The finding reflects the social norms in our society that continue to stigmatize non-heterosexuality, norms that are likely to be reinforced within the walls of middle and high schools." In a section of the survey that allowed students to describe the nature of their cyber aggressive interactions, LGBTQ students reported being called homophobic slurs and, in at least one case, unwillingly having their sexual identities revealed to others.
Overall, incidents of cyber aggression ranged from threats and the posting of embarrassing photos and nasty rumors to criminal activities such as identity theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker posted about online.
For example, girls were twice as likely as boys to fall victim to cyber aggression.
"A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections," said Diane Felmlee, the lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at The Pennsylvania State University.
"The large magnitude of the effects of close relationships on the likelihood of cyberbullying, even after controlling for many other factors, was particularly surprising." The study found that the likelihood of cyberbullying -- which the study authors also refer to as cyber aggression, defined as electronic or online behavior intended to harm another person psychologically or damage his or her reputation -- was approximately seven times greater between current or former friends and dating partners than between young people who had neither been friends nor had dated.
The survey collected data about participants' social networks, dating history, and cyberbullying experiences.
Felmlee and co-author Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, found that approximately 17.2 percent of students had been involved with cyberbullying within a week of their having been surveyed -- 5.8 percent were purely victims, 9.1 percent were solely aggressors, and 2.3 percent were both.
In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression.
They might also believe they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from breaking up with them or dating someone else, by embarrassing or harassing him or her." Titled, "Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization," the study, which will appear in the September issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, analyzed survey results from nearly 800 eighth- to twelfth-grade students in 2011 at a public school in a suburb of New York City.
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Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.
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"Many people may be unaware that current or former friends and romantic partners are the most likely perpetrators of cyberbullying, at least among school-aged teens," Felmlee said.