Frequency Use of Social Media Impact on Cyberbullying: It's Relation to Fear and Depression

Frequency Use of Social Media Impact on Cyberbullying: It's Relation to Fear and Depression

This study examined the social media usage and the positive effects of cyberbullying on middle school students; and whether exposure to bullying affects their levels of fear and depression. The participants were 800 students ranging from ages 11-15 (488 females and 312 males). The results revealed Social Media usage does not increase fear in those that don’t partake in cyberbullying. It also shows that students, who are involved in cyberbullying, whether as bully or victim, exhibit increased levels of both fear and depression.

Bullying is defined as a form of repeated harassment toward an individual. According to Huang and Chou (2010) “bullying occurs when children (1) say mean things about or make fun of another person, (2) ignore or exclude him or her from their group, (3) hit, kick, push, or physically restrain him or her, or (4) tell lies or spread false rumors or send mean notes and try to make other students dislike him or her”. Bullying is an intensely persistent issue during the middle school period, possibly because of drastic biological and social changes such as puberty and entering new school environments (Li, 2005). Although traditional bullying still exist, the development of the Internet and technology has contributed to a new form of bullying - cyberbullying (Li, 2005).
Cyberbullying has become a major concern in the public agenda due to the growing number of cases that are surfacing in the media. As seen in the media, being bullied is a common experience for children and adolescents today. In particular, the story about Megan Meier, who was only 13 years old when she committed suicide after receiving nasty messages on her MySpace account from a boy she was flirting with a couple of weeks before ( After Megan’s death, Megan’s parents found out she was being cyberbullying by the mother of Megan’s former friend who created a false identity to humiliate Megan for spreading rumors about her daughter.
Bullying has become a major issue in our society because several adolescents who were bullied have committed suicide. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, a government website on statistics health care, “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. For every suicide among these people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it” ( Also, a study from Yale University states that bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide then non-victims (
Over 97% of youth in the United States is connected to the Internet (Tokunaga, 2010) and According to Huang and Chou (2010) in consequence of “the growing popularity of social-networking sites, instant messengers, and mobile technology among adolescents the risk and extent of cyberbullying cannot be underestimated” (p. 1581).
According to Cassidy, Jackson and Brown (2009), the Internet is appealing to the youth as they are able to create identities through online profiles and so have limitless ways of interacting with others. Tynes (2007) states that since a primary goal of adolescents is the development of their identities, and social media allows for the creation of a whole new virtual identity, the Internet can be extremely appealing to young adults. Tynes (2007) also indicates Internet usage alleviates many of the emotional concerns that come along with communicating face to face. Therefore, the Internet provides equal opportunities for any youth to take on the role of a bully. Cassidy et al. (2009) explains “where the language has changed and adapted to net-speak, identities can be protected and personalities changed, and youth are faced with new and almost limitless liberties to interact and role-play” (p. 384).
The current study uses the cultivation theory – a theory developed in the 1970s and 1980s by George Gerbner addressing the role media plays in society. The current study will apply cultivation theory to social media to discover the relationship to cyberbullying. Due to the dramatic change of the nature of bullying to cyberbullying over the past several years, this study examines the amount of bullying through social media and the relationship with fear and depression.

Literature Review
Cultivation Theory
Gerbner (1976) states that television has become the main source of storytelling in today’s society, which cultivates or creates a world view that, although possibly inaccurate, because people believe it to be so (p.172-199). According to Gerbner, heavy television viewers who watch television four hours or more daily consider the living environment more dangerous than reality because of the high amount of exposure to violent content in Television. This theory may also be applied to social media because people who are heavy users of social-network sites may be more scared due to the exposure to cyberbullying content. Heavy users of social media will have a skewed perception of reality as being more dangerous than it is because of the high amount of exposure of negative contents like cyberbullying. According to Patchin and Hinduja (2011) when we experience pain, it makes us feel angry, frustrated, depressed, and anxious. These feelings make people want to do something to relieve the bad feeling. Therefore they bully each other – whether in person or online, youth might adopt this behavior.

