less severe forms of online harassment. Many previous studies measured cyberbullying broadly, without taking into account the severity of the harm. This could have influenced the conclusions drawn about the effectiveness of different coping strategies in cyberbullying scenarios. Thus, to gain a deeper understanding of how victims cope with cyberbullying, we will also compare coping strategies and their effectiveness while taking into account the severity of the experience, as reflected in the perceived extent of harm and the length of cybervictimization. Two groups will be determined on the basis of these criteria: victims of cyberbullying and victims of less severe online harassment. We will examine the differences in their application of coping strategies and the strategies' rated effectiveness.

Methods

Procedure

The present study was a part of a research project that aimed to examine children's experiences with and responses to cyberbullying. In 2011 - 2012 a survey was conducted on 2,092 Czech children aged 12-18 (M = 15.1, SD = 1.86; 54.7% females) from a random sample of 34 primary and secondary schools located in the South Moravian region of the Czech Republic. Informed consent was obtained from the headmaster of every selected school. An anonymous online questionnaire was filled out in the school computer labs in the presence of a trained administrator who could answer children’s questions and offer technical advice if needed.

Measures

Cyber aggression. Following the definition of cyberbullying (Juvonen & Gross, 2008; Tokunaga, 2010), the respondents were provided with a description of cyberbullying as misusing the Internet or mobile phone to purposefully harm or harass another person. The description was illustrated with examples of various forms of cyberbullying, such as sending offensive and vulgar emails, text messages, or IM messages, or impersonating someone online. The respondents were asked a dichotomous question: whether or not they had ever experienced anything similar. The respondents who answered “yes” were asked further questions with regard to the most severe incident or series of incidents.

Length of cyber aggression. We asked about seven forms of cyber aggression that respondents may have experienced (e.g. “An embarrassing video or photo of me was shared publicly on the Internet”). The respondents were asked whether they had experienced any of them, and then rated on 4-point scale the length of the bullying episode (Less than a week; More than a week, More than a month, More than a year).

Experienced harm. To measure harm experienced as a result of cyber aggression, respondents were asked two questions. First, they reported on a 4-point-scale to what extent they were upset about what happened to them (Not at all, A little bit, Moderately, Very much). Second, using a 6-point scale (Several minutes, Several hours, Several days, Several weeks, Several months, Longer) they indicated how long they felt this way. Both length of the victimization and experienced harm are based on the respondent’s subjective assessment. This method was chosen primarily because it is often difficult to determine those variables accurately (for example, if the experience consists of a photo or video uploaded online and seen by a wide audience).

Types of responses and perceived effectiveness. The coping strategies are grouped into categories, based partly on previous models, and partly on current discussions about how to revive those models. Respondents were asked about 26 types of coping strategies (see Table 2) with possible answers Yes, No, and Not applicable (this response alternative was used in case the strategy could not be applied to a particular form of cyberbullying, e.g. children could not delete troubling messages when they faced unpleasant phone calls; the response is treated as a missing value). The subscales were created only for the purpose of obtaining a basic overview of coping strategies and their perceived efficacy. There was neither the intention to label them as adaptive or non-adaptive, nor to separate them into problem- and emotion-focused strategies, nor to aim to identify a clear-cut distinction between cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses.

The list of coping strategies for cyberbullying was developed based on an extensive review of existing literature on coping strategies in general and, specifically, coping strategies in cyberbullying. The basic classification is based on that outlined by Perren et al. (2012), which covered five categories: technological coping, retaliation, confronting the bully, seeking support, and coping by avoidance/ignoring. The last category included both cognitive and behavioral components (e.g. avoiding the bully online or avoiding thoughts about him/her). In our study, we broadened the scope of possible cognitive strategies and also distinguished dissociation as a response based on the perceived distinction between the online and the offline worlds (e.g. seeing the incident as happening only online and therefore actually not being “real”). We wanted to see if this strategy had any impact on the perception of aggression and, if so, if it could work as a buffer against emotional harm. Reframing is a strategy based on evaluating the incident and determining reasons why one should not be upset or bothered by the situation; it is mostly described as positive reappraisal, but it can, and often does, include discrediting the cyberbully and his acts (see Table 3). Those who reported using a particular strategy were further asked about its effectiveness. Using a Yes/No answer, they reported whether the strategy helped them 1) to feel better and 2) to stop the cyberbullying (this alternative was offered only for 16 coping strategies that could possibly contribute to stopping cyberbullying; see Table 4).

Socio-demographic variables. Participants reported their gender and age.

