~ By Luca Maurer
In a previous post, I explored the issue of homophobic slurs in online gaming environments. This month, new research delves more deeply into the issue of online homophobia, examining “cyberbullying” specifically. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to examine the relationship between cyberbullying and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
Warren Blumenfeld and Robyn Cooper at Iowa State University studied cyberbullying, which they defined as “intentional harassment, torment, and harmful online electronic communications though social networking sites, text messaging, email, and instant messaging.”
The research was conducted via an online survey of students ages 11–22. It included 350 participants who self-identified as non-heterosexual and an additional 94 who identified as straight allies of LGBT people. Of those LGBT youth, 54% reported being victims of cyberbullying in the 30 days prior to the survey.
The LGBT youth also reported that as a result of being cyberbullied they experienced feelings of:
• depression (45%)
• embarrassment (38%)
• anxiety about attending school (28%)
• suicidal thoughts (26%).
And, while 55% of the LGBT group thought their parents couldn’t do anything prevent cyberbullying, 80% of all respondents, both LGBT and heterosexual, thought peers should do more to address the problem.
The researchers also note for comparison that as a separate group, girls (regardless of their sexual orientation or ally status) experienced the next highest percentage of cyberbullying–21% reported being cyberbullied about their gender.
As a result of these findings, the authors suggest several avenues to address the phenomenon and effects of cyberbullying among youth. Given the large number of participants that identified peers as a group that could do more to address this issue, bystander training programs are an important part of the solution, according to the authors. They also recommend social norms programming for young people that addresses perceptions–and sometimes misperceptions–they may have about the behavior of their peers.
In addition, educational opportunities to learn more about online citizenship in general might further understanding and reduce cyberbullying of young people of all orientations and identities. Each of these suggested strategies would encourage youth and youth leaders to take more responsibility to discourage this kind of behavior of their peers.
Listen to a podcast in which Dr. Blumenfeld discusses in-depth results and implications of the survey.
Additionally, in the March 2010 special LGBT-themed issue of the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Drs. Blumenfeld and Cooper provide policy implications from this research.
Lis Maurer is the coordinator of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services at Ithaca College, and is on the Editorial Board of The Prevention Researcher.