Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Cyberbullying from Psychological and Legal Perspectives

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Cyberbullying from Psychological and Legal Perspectives

Article excerpt


This symposium by the Missouri Law Review is a vital opportunity to find common ground between psychological and legal knowledge with respect to bullying and cyberbullying. Bullying, whether or not it is electronically mediated, is an emotionally charged area. To provide balance to the ongoing discussion, it is helpful to consider current findings, thoughts, and limitations of social science research in this area.

In this Article, we begin Part II by a brief exploration of the history of bullying in social science research. Part III is a description of the ways that social scientists have attempted to define bullying, and by extension, cyberbullying. We pay particular attention to understanding the roles that the intentionality of the bully, the repetition of the problematic behavior, and the power asymmetry of the bully-victim dyad play in distinguishing bullying from other negative behavior. In Part IV, we track the relationship between bullies and their social worlds, noting that some bullies are marginalized within a broader peer culture while others are popular and influential. We suggest that children's peer cultures also influence cyberbullying. Part V of this Article applies a relational view to the problem of cyberbullying, taking into account the relationship between bully and victim, the importance of children's broader social networks, and how sex, gender, and sexual orientation create an additional layer of complexity to understanding relational issues among children. We conclude this section with a discussion of how teachers and school climates relate to bullying. In Part VI, our concluding thoughts center around how bullying and cyberbullying may be both similar and different from each other, and the implications this has for further research in the social sciences.


Recent interest in bullying has increased because bullying was dramatized powerfully in 2011 by a controversial documentary film called Bully. (1) Viewers who watch Bully, or any of the innumerable bullying clips posted on the internet, feel an irrepressible sense of outrage, an outrage that curiously may not be shared by those who witness or participate in a bullying episode as it unfolds. Our outrage springs from the violation of our democratic spirit that youth should be free to learn, in peace and safety, making the most of their talents and goals. As Olweus put it:

   Every individual should have the right to be spared oppression and
   repeated, intentional humiliation, in school as in society at
   large. No student should have to be afraid of going to school for
   fear of being harassed or degraded, and no parent should need to
   worry about such things happening to his or her child[.] (2)

Tragedies, more than theories or findings, may have played the largest role in spurring interest in bullying. In 1982, bullying may have helped cause the suicides of three 10- to 14-year-old boys in northern Norway. (3) The Norwegian government responded with a campaign against bullying that included research and intervention led by Dan Olweus. (4) Olweus was trained as a trait psychologist (5) with presumably few illusions about the difficulty of reducing aggressive behavior, yet he pushed ahead in the 1980s to design and implement a pioneering program for anti-bullying intervention. (6) The effectiveness of the Norwegian campaign, both for the specific work of Olweus and for the larger efforts of the country's anti-bullying campaign, has proved remarkably far-sighted in identifying bullying and improving the welfare of children around the globe.

While scientists in Norway started studying bullying in the 1980s, interest for the subject started comparatively later in the United States. School past twenty years, she has served as an expert witness in battered women's criminal cases, most often when victims have been charged with killing their abusive partners. …

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