The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Emotional Reactions of Victims of On-Line Harassment: Does the Relationship to the Harasser Matter?

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:00 PM
Nautilus 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Megan Lindsay, MSW, Research Assistant, Arizona State University, Phoeniz, AZ
Jaime Booth, Doctoral Student, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Jonel Thaller, MSW, Social Work PhD Student, GRA, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
In the past five years, the growing body of research around cyberbullying and negative online social interactions has focused on adolescent’s behavior (Ang 2010), but little attention is being paid to the emerging adult population (age 18 – 24).  Despite online rates comparable to adolescents, 93% are online and 72% use social networks (Lenhart et al., 2010), young adults have been either excluded from research or lumped into cyberbullying studies with 11-17 year olds (Blumenfeld & Cooper 2010). Studies have shown that negative emotional responses— such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation—are common after experiencing online victimization (Annenberg Policy Center, 2010) but due to the dearth of studies conducted with emerging adults, little is known about whether they, too, experience these outcomes. This study attempts to fill this gap.

An online survey was distributed to introductory social work classes in a large public university in the Southwestern United States from September to October 2010. Young adults in the sample (n = 342) represented 50 different majors; 24.5% were male and 74.9% female. The average age was 21.8 years (SD = 5.7); 53.1% of respondents reporting that they are white, 26% Latino, 7.4% black, 5.9% multiracial, 7.6% other. In order to measure experiences of harassment participants were asked: “In the past two years have you received threatening, insulting, harassing messages from…1) Someone you don’t know 2) Some you know 3) A significant other 4) A person after you asked them to stop?” with  possible responses ranging from (0) never to (4) 5+ times.  Emotional responses to online harassment were measured by asking “In the past two years have your on-line interaction ever left you feeling…1) anxious 2) depressed?”; (0) No and (1) Yes.  Logistic regressions were used to test the relationship between the amounts of harassment an individual experienced and negative emotional reactions. Separate models were run for all four relationship types controlling for gender, age and race. 

Receiving a harassing message from someone unknown to the respondent did not significantly predict experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of on-line interaction, however receiving a harassing message from someone known, as well as a significant other, indicated greater odds of reporting both negative emotions. Specifically, for every additional harassing message received 1) from someone known, an individual was 58% more likely to experience anxiety and 38% more likely to feel depressed from on-line interactions, 2) from a significant other, 85% more likely to experience anxiety and 38% more likely to experience depression, and 3) from someone the individual had asked to stop, they were 97% more likely to experience anxiety and 55% more likely to experience depression.

Online communications are increasingly becoming an important space for social interaction that should be considered in social work practice. These findings indicate that for young adults negative emotional outcomes are more likely when the sender is known, suggesting that online violence can be understood better as an extension of relationship that occur off line. These finding have important policy and practice implication.