People of all ages, but mainly adolescents spend a significant amount of time on the Internet using social media. The Internet allows for the opportunity to meet friends, create online profiles, which allow users to share private and personal information and fully interact with others. Since they often spend most of their time on social media sites, they are more likely to be exposed to bullying on a daily basis. According to Campbell (2005) social media is becoming one of the main platforms “being used by young people to bully their peers”. These heavy users of social media will have a skewed perception of reality as being more dangerous than it is. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center in USA, a data collected in February of 2010 stated that approximately 20% of the students interviewed aged 10 to 18 experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes. Also, the research showed that specific types of cyberbullying, “mean or hurtful comments and rumors spread online continue to be among the most commonly-cited”. The same study, conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center in USA stated, cell phones and Facebook are the most popular technologies used by adolescents to bully others. Consequently, “this is now a global problem with many incidents reported in United States and in other countries, such as Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zeland” (p. 68).
Impact of Social Media
It seems as if every month a new technology is release in the United States to improve on the speed we communicate with each other. According to Li (2005), the use of new technology, such as cell phones and Internet, has significantly increased in recent years. In a constructive way, the Internet has tremendously increased the different platforms that are available to communicate, which include: email, instant messaging, and messaging through social networking sites (Meredith, 2010). Instantaneously, a photo can be taken with someone’s own iPhone and uploaded to Facebook. Meridith (2010) noted “these communication avenues allow instant connection to friends and acquaintances, but as a result, Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have gone from Internet destinations to personal essentials” (p. 312). According to Baran and Davis (2000),
People using media have the power to create either division or community. Media technology alone is powerless to initiate useful change. But technology can augment and amplify the actions of individuals and groups and, in so doing, facilitate rapid and widespread social change on an important scale (p. 9).
Major issues can be seen in the difficulty in regulating of ethics throughout Social Media. For instance, traditional institutions of media accountability can no longer keep up with rising ethical issues of today’s new media, such as Twitter and Facebook, by themselves (Pfister, 2011).
The anonymity aspect of social media
It has become a norm in our society to communicate with someone without having any knowledge of his or her identity because one unique and dangerous aspect of technology is its acceptance of anonymity.
According to Tokunaga (2010) more than 97% of youths in the United States are connected to the Internet in some way, so, the anonymity aspect of technology is particularly dangerous in online communication because it is accessible to children, and even more tailored toward younger users than adults in some cases (Meredith, 2010). “Young people are socially connected with others through the Internet and other communication technologies. These tools have become the new medium of bullying behaviors” (Huang & Chou, 2010).
According to Huang & Chou, (2010), “bullying behavior is now happening in cyberspace and in an even more powerful way than had been the case in conventional contexts because cyberspace is quicker, more comprehensive, and almost unstoppable and unavoidable” (p. 1581). With the rising use of technology, Cyberbullying is becoming more common than traditional bullying (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho & Tippett, 2006), which cause the possible attacks of cyberbullying to go on 24-7 (PR newswire).
According to Huang and Chou (2010) both online aggressors and targets are intense Internet users. In addition to intense usage, it is no surprise that networking sites and chat rooms among various web tools providing frequent interaction among users, has become fertile ground for cyberbullying.
Given the strong body of evidence from previous studies linking the heavy usage of the Internet and technologies to cyberbullying, we predict the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1:The amount of social media use is positively related to amount of bullying content exposed in social media.
Bullying and Fear
