RESEARCH INTO CYBERBULLYING AMONG UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN MOROCCO: THE PERCEPTION OF BULLIED STUDENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES
Prepared by the researcher : Sidi Sidi Mohamed HAMDAN – University Professor of English / Ibn Zohr University, Agadir, Morocco
Democratic Arab Center
International Journal of Educational and Psychological Studies : Sixteenth Issue – March 2022
A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin.
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With so many young people socializing on the Internet, perpetrators use information and communication technologies to cause harm or disturbance to victims. While approaches have been promoted by educational institutions around the world to combat the traditional forms of bullying and violence in schools, the emergence of technology and social media platforms have brought about a new set of challenges given that cyberbullying transcends the school setting. The main objective of this research is to investigate cyberbullying among university students in Morocco, in particular attitudes of bullied students towards this phenomenon. The research conducted mixed methods, combining web-based survey and a qualitative focus group research investigation into the experiences of university students, a method that allowed young participants to share and discuss their experiences as cyberbullying victims and associate them with a set of recommendations that, in their views, might prevent or reduce cyberbullying.
Bullying is one of the most pertinent social and health problems for both children and adolescents at school all over the world (Claudio et al, 2018). This behaviour occurs frequently in all countries and in different settings (Peña-López, 2017). Bullying of young people is on the increase and happens across different contexts. It can occur at school, at home, at work and online – anytime, anywhere (Jun, 2020). School bullying, for example, is a form of bullying that happens in any educational setting and
can happen at any educational stage, however, workplace bullying is a type of stalking behaviour that workers may face at any phase of their career life, in spite of their belonging to a specific class based on ethnicity, gender, age, etc. (Leymann, 1990). While literature has documented extreme prevalence of bullying victimization as an old phenomenon, research interest in school bullying among Arab world is a recent trend (Kazarian & Ammar 2013). Electronic aggression, or cyberbullying, is a quite new phenomenon (Law et al, 2012). The ever-increasing accessibility of Internet and new technologies has facilitated new avenues through which young people can bully (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007). With the advent of social media and electronic communications, transformation from the traditional bullying forms to online forms has occurred (Li, 2007) and cyberbullying, as a new form of bullying, has emerged. Social media platforms have provided incomparable opportunities for youths to connect and share views with others; however, social networks have also turned out to be fertile ground for cyberbullying. Easy access to social media and its widespread practise has led to new chances for cyber-bullying (Craig et al., 2020). While Interaction on social networks is deemed helpful or neutral, the exposure to cyberbullying is a negative aspect of social connections (Tokunaga, 2010). With the increase of social networking sites, and the overwhelming use of the Internet by young people, the issue of cyberstalking has aroused many controversies around the world. Common users of the Internet and Social Networking Site are more expected to involve in, become victims of and experience cyberbullying behaviour (Park et al., 2014). While schools and families have begun to mobilize to decrease offline bullying in schools, they may need to extend their concerns to what happens online. Few researches have examined cyberbullying victimization among university students in comparison to research accomplished in other educational levels (Yubero et al, 2017). In order to understand the experiences and risks of cyberbullying among students, it is necessary to first recognize the perception of people in their contexts. The main objective of this paper is to investigate cyberbullying among university students in Morocco and their attitudes towards this phenomenon. The research addressed this issue by answering mainly the following research questions:
-RQ 1: How do university students describe cyberbullying?
-RQ 2: How do university students recognise the different forms of cyberbullying on social networks?
-RQ 3: What are the most popular social media sites for bullying among university students?
-RQ 4: How do bullied students respond to incidences of cyberbullying?
-RQ 5: What possible ways and recommendations are there to prevent cyberbullying?
