Rising incidents of, and tragedies from, cyber-bullying have alerted researchers, educators, government officials, and parents to the severe consequences of this new form of bullying. Existing research on cyber-bullying is mostly conducted without sound theoretical foundation. In addition, previous studies focus on children and adolescents; there is a paucity of empirical examination of cyber-bullying behavior among university students. Drawing from social cognitive theory and focusing on university students, this study hypothesizes about, and empirically tests the effects of, personal and environmental factors on the likelihood for university students to perform cyber-bullying behavior. The results from a survey of university students in Hong Kong reveal that social norms, as well as personal factors such as Internet self-efficacy, motivations, and cyber-victimization experience, are strong predictors of university students' cyber-bullying behavior. This study not only enriches our understanding of determinants of cyber-bullying behavior by university students but also provides valuable insights to educators, government officials, and parents.
Keywords: Cyber-bullying, bullying, social cognitive theory, motivation, aggression
With more than two thousand millions Internet users worldwide [Internet World Stats, 2011], the Internet plays an increasingly important role in people's daily activities. Nowadays, people, and especially youths, live with the Internet. For instance, teenagers have been found to spend more than 30 hours a week online [The Telegraph of London, 2011]. The Internet, however, has proved to be a double edged sword: although it brings unprecedented convenience to everyday life, it also provides a breeding ground for various types of undesirable behaviors, such as cyber-bullying, a type of bullying that occurs via electronic media [Li, 2006]. Traditional bullying is often caused by physical, verbal, or psychological attack or intimidation [Farrington, 1993], with the victims being repeatedly hurt in an imbalanced-power situation [Olweus, Limber, and Mahalic, 1999].
Although cyber-bullying is a relatively recent phenomenon, the prevalence and adverse consequences of such behavior have been documented by researchers in many parts of the world [Li, 2008; Menesini and Spiel, 2012; Navarro and Jasinski, 2012; Smith, et al., 2008; Vandebosch and Van Cleemput, 2009; Wang, Iannotti, and Nansel, 2009]. For instance, Raskauskas and Stoltz  showed that nearly half of the adolescents surveyed were victims and about one fourth were cyber-bullies. Victims of cyber-bullying were often found to suffer high distress, emotional instability, and social anxiety. Demspey and colleagues  also showed a positive relationship between online bullying and the symptoms of social anxiety. In the most extreme cases, cyber-bullying can also lead to suicide or physical harm. The widely publicized suicides of Megan Taylor Meier, Phoebe Prince, and Tyler Clementi have truly underscored the serious consequences of cyber-bullying and called attention to this new form of bullying behavior.
Cyber-bullying is clearly an important concern for government agencies, educational administrators, and parents. To take actions against cyber-bullies, government agencies worldwide have passed or proposed legislation to reprimand cyber-bullying behavior. For instance, a number of states in the United States passed laws [e.g., the Megan Meier Cyber-Bullying Prevention Act] against electronic harassment ["Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act," 2009]. In Hong Kong, members of the legislative council have also proposed legislation to deter cyber-bullying behavior [Lee, 2010].
In addition to legislation, education on what is appropriate or inappropriate online behavior can be an important preventive measure. For instance, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has set up an educational website to illustrate the consequences of cyber-bullying and to introduce strategies for preventing and coping with such behavior [Epstein and Kazmierczak, 2007]. …