In bullying, bullies usually victimize others who cannot properly defend themselves, and those who experience bullying are far more fearful. Although the levels of fear depend on many factors such as race, sex, and levels of victimization, bullies strategically pick on others who they perceive as weaker in some of these characteristics. According to Bachman, Randolph & Brown (2010), “being bullied is the strongest predictor of fearfulness at school” (p. 718). Also, Bachman et al. support that fear among victims of bullying causes a continuous fear, as the victims are scared even when they are traveling to and from the place where the bullying happens.
Another study by Swartz, Reyns, Henson and Wilcox (2010) indicates that the same number of students aged from 12 to 18 stated they are afraid of being seriously harmed both during school hours and outside the school. According to Swartz et al. “this evidences a disequilibrium between actual risk of crime and fear of crime among school students, since students express relatively high levels of fear for serious crimes that they are not likely to actually experience at school, whereas actual victimization risk exceeds levels of fear for other, less serious school-based offenses” (p. 62).
Previous studies that analyzed the increase of fear in individuals, found that fear is perceived differently depending on individual characteristics. New studies have found that the environment of an individual can also increase fear in a person. The physical incivility and disorder of an environment is shown to be perceived as dangerous and in turn generate fear. Therefore when adolescents live in an environment with constant aggression such as daily bullying at school; they are more likely to become uneasy and frightful individuals. Additionally, statistics reported by ABC news (2010), stated 160, 000 students do not attend school everyday due to the fear of bullying ( .
Moreover, being bullied both face to face as well as on the Internet causes the victim to feel even more frightful because they have no safe place as they know that cyberbullying will continue at home. Additionally, as Mishna (2010) states, cyberbullying has created such high levels of sadness, anxiety and fear thus making it harder for students to focus on their studies. Mishna’s (2010) studies found that cyberbullying has greater negative affects to the mental health of both the bully and the victim than traditional bullying.
Given the strong body of evidence indicating that bullying fosters fear, we predict the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2: The more kids are exposed to bullying; the more likely they are to be fearful.
Bullying and Depression
Given that the history believes of victimization and poor relationships predict the onset of emotional problems in adolescents, they have the propensity to develop emotional problems (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin & Patton, 2001). One study found that students who face bullying report multiple academic and mental health concerns (Poteat, Mereish, DiGiovanni, & Koenig, 2011)
As verified in West A. & Salmon G. (2000) study studies demonstrate that children and adolescents who have been bullied tend to be more anxious and insecure than their peers, then culminating to an experience of a psychotic depression. This study also shows evidence that the number of children and adolescents bullied “have increased rates of referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team (CAMHS), particularly with symptoms of depression” (p. 73).
Additionally, other studies state bullying as the main problem by describing its causes and consequences to children and adolescents. According to Klomek et al. (2006), “frequent exposure to bullying others was related to high risks of depression, ideation, and suicide attempts compared with adolescents not involved in bullying behavior. Psychopathology was associated with bullying behavior both in school and away from school” (p. 41).
Following this thought, studies have shown that not only adolescents who are being bullied are at an increasing risk of depression and suicide, but also the bullies (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Rantanen & Rimpela, 1999). Another study reports that “youths who were frequently involved in bullying, either as perpetrators or as victims, were more than twice as likely to report depressive symptoms then those who were not involved in bullying” (Saluja et al., 2004, p.760).
“Bullying experiences are connected not only to concurrent psychiatric symptoms, but also to future psychiatric symptoms” (Kumpulainen, K. & Rasanen, E., 2000, p.1567). In addition, children exposed to bullying are more likely to become depressed adults (Gladstone, Parker & Malhi, 2006). The results of the study highlight “the potential etiological significance of early peer bullying victimization experiences for a percentage of adults suffering from depression” (p. 201).
Given the strong body of evidence from previous studies linking the exposure of bullying to the risk of depression, we predict the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 3: The more kids and adolescents are exposed to bullying, the more likely they are to get depressed.