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
As is commonly the case in recent fields of research, bullying researchers have struggled to agree on a single definition of this concept. A review of the existing literature reveals a lack of a consensus on the definition of bullying. However, there is an emerging agreement that the concept refers to repetitive aggressive behaviour exercised by a person who has power over another with unfriendly or wicked intent (Omoteso, 2010). It is Olweus’s definition of bullying that is universally recognised and agreed upon within the literature. In this regard, bullying is commonly described as “the intention to harm the victim, the repetitive nature of bullying, and the imbalance in power between the victim and the perpetrator(s)” (Solberg & Olweus, 2003). In describing a bullied person, within the context of education, Olweus, (1994) contends that a person is bullied when “he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students”. Although there a joint agreement among most of researchers about the three-element included in the definitions of bullying, some have concurred that single incidents should be judged as bullying experiences due to their harmful long-standing effects (Arora, 1996; Randall, 1996). Farrington, (1993) confirms that school bullying involves a number of key elements including “physical, verbal, or psychological attack or intimidation” that aims to infuse distress and fear or inflict harm to the victim; imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim; and repeated occurrences of bullying for protracted period of time. These characteristics are relatively shared with cyberbullying. In particular, “cyberbullying is a newer variation of bullying that utilizes technology to harass” (Park et al., 2014). It involves “the use of some kind of electronic media (i.e., internet or mobile phone) to engage in bullying behaviour” (Perren & Gutzwiller-Helfenfinger, 2012). Cyberbullying often happens when there is lack or less computer supervision and increases slightly with age particularly in transitional stage of adolescence (Walrave & Heirman, 2010). Cyberbullies prefer to be anonymous and often disguise behind fake profiles and false names (Compton et al, 2014). Bullies don’t often feel regret or recognise the degree of harm they cause to their victims since they don’t meet with them directly. (Schneier 2003). Brady (2010) explains that cyberbullying refers to ““the use of communication-based technologies, including cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and social networking sites, to engage in deliberate harassment or intimidation of other individuals or groups of persons using online speech or expression” (p. 113). Cyberbullying has features that make it distinct from traditional bullying in its direct nature where face to face interaction is an essential component in the relationship between the bully and victim. Teenagers or adolescents who socialize online are frequently at risk of being cyberbullying victims (Willard, 2005; Trolley et al., 2006). On social media, teenagers may see that cyberbullying is linked to the setting of education where their partners observe the act of bullying -which augment the impression of victimisation as more extreme than if it occurred in physical place (Sevcikova et al., 2012). Some online perpetrators are motivated to involve in inflicting harm to others for the reason that they are former victims of offline bullying and they revenge on their offline bullies (Vandebosch, & Van Cleemput, 2008). Cyberbullying can take various forms, including text messaging, instant messaging, cell phone, E-mail, pagers, chatroom bullying, and many other activities via online posts (Strom, & Strom,2006). Bullying does hold perils for young people. Many research works have demonstrated with evidence that victims of cyberbullying are often subject to some psychological disturbances and social problems (DavideFerdon & Hertz, 2007; Tsitsika et al., 2015). A lot of students consider cyberbullying as more detrimental than traditional bullying by causing intensified levels of psychological trouble and even suicide (Slovak & Singer, 2011). Victims of cyberbullying might experience relationship troubles to the extent they put an end to their relationships with others (Spears et al, 2009).
The research employed a mixed method approach to measure cyberbullying among university students on social media, in particular a web-based survey and focus group discussion in the earlier stages of this research. An online questionnaire was sent to all the students who voluntarily expressed their desire to participate in the research and already revealed they were victims of cyberbullying on social media. A simple challenge has arisen when some students preferred to hide their identity as a way to protect their privacy. Responding to their request, the students were given a chance to either participate in discussion on ZOOM software; an online meeting and video conferencing tool, or through face-to-face meeting. 18 students preferred to employ the ZOOM software but talk without using the video camera while others 54 students had no problem to engage in face-to-face discussion. Six face-to-face and three online focus group sessions were organised and facilitated by the researcher. During the research period, a total of 72 participants attended 1 of 9 focus group sessions; 6 face-to-face groups of 9 participants (n=54) and 3 online groups of 6 participants (n=18). The research conducted a focus group discussion (FGD) as a “qualitative method for eliciting respondents’ perceptions, attitudes and opinions” about a certain topic and it is “useful for educational research” (Wilson, 1997). A focus group discussion (FGD) serves as a data collection method that involves people with similar backgrounds or experiences to discuss a specific topic of interest —and is commonly led by a trained facilitator. The method is used to gain data from “purposely selected group of individuals rather than from a statistically representative sample of a broader population” (Nyumba et al, 2018). In this research, the FGD method is used to explore university students ’s perceptions of cyberbullying, investigate their cyberbullying experience and associate them with a set of recommendations that, in their views, might prevent or reduce cyberbullying. A group of bullied students assembled to engage in a guided discussion about their own experiences and views of online bullying. A total of 72 university students aged between 18 to 24 (52.7% female) participated in nine focus group sessions including six