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Cyber Bullying vs. Face-To-Face Bullying

The Internet era brought new forms of bullying into the lives of people. Over the past decades, debates about cyber bullying and traditional forms of bullying hit the headlines and grabbed the attention of many people (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009). Recently, some bullying cases have resulted in criminal and even civil law suits. Despite current attention to this new form of bullying, the society is yet to receive answers to questions surrounding cyber bullying. The rise of cyber bullying and its negative effects are attributed to the rise of Internet use (Meech, 2007).

However, this raises questions about similarity between traditional face-to-face bullying and the new form of cyber-bullying. Several experts in this field explain that there is a relationship between the two forms of bullying, which tend to overlap (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007). It is important to describe the difference between the two forms of bullying and show how they overlap. This is possible from the basic definition of bullying. Olweus (1993) defines bullying as intentional act of aggression that two or more individuals perform and repeatedly direct towards a person who is defenseless. Olweus also defined aggression as a single act, while bullying implies repeated acts of aggression.

Bullying Defined

Different authors define cyber bullying differently due to the variability of methods that they use (Kowalski, Limber, & Agatston, 2008). Based on the definition of Olweus, Smith et al (2008) defined cyber bullying as aggressive intentional act that an individual or a group of individuals carry out repeatedly against defenseless victims using electronic forms of communication (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009). On the other hand, Belsey (2004) defines cyber bullying as the use of information and technology tools to aid deliberate and repeated aggressive behavior by individuals in order to harm others. Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor (2007) define it as online harassment.

Major Differences between Face-To-Face Bullying and Cyber-Bullying

One of the key differences that emanate from definitions is that in case of cyber bullying, the bully has the ICT resources at disposal and uses these resources to harass others repeatedly. Cyber bullying can take the form of threats made via e-mails or through the creation of a belittling website, or messages that several people can see (Leishman, 2005). Smith et al (2008) notes that effects and impacts of cyber bullying are different since the impact of repeated threatening text message is different from a threat in a chat room. In case of a threat in a chat room, it may not be possible to inflict harm since this may not constitute a repeated threat (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009).

Fauman (2008) noted that when people post any information on-line and if such information spreads in any repetitive manner, it may not be as critical as face-to-face bullying. However, if the bully post pictures or videos that remain on-line permanently and are available for everyone, then this is worse than an off-line act of bullying. Thus, the repetitive manner in which the acts occur determines the extent of the damage that emanate from all forms of bullying. The study by Slonje & Smith (2008) found that students perceived that cyber bullying, which involves pictures and videos was more severe than any other form of bullying due to its ability to reach a bigger audience.

Another way in which researchers show how bullying occurs is through power imbalance. Bullying occurs because bullies have the power to do something that victims cannot perform. For instance, cyber bullying occurs if the individual has skills of manipulating videos or pictures and post them online (Slonje & Smith, 2008). In face-to-face bullying, the imbalance of power emanates from features of perpetrators and their relative psychological and physical power in the world. On the other hand, in cyber bullying, the power imbalance results from perpetrators’ ability to master technology (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009).

In as much as the society needs to be aware of the distinctions between face-to-face bullying and cyber bullying, it is crucial to remember that these two forms of bullying tend to overlap. In addition, bullying emanates from aggression: either social or relational aggression. Bullying can be either reactive in the sense that it is emotionally volatile and explosive, or it can be proactive (planned and controlled aggression). There are seven channels of cyber bullying. These are mobile text messaging, phone calls, e-mail, instant messaging, picture/video clip, chat room, and website (Slonje & Smith, 2008). The impact of these modes of bullying is different. However, the damage that results from picture/video clip is worse than the damage of face-to-face bullying (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009). On the other hand, text messages and e-mail bullying are less damaging when compared to face-to-face bullying. The common characteristic shared by face-to-face bullying and cyber bullying is the motivation to cause harm or pain. Vandebosch and van Cleemput (2008) found out that revenge was one of the motives for bullying, while the face-to-face bullying was caused by group pressure and gender differences.


Both traditional face-to-face bullying and cyber bullying aim at inflicting harm or pain to the perpetrator. From the definition of bullying it is clear that all forms have negative effects on victims. The traditional stereotype regarding bullying has disappeared with the increased popularity of the Internet. Though the effects of cyber bullying are less physical than in the case of the traditional form of bullying, it is clear that its effects are more devastating and last for longer time. This makes cyber bullying as bad as face-to-face bullying. This is because a lot of bullying occurs anonymously and victims are not aware of who are the people bullying them.

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