Current Study Findings
Data collected is a result of an online and print survey distributed in December 2011 to approximately 800 students from sixth-grade through eighth-grade at eight different middle schools, from four major cities in the United States. Middle school students were chosen “(1) because they are more prone to being bullied online and traditionally, (2) adults are usually unaware they are involve with cyberbullying, and (3) because middle school students are hesitant to report any bullying behavior” (p. 1582), (Huang & Chou, 2010). Participants were told the survey was anonymous, and they were asked not to include their name on the survey in order to have more accurate and honest answers. Participants were debriefed immediately after the survey and were given an ice cream party at their school a week after they completed the survey. Participants age range from 11 to 15 years old and the ethnicity breakdown of the sample was as follow: 29.2% African Americans, 27.6% Hispanic/Latino, 20.4% White, 7.8% Asian Americans, 6.7% American Indian or Native, and 8.3% Multiracial.
Sample Demographics of participants
Number Percentage
39 %
Grade Level
6th grader
7th grader
8th grader

Sampling Procedure
The four major cities (Brooklyn-New York, Los Angeles-California, Dallas-Texas, and Chicago-Illinois) were selected from the four regions of the United States and according to the 2010 census they are the top most populous fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas: 2000 to 2010. Multistage sampling method was use to select two schools from each states and 100 middle school students from each school.
The anonymous survey required 30-45 minutes for completion, was conducted during school hours, and administered by the students’ teacher. Twenty-three classes with 30-35 students in each class completed the survey. The students were giving instructions at the beginning of each section to make sure they understood the survey questions. A consent form was sent home with students two weeks before the survey was conducted to get parent/guardian permissions and upon completion the cyberbullying concept was explained to them as part of the debriefing process.
An anonymous survey was completed, which included four major areas: student’s demographic data, social experiences relating to cybebullying and bullying, fear, and depression. Participants were asked a series of questions to analyze the four major areas as well as the frequency of using computers to access social network sites (See Appendix for detailed survey). The four topics were measured to consider if any relationships exist between different variables: frequency use of social network sites, bullying, fear, and depression related to the cyberbullying issue. Some of the questions the survey included were from previously developed measures and the rest of the questions were from similar populated-based youth surveys, which should have strong face validity.
Participants’ demographics
Using nominal measurements, we were able to obtain demographic data from participants. The questions were about their gender, age, ethnicity/race, grade, and sexual orientation. The sexual orientation question asked was “Do you identify yourself as any of the following? (Check all that apply)” response options were: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Question my sexual orientation, and none of the above”. Responses were put into two separate categories, heterosexual and other. If a participant answered none of the above, they were put into the heterosexual section and if they answered any of the other choices they were put into the other section.
Victimization of bullying and bullies experiences
Participants were asked to report on a broad range of questions that include victimization of bullying and bullies. To analyze social experiences between adolescents, participants were asked to rate the different ways they experience bullying or if they have ever bullied someone with the five-point Likert-type scales ranging from strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree or disagree, agree, and strongly agree to the following statements: “other students physically hurt me,” “other students say mean things about me,” “other students exclude me from their groups”, “I sent someone a message through the computer to make him or her angry or to make fun of them,” and “I have bullied someone before”.
Frequency usage of the Internet
In addition they were asked to rate their frequency usage of the Internet by answering the following statements: “If you use the Internet every day how often do you use it”, and “How often do you use social network sites”. Participants responded to all questions on the seven-point Likert-type scales, ranging from “never” to “very often”.
A section of the questionnaire was designed to measure levels of fear in order to analyze its relation to bullying. Items include questions regarding general fears, specific fears (e.g. bullying, fear of weight gain, physical appearance, and insecurities). Fear was measured using five-point Likert type scales, ranging from strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree or disagree, agree, and strongly agree, to gage students personal feelings on the following statements: “I frequently fear being alone”, “I often avoid going to school because I’m scared of being bullied, and “I am afraid I will get fat”.
The last major topic measured in the survey was depression in order to see the effects of bullying on an individuals psychological well-being. The participants were asked to answer questions like the following: “I often feel helpless”, “I feel pretty worthless the way I am now”, and “I think that most persons are better off than I am”. Participants responded to all questions on the five-point Likert-type scales, ranging from strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree or disagree, agree, and strongly agree.
All the survey questions were analyzed accordingly by conducting inferential statistics, and correlation coefficients to make sure there are possible relationships between the variables. Non-parametric and parametric statistics were employed to distribute the data.
The first hypothesis proposed, the amount of social media use is positively related to the amount of bullying content exposed in social media. The results supported the hypothesis because; it suggested a positive relationship between the frequent usage of social media and high exposure to cyberbullying content. Respondents revealed a high level of exposure to cyberbullying (M=3.52, SD=1.45), and high frequency in social media usage (M=4.64, SD= 2.41). Therefore, students who were classified under the category of heavy Internet users also indicated more involvement in cyberbullying than those who didn’t use the Internet often.