Plan for Data Analysis

In this study, only those respondents who reported experiencing cyberbullying as depicted above were selected (N = 451; 21.6% from the whole sample). We intended to distinguish the victims of cyberbullying from those who endured less severe forms of online aggression. Therefore, the first step of the analysis was to identify groups of victims on the basis of the two aforementioned criteria: a) the intensity of harm and b) the length of the attacks. Twenty-nine respondents were left out due to missing data on these variables, leaving a sample of 422 children (age M = 15.27; SD = 1.84; 68.2 % females).

Victims of cyberbullying (n = 115; 27 %) were identified as those who reported attacks (in one or more forms) lasting for longer than a week and feeling moderately or very much upset by the incident for a period of several weeks or more. Children who did not fulfill these criteria (n = 307) were labeled as victims of online harassment.

Using chi-square tests and t-tests, we compared the groups with regard to gender, age, and average number of coping strategies employed. Then we analyzed the frequencies of strategies a) applied, b) effective in moderating the emotional response, and c) effective in stopping the aggression. A series of chi-square tests were used to detect significant differences between the two groups; when assumptions for use of the chi-square test were not fulfilled (i.e. if one or more cells had an expected value of less than five), Fisher’s exact test was used instead and the significance level is reported according to this test. All statistical analyses were conducted using SPSS 20.

Results

The comparison of both groups (see Table 1) yielded no significant difference in age (t(420 = - 1.271, p = .205) or the number of strategies applied (t(420) = -.194, p = .846), which was around 10 for both groups. There was a significant difference in the distribution of gender (chi(1) = 31.807, p < .000; Phi = .27. p < .000), with girls more heavily represented among victims of cyberbullying.

Table 1. Characteristics of groups of victims: gender, age, and average number
of strategies applied.
fig

Applied Coping Strategies among Cyberbullying Victims

First, we examined the frequencies of applied coping strategies in victims of cyberbullying (see Table 2). The most frequent strategies among victims of cyberbullying were depreciating the aggressor, talking to someone, and avoiding thoughts about the incident. Deleting the aggressor from contacts and changing settings to block him here the most frequently used technical solutions. Among reframing strategies, only those aimed against the aggressor were applied frequently. Purposefully ignoring the aggressor was also a moderately frequently used strategy, as opposed to simply not paying attention to the incident. Similarly, among cognitive avoidance strategies, deciding to take the incident lightly was uncommon; more popular was deliberately focusing attention on something else. Avoiding the bully was a very common strategy. Confrontation was used in about half of the cases; retaliation was barely used.

Group differences and similarities. There were not many differences between the groups with regard to their application of technical solutions; victims of more severe cyberbullying tended to change their profiles and usernames slightly more frequently. However, cyberbullying victims were more inclined to both forms of avoidance (except “taking it lightly,” where the trend was reversed) and less to dissociation and reframing. In the case of active strategies (retaliation, confrontation), the only difference was that cyberbullying victims more frequently turned to online confrontation.

Table 2. Strategies applied by victims of cyberbullying and online harassment. fig

Emotionally Helpful Strategies for Cyberbullying Victims

Second, we analyzed the effectiveness of various strategies at helping users emotionally. Most technological solutions were at least moderately helpful; the least helpful for victims of cyberbullying were searching for advice online and reporting the aggressor to an administrator. Reframing the event and ignoring the aggressor were also quite helpful. Dissociation was a bit less effective; taking the incident(s) as something that had just happened online—detaching them from offline life—helped only a third of the victims who applied it. Cognitive avoidance was helpful mainly if victims focused on something else; behavioral avoidance was also effective, yet just over half of the victims found avoiding the aggressor in real life helpful. Seeking support was effective for most victims. The few victims of cyberbullying who used retaliation found it very helpful. However, confrontation was only moderately effective.

Group differences and similarities. The groups differed in about half of the strategies. The clear pattern that emerged was that, across the board, these coping strategies were more helpful for the victims of online harassment than for the victims of more severe forms of cyberbullying. The groups also slowed differences in their use of cognitive strategies and avoidance of the aggressor in real world. Among the technical solutions, differences in effectiveness were observed for changing one's profile and deleting the aggressor from one's contacts. There was no statistical difference with regard to the effectiveness of retaliation and confrontation.

Table 3. Strategies rated emotionally helpful for victims of cyberbullying and online harassment. fig

Strategies that Helped Stop Cyberbullying

Finally, we analyzed strategies that helped stop victimization. For cyberbullying victims, technological solutions which blocked the contact (deleting social networking profiles, changing profiles or phone numbers), avoiding the site, and seeking support were the most effective solutions, while retaliation, confrontation, and searching for advice online were among the least helpful.

Group differences and similarities. The differences were again unidirectional, with the comparison group benefitting more. But there were also some strategies that were effective to a similar degree for both groups: seeking support, deleting messages, avoiding the website in question, and online retaliation.