face-to-face and three online meetings. The discussion was conducted through semi-structured interviews in which students were asked open-ended questions to allow for spontaneously exploring more topics relevant to the issue of cyberbullying. A web-based questionnaire with 16 items was used to collect data participants’ online experiences pertinent to cyberbullying on social media. The selected items about cyberbullying incidences were prepared by the researcher by capitalising on earlier literature review. The research opted for previous studies to perform the investigation and explore the participants’ awareness and knowledge about the issue of Cyberbullying. This includes Willard (2005) classification of cyberbullying consisting of “flaming, harassment, cyberstalking, denigration, masquerade, outing and trickery, and exclusion” and Olweus (1994) description of bullying as “involving repeated, intentional aggression in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power”. During the interviews with participants, key concepts were considered in addition to other definitions of cyberbullying and checked with the purpose of analysis whenever applicable. In this research Cronbach’s alpha was used to assess internal consistency reliability for the scale used to collect the data. This scale, had a good internal consistency, with a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient reported .900 for 16 items in the questionnaire using the SPSS software which indicated a quite high level of reliability
Table 1. Reliability Statistics
|Cronbach’s Alpha||N of Items|
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The survey results of 72 participants in total were analysed. 14 participants have already been excluded because they did not prove they were victims of bullying which was the main requirement to participate in this research. During the research period, a total of 72 participants attended 1 of 9 focus group sessions; 6 face-to-face groups of 9 participants (n=54) and 3 online groups of 6 participants (n=18). The research opted for small focus groups of 6 -9 participants as an ideal size of an easily manageable group where every participant could have the opportunity to share his or her views and comments about the issue of cyberbullying on social media platforms. Of the respondents, 38 (52.7%) were girls, 34 (47.2%) were boys. All the 72 participants confirmed they were victims of cyberbullying on social media before they engaged into discussion through the arranged focus groups. Five main themes have been focused in the discussion;1) students’ perception of cyberbullying as a concept, 2) students’ awareness of cyberbullying forms/threats, 3) popular social media sites where students were victimized 4) students’ reaction to their past experiences about cyberbullying, 5) students’ perceptions of Cyberbullying Prevention
Table 2. Sample Distribution according to Gender
RQ 1: BULLYING AS DEFINED BY PARTICIPANTS
One of the main objectives of this research is to investigate how university students define cyberbullying. The research indicated that the concept provided by most of university students did not exhaustively describe cyberbullying as it is conventionally defined in the literature which usually emphases the three criteria of intentionality, repetition, and power imbalance. A pertinent definition of cyberbullying that best describes this trend is suggested by s (Smith et al., 2008), ‘An aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself’. At large, 75 % of participants agreed that the main objective of cyberbullying behaviour is to inflict harm on the victims whereas the rest of students were suspicious about the real intention of cyberbullying. During the focus group discussions some students believed that bullies’ main objective was merely to tease them for some time rather than to hurt overtime. The majority of students agreed that cyberbullying was behaviour they did not like and made them angry even at the best of times. In general, there was great emphasis by the students on the component of intentionality as a key factor of cyberbullying definition. The criterion of power imbalance was often considered when students raised a discussion about some incidences where threats of physical harm and intimidation offline occurred (cyberstalking). Only 15.3% of students considered the criterion of repetition to be important to describe bullying.
Table 3. Perceptions of Cyberbullying apropos of Intentionality, Repetition, and Power Imbalance
|Intent to hurt||54||75.0|
RQ 2: STUDENTS’ AWARENESS OF CYBERBULLYING FORMS/THREATS
Based on Willard (2005) classification of cyberbullying, statements addressed by students about cyberbullying incidences like flaming, harassment, denigration, cyberstalking, impersonation, outing and trickery, exclusion and happy slap were reviewed and considered in this research. As victims, students reported several incidences of cyberbullying forms on social media platforms. These incidences included unkind comments, mocking the victims openly, gossiping and even threatening via private messages. In some cases, victims revealed that even they blocked their bullies and prevented them from being on their personal social media pages, perpetrators still continued the act of bulling by spreading malevolent rumours, share shameful photos, and mocking their victims to other connections on other social media sites or groups. 77.7 % (n=56) of students reported that they were bullied more than once in their lifetime. On average, about 38.8% of the participants were victims impersonated online during the last couple of months. Cyberbullying included undesirable contact by threatening or insulting the participants through sharing private information on social media sites. Sending students offensive and insulting text messages repeatedly over time via E-mail, SMS was the most commonly cited cyberbullying experiences with (99.6%). About 15.27% engaged in online arguments in response to some bullies who provoked them with rude behaviour on messenger software or chatrooms. Only 16.6% of participants (11 girls one boy) reported that their bullies extended to threaten them of physical harm and safety offline. The least common type of cyberbullying among students was happy slapping where students including both boys and girls reported that they had never been victims of an attack for the purpose of recording the assault with a camera. In general, the research findings indicated that students including both boys and girls have been involved in the different types of cyberbullying as victims in different degrees (Toll 142 incidences).
