Published in JAMA Pediatrics, a review of 36 social media studies finds that 23% is the median percentage of children and adolescents who reported being the victims of online bullying. The review also confirms a consistent relationship between cyberbullying and depression.
Recent reports suggest that 95% of American teenagers use the Internet, with 85% of this group using social media. More than half of adolescents were also found to log in to a social media website more than once a day, with 22% logging in to their favorite social media portal more than 10 times each day.
Because adolescents are at a stage in their development when they are vulnerable to peer pressure and have limited capacity to self-regulate, there is concern over the potential risks of social media use among this group, including the potential for cyberbullying, online harassment and privacy issues.
As there is potential for online abuse to be spread by others and continued - and for those bullies to remain anonymous - there is concern that cyberbullying may even exceed traditional forms of bullying in terms of intensity.
Although it is a new field of research, some studies have found associations between cyberbullying - both for victims and perpetrators - with depression, low self-esteem, behavioral problems, substance abuse and self-harm.
A recent meta-analysis of three studies found a stronger association between cyberbullying and having suicidal thoughts than with traditional bullying, although the data in the review were limited.
Girls most likely to be victims of cyberbullying
For the new analysis, researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, reviewed 36 studies to assess the effects on the health of children and adolescents of cyberbullying through social media. Most of the analyzed studies were based in the US and participants were mostly between the ages of 12 and 18.
The most commonly used social media platform in the studies was Facebook - 89% of the social media users in the studies reported having a Facebook account.
In the studies, the prevalence of cyberbullying ranged from 4.8% to 73.5%. Based on this data, the authors of the review calculated that the median percentage of children and adolescents who reported having experienced cyberbullying was 23%.
The authors also found that girls were more likely to be cyberbullied than boys, and that relationship issues were the most common reason for online bullying.
The most common forms of bullying were name-calling, spreading gossip and rumors and circulating pictures. Victims of this kind of bullying would usually use passive strategies to deal with the abuse, such as blocking the sender. However, the children in the study did not believe much could be done to stop cyberbullying.
The authors write in their conclusion:
"The evolution of social media has created an online world that has benefits and potential harms to children and adolescents. Cyberbullying has emerged as a primary concern in terms of safety, and, while publications remain inconclusive regarding its effects on mental health, there is some evidence to suggest that there are associations of harms with exposure to cyberbullying as well as cyberbullying behavior.
This review provides important information characterizing the issue of cyberbullying that will help inform prevention and management strategies, including attributes of the recipients and perpetrators, reasons for and the nature of bullying behaviors, and how recipients currently react to and manage bullying behaviors."
Although some of the studies in the review found weak or inconsistent links between cyberbullying and anxiety, the relationship between cyberbullying and depression was consistent and strong across the studies.