Table 4. Strategies that helped stop cyberbullying and online harassment.fig


Discussion

This study examined how victims of cyberbullying and online harassment cope with their negative experiences and how they evaluate the effectiveness of strategies applied, i.e. whether the strategies buffered the negative emotional impact or helped to stop cyber aggression. In addition, to better understand the process of coping with the experience of severe cyberbullying, we compared these responses to those of victims of less severe online harassment. As it turned out, the patterns of strategy selection (and their reported effectiveness) was not strongly related to previously conceived categories of coping behaviors. In our discussion, we will focus on specific strategies which seem to follow common patterns, despite cutting across category lines.

The findings indicate that victims of cyberbullying were active in using a wide range of coping strategies. Regarding cognitive strategies, victims often used reframing to depreciate the bully and avoided or purposefully ignored him or her. Regarding more active and behavioral strategies, they were inclined to seek support and implement various technical solutions. About half of the victims also tended to confront the bully. On the other hand, just few tried to retaliate or cognitively distance themselves from the incidents.

Victims of cyberbullying applied a similar number of coping strategies as victims of online harassment did, but there were some apparent differences in the types of strategies chosen. The victims of cyberbullying were more active in searching for advice online, changing their contact details, and confronting their bullies online. They also tended to use avoidant strategies more (except for taking the incident lightly), but relied less on cognitive responses that involved making a deliberate effort to regard the event as less serious, or to distance themselves from it by telling themselves it happened in a merely virtual world.

We assume that the severity of cyberbullying experience may explain why the victims tended to prefer active avoidance (i.e. preferred to avoid it actively by means available to them), while the victims of less severe cyber harassment were able to distance from the events – for them, it could be easier to cognitively distance themselves or even simply not pay attention the incident. Distancing and ignoring strategies are often recommended by students (Dehue et al., 2008; Parris et al., 2011) to deal with cyber aggression, but our study shows some of these strategies are not—and possibly cannot be—helpful in all cases. Among our respondents, reframing and dissociation were applied less by cyberbullying victims and were also less emotionally helpful for them. It seems that severe incidents cannot be simply ignored even if children might want to, and it might also not be an adaptive solution. As mentioned by Tokunaga (2010), the more severe the harm is and the longer cyberbullying lasts, the less valuable a strategy of ignoring is to the victim, although it can be very effective in less severe cases. Thus, workers in the area of prevention and intervention should acknowledge that what might be effective for victims of online harassment works differently for victims of cyberbullying.

On the other hand, it is important to stress the effect of purposeful ignoring (i.e. the decision to ignore something without reframing it as less serious or doing anything active to change the situation). This strategy was evaluated as emotionally helpful by almost two-thirds of the cyberbullying victims, and for half of them, it also helped stop the bully. We believe that this strategy might be a good solution for all victims of cyber aggression. It is neither problem nor emotion-focused (or approach-avoidant) by nature, but we should take such “inaction” into account when we elaborate on coping strategies in cyberbullying (Parris et al., 2011). It seems that in some cases, through the lack of attention and response, the perpetrator might be discouraged from continuing. The fact that purposeful ignoring has come up as a possibly useful tool is another reason to reconsider how coping strategies are categorized. The authors of this study are aware that while we label certain strategies as “cognitive” for the purpose of describing and understanding the data, his label may not accurately cover the emotional role the same strategies serve from the perspective of someone directly involved. Paying attention to the broader context helps us to better understand the actual patterns of coping with cyber aggression.

The active strategies called confrontation and retaliation were less helpful for cyberbullying victims, and were more often effective in stopping the aggressors in cases of less severe online harassment. The explanation might be that compared to bullies, those who harass online are not so determined to cause harm, or even do not perceive and intend their behavior as malevolent (Heirman & Walrave, 2008; Slonje & Smith, 2008). Through direct confrontation, aggressors might realize the negative consequences of their behavior and stop (Parris et al., 2011). Thus, children might be encouraged to use confrontation when the situation is not severe (e.g. after the first cyber-attack), but should be warned that it might be ineffective in cases of severe and long-term cyberbullying, as is also reflected by Price and Dalgleish (2010). In spite of that fact, children should know that while standing up for themselves is not guaranteed to change the aggressor's behavior, that does not mean it can't be an adaptive strategy for them, or that that they should not try if they feel like it.