The second hypothesis proposed, the more kids are exposed to bullying; the more likely they are to be frightful. This hypothesis was also supported. However; the response show students who solely admitted to having bullied others have a slight higher level of fear than student who answered to have only suffered from bullying. Victims of cyberbullying (M=3.50, SD=2.02), Cyberbullies (M=4.20, SD= 4.00).

The third hypothesis proposed, the more kids and adolescents are exposed to bullying, the more likely they are to get depressed. The results show there is a positive relationship between cyber victims and depression. Although cyber victims and depression seems to be parallel, it is not statically significant because a person have to undergo multiple stage of testing before diagnose with depression. The results describe that respondents who have been bullied (M=3.00, SD=2.02) also demonstrate higher levels of depression (M=3.19, SD=3.96).

As a result of the study and its thorough research, it is evident that cyberbullying can be just as harmful as traditional bullying although is tougher to find. Through the Internet and social media, cyberbullies can anonymously reach a broader audience and cause emotional pain.
Integrated marketing campaigns promoting social medias can benefit from learning the ways in which their sites are harmful and may thrive from creating more privacy and safety through rules and regulations for sites, which don't have many regulations.
Anti-bullying campaigns may want to create a superior awareness of the concept of cyberbullying among youth and adults. It is important that not only are kids aware of the dangers involved in social media but that adults are also informed since there are many concerned parents and teachers. Therefore, adults who are aware of cyberbullying and have an influence on any youth can assist in providing further guidance to a safer online experience. Consequently, youth can maximize their use of social media with less harm.
Among some limitations that were found while executing this study, the limited access to school information and interaction with the students lead to a smaller sample size. Since there are about 24,348 public middle schools in the United States, and we were only able to survey eight schools, it is likely that we may find a significant amount of new data through a larger sample size. Possibly sending the survey through the Internet to different and completely randomly selected cities may get more of a representative and reliable sample of the estimated 24,348 middle schools in America. Also, selecting the top most populous fastest-growing metropolitan cities will have many similarities in characteristics that other smaller cities do not have. Thus we would not get the insight from surveying the smaller cities in the US. Considering our limited time, resources, and money only a cross-sectional design survey was created. Other methods should be considered such as: longitudinal design (panel design), experiments, and interviews to analyze participant’s behaviors.
Future Studies
For future research we may want to create an experiment to test the relationship between youth and the cultivation theory through directly monitoring their usage of social media on the Internet. By monitoring the hours a teenager uses Facebook and other social media they prefer we can see: which are the most impactful features of social media sites on youth, and how the amount of usage impacts a teenager’s levels of fear and depression.
Adults typically overlook bullying as a normal part of anyone’s childhood but it can often be very harmful and impact someone for the rest of their lives. Cyberbullying is one of the newest forms of bullying and is done through online social media. Through research on the impacts of cyberbullying on middle school students, it is proven that exposure to social media increases exposure to cyberbullying, which in turn increases fear and verify signs of depression in those involved. By creating an awareness of the issue’s strong presence in the American society among adults and youth, Cyberbullying can be controlled and possibly diminished. Social media sites should also address this problem by creating stricter rules and regulations for their sites.