Table 4. Prevalence of Cyberbullying among University Students on Social Media
|Flaming||A series of insulting exchanges in a public setting, such as a chat room||15.27||11|
|Harassment||Offensive, insulting, text messages sent repeatedly over time via E-mail, SMS||99.6||66|
|Cyberstalking||Online harassment extends to threats of physical harm and safety offline||16.6||12|
|Denigration||Sending untrue information such as digitally altered photos to harm reputation||26.3||19|
|Impersonation||Creating a fake profile or identity online to fool the victim||38.8||28|
|Outing & trickery||Sharing with others private or embarrassing information after having tricked a person to reveal that information,||8.3||6|
|Exclusion||Being excluded by a group online while seeing other friends being included||12.5||9|
|Happy Slap||Young people attacked (slapped) & the attack is filmed on a mobile phone camera||0||0|
* Type of Cyberbullying
RQ 3: SOCIAL NETWORKS POPULAR FOR CYBERBULLYING AMONG PARTICIPANTS
Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Instagram ranked high on the scale of popularity amongst the participants. These two websites were reported by the participants to be top platforms where they had experienced cyberbullying over the past few years. Facebook remained the most frequently cited social media platform where 70.8% of participants were victims of bullying, Instagram with 25. 0% and Snapchat with only 02.8%. However, a number od Social media sites such as Twitter remained largely unpopular among the participants.
Table 5. Distribution of Cyberbullying Incidences on Social Media Sites
|Social Media Platforms||N||Percentage|
RQ 4: REACTION OF UNIVERSITY STUDENTS TO CYBERBULLYING ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES
With regard to the impact and reaction of university students to cyberbullying on social media sites, the participants’ views on past experiences about cyberbullying varied. However, the participants commonly reported that cyberbullying had tremendously negative impact on their wellbeing. These effects were far more serious that just feeling bad about themselves but went deeper and touched their personal relationships and social life and even their human psyche. 74.2% of students reported that their cyberbullying experiences had affected their performance at school and ability to learn or feel safe. 12.5% started to fear using any device that connected them to the internet including their computers and mobile phones. Summing over the various types of cyberbullying, the participants commonly were not so favourable towards reporting incidences of cyberbullying with only 5.5% saying that they would inform their parents or guardians about the incidence of cyberbullying, 30.5% would tell their friends and 63.8% would choose to keep it a secret; telling a teacher was never reported. A noteworthy finding of this research is that cyberbullying victims rarely sought help from adults either at school or at home. The results provided some support for previous studies that worked on the issue of the reaction to cyberbullying. This research focused on how young people reported the incidences of their cyberbullying on social media, in particular in Morocco where the cultural context is different from other communities. In such context, students seemed to be very reluctant to inform adults about cyberbullying incidents and attributed this unwillingness to many reasons as it was reported by some students in this research:
-“In my community, it’s such a shame when you report the incidence of cyberbullying”
-“Reporting about the incidence would prove me a weak person; which would hurt my self-esteem”
-“My parents would deprive me from my mobile phone if they knew about the incidence; it is something I can’t accept because my mobile is part of my life”.
-“I fear revenge from bullies”
Table 5. Responding to Cyberbullying by University Students
RQ 5: PERCEPTIONS OF CYBERBULLYING PREVENTION
In their discussion, students contended that an immediate action is imperative so as to prevent or reduce cyberbullying incidents both inside and outside of their educational institutions. Both technical and social support were considered to be powerful protective factors in mitigating cyberbullying. Training both students and their parents in how to apply technological devices and adopt cyber security to counter bullies has been reported to be of vital importance. A number of students never reported their incidences of cyberbullying and often contended with the negative feelings and experience on their own. Professionals need to find ways to encourage students to report abuse and talk about incidences of cyberbullying and their resolution in public when feeling under psychological distress or threat. Regulations and rules about cybercrime, or computer-oriented crime need to be explicitly taught. New regulations and policies that prohibit cyberbullying need to be established and adopted. Educational campaigns about cyberbullying centred on other prevention programmes (peer mediation, conflict resolution need to be launched to end the silence surrounding cyberbullying.
With the increase in the use of social media platforms, a disturbing trend worldwide is cyberbullying, where young people can hurt others online, the more time students spend online, particularly on social media sites, the more likely they are to experience cyberbullying. With the growing debate over how to eliminate the risks of the internet, the findings of this research appear to support a number of previous studies and literature about negative consequences on young people worldwide. This research deals with cyberbullying in a particular context; Morocco which represents a country with specific culture. This aspect supposedly appears to affect the decision of young students to report the incidences of cyberbullying as they hesitate or usually refuse to self-identify as victims of cyberbullying. Cultural differences in attitudes regarding victimization and the way young people perceive the concept and nature of bullying in general and cyberbullying in particular seem to affect their choice about reporting the incidence. Given the challenges students face, it is urgent to intervene from multiple avenues to buffer the impact of cyberbullying. In this regard, as the participants in this research recommended, there is a need to develop school-based anti-bullying programs and powerful strategies against online stalking among students which could help reduce this behaviour. Involving the efforts of families, schools and Internet service providers as well as law-enforcement policies and preventive anti-bullying campaigns could support effective decrease of this harmful phenomenon at school. With studies suggesting that a great number of students have experienced cyberbullying worldwide, this is clearly an issue that cannot be ignored by parents or school personnel. To make change, schools and families must cooperate in educating young people to develop self-control and concern for the wellbeing of others (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
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