Technological coping strategies, which are generally popular and considered effective (Juvonen & Gross 2008; Kowalski et al., 2008; Price & Dalgleish, 2010; Smith et al., 2008; Stacey, 2009) were also mostly favored by our respondents. Over half of the victims in each group deleted the aggressor from their contact lists and changed settings to block him or her. But more “radical” strategies, such as changing one's username/phone number or deleting one's own profile were rarely used. Such reluctance to restrict online activities could be explained by their importance in current everyday life as well as the importance of relationships maintained online (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2011). But still, changing usernames/profiles (and avoiding certain sites, which can be also understood as change of online habits) were more common among victims of cyberbullying, who are probably more open to trying anything to resolve the situation.

These technological solutions were also considered effective and were among the most often cited as effective in stopping the bully. An exception was searching for advice online, a technical solution that helped less than a fifth of cyberbullying victims. It is thus a question of what kind of advice is available online and whether it is accessible to cyberbullying victims. But overall, on the basis of our results, the use of technological strategies is to be recommended. We acknowledge that some of these strategies constitute relatively major changes in online habits, but in cases when cyberbullying takes place in a particular setting, leaving this environment and the problematic online connections might present a solution to the problem. This way, victims stop being exposed to the harmful materials and are no longer liable to be contacted by the aggressor or others who were privy to sensitive information.

Thus, such steps are effective, and according to our results, strategies that involve cutting off contact were emotionally effective. However, we should consider that because of the repetitive and widespread character of cyberbullying attacks, technological solutions could lose their effectiveness. Even when one of the channels or platforms (email account or SNS profile) is blocked or deleted, another can simply be created, and once the material is published, it can be viewed and redistributed by a wide (and anonymous) audience (Heirman & Walrave, 2008; Kowalski et al., 2008; Nocentini et al., 2010). A single technological strategy might thus help in a specific setting, but the attacks could continue via other channels (email, IM, or mobile). Thus, in case of cyberbullying, the technological solutions should be accompanied by other strategies.

Seeking support belongs among these recommended strategies. Despite the fact that telling someone else helped stop the bullying in only about half of the cases, it was still among the most effective strategies in this regard, and it also contributed significantly to emotional coping. It seems that even though other people may not have the means to solve the situation, they are a rich source of emotional support. Thus, in line with prior findings (Aricak et al., 2008; Juvonen & Gross, 2008; Price & Dalgleish, 2010), we would encourage the use of this strategy, even more so if we consider that cybervictims are less likely to seek help compared to those victimized in more traditional ways (Dooley, Gradinger, Strohmeier, Cross, & Spiel, 2010; Smith & Frisén, 2012).

Limitations

Our study has several limitations, which should be considered. Our findings are based on cross-sectional data and could be supported by studies with longitudinal design, which would help to depict the true effects of the strategies. It is also problematic to disentangle single responses to bullying and their individual effects. In the majority of cases, several reactions occurred in combination; thus, the contribution of a single strategy might be confounded by other factors. Moreover, different responses might also be connected to different acts of aggression, if there were more than one attack on victims. For the same reason, the duration of the incident(s) might be difficult to assess. The study is also limited by the relatively small number of respondents in some categories. It is possible that we did not have enough statistical power to detect some differences in the group comparison. Also, we could not control for the gender of victims, which could offer another possible explanation for the presented results. In line with previous studies (Dehue et al., 2008; Kowalski & Limber, 2007), we found that girls predominated among cyberbullying victims, but there was no similar gender imbalance among victims of online harassment. When interpreting our results, we should consider that boys and girls might differ in the way they apply and assess coping strategies to deal with bullying and in the forms of bullying males and females undergo (Skrzypiec, Slee, Murray-Harvey, & Pereira, 2011). Thus some of the results, or observed intergroup differences, might be in fact caused by gender differences.

Conclusions

The study has provided a more detailed view of the prevalence and effectiveness of strategies for coping with cyberbullying. With the exception of avoidant strategies, victims of cyberbullying were active and used a wide range of problem-focused coping strategies. Among the most effective strategies to stop cyberbullying were technical solutions; strategies that helped that helped emotionally included seeking support and/or deprecating the bully. Despite the fact that victims of cyberbullying were often active in seeking solutions, they generally experienced these strategies as less helpful than did victims of less serious online harassment who pursued similar courses of action. Moreover, some coping strategies such as confrontation or retaliation seemed to result in different outcomes: they were much more effective in stopping online harassment than cyberbullying. These observed discrepancies in the effectiveness of coping strategies should be further taken into consideration when establishing a list of recommendations for young internet users.

Acknowledgement

The authors acknowledge the support of the VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184), which is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the state budget of Czech Republic, the Czech Science Foundation (GAP407/11/0585), and the Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University.

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Correspondence to:
Hana Machackova
Institute for Research on Children, Youth and Family
Faculty of Social Studies
Masaryk University
Jostova 10
60200 Brno
Czech Republic

e-mail: hmachack(at)fss.muni.cz