Bachman, R., Randolph, A., Brown, B. L. (2010). Youth & Society. Predicting
Perceptions of Fear at School and Going to and From School for African Americans and White students: The Effects of School Security Measures. 43(2) 705-726
Baran, S., J., & Davis, D., K. (2000). Mass Communication Theory: Foundations,
Ferment and Future.Beijing: Tsinghua University, 2ooo.
Bond, L., Carlin J. B., Thomas, L., Rubin, K., & Patton George (2001). Does
Bullying cause emotional problems? Perspective study of young teenagers. British Medical Journal, 7311 (323). Retrieved from
Bullying Statistics. (2010). Retrieved November 11, 2011, from
Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale (2008, July 16).
Yale News. Retrieved on November 11, 2011, from
Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., Brown, K. N. (2009). School Psychology International. Sticks
and Stones can Break my Bones but how can pixels hurt me?: Students Experiences with Cyberbullying, 30(4) 383–402.
Centers for Desease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011). Mental Health and Mental
Disorders 2010. Retrieved October 28, 2011 from
Danielle M. Law, D., M., Shapka, J., D., Hymel, S., Olson, B., F., & Waterhouse, T.
(2012). The changing face of bullying: An empirical comparison between traditional and internet bullying and victimization. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 226-232.
Gladstone, G. L., Parker G. B., & Malhi G. S. (2006). Do Bullied Children Become
Anxious and Depressed Adults?: A Cross-Sectional Investigation of the Correlates of Bullying and Anxious Depression. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 194 (3), 201-208. Retrieved from
Huang, Y.-Y., & Chou, C. (2010). An analysis of multiple factors of cyberbullying among
junior high school students in Taiwan. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(6), 1581-1590.
International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice. 4 (1), 73-75. Retrieved from
Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, M., Marttunen, M., Rimpela, A., & Rantanen P. (1999).
Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finish adolescents: school survey. British Medical Journal, 319 (7209). Retrieved from
Klomek, A. B., Marrocco, F., Kleinman, M, Schonfeld, I. S., & Gould, M. S. (2007).
Bullying, Depression, and Suicidality in Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46 (1), 40 - 49. Retrieved from
Kumpulainen, K. & Rasanen, E. (2000). Children involved in bullying at the
elementary school age: their psychiatric symptoms and deviance in adolescence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24 (12), 1567 - 1577). Retrieved from
Li, Q. (2005). New bottle but old wine: A research of cyberbullying in schools.
Computers in Human Behaviors 23(4), 1777-1791
Li, Q. (2006). Cyberbullying in schools: A research of gender differences. School of
Psychology International, 27(2), 157-170.
Mason, K., L. (2008). Cyberbullying: A preliminary assessment for school personnel.
Psychology in the Schools, 45(4), 323-348.
Meredith, J., P. (2010). Combating cyberbullying: emphasizing education over
criminalization. Federal communication Las Journal 63, 311-333.
Mishna, F., Cook, C., Saini, M., Wu, M., Fadden, R. M. (2010). Research on Social
Work Practice. Interventions to Prevent and Reduce Cyber Abuse of Youn: a Systematic Review. 21(5) 5-14.
Patchin, J., W., & Hinduja, S. (2010). Traditional and Nontraditional bullying among
youth: A test of general strain theory. Youth & Society 43(2) 727-751.
Saluja, G., Iachan, R., Scheidt, P.C., Overpeck, M. D., Sun, W., & Giedd, J.N.
(2004). Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Depressive Symptoms Among Young Adolescents. ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRICS & ADOLESCENT MEDICINE 158 (8), 760-765. Retrieved from
Swartz, K., Reyns B. W., Henson, B., & Wilcox, P. (2010). Fear of In-School
Victimization: Contextual, Gendered, and Developmental Considerations. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 9 (59). Retrieved from
Teens Use of Technology. (2010). Retrieved November 01, 2011, from
Tokunaga, R., S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and
synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 277-287.
Tynes, B. M. (2007). Journal of Adolescent Research. Internet Safety Gone Wild?
Sacraficing the Educational and Psychosocial Benefits of Online Social Environments. 22(6) 574-584.
West, A., & Salmon, G. (2000). Bullying and depression: A case report.