If you witness online bullying, would you do something about it? Interestingly enough, new research done by The Ohio State University, shows that you probably would not, at least directly.
The study, done with 221 college students, created an online bullying situation in a chat and recorded the results, which were, unfortunately, not that surprising: only a small percentage of students that witnessed the abuse directly addressed it.
"Many other studies have shown bystanders are reluctant to get involved when they see bullying," says Kelly Dillon, a doctoral student in communication at The Ohio State University. "The results disappointed me, as a human, but they didn't surprise me as a scientist."
However, many more participants responded to the bullying indirectly after the fact, giving the bully (who was a chat monitor) and the chat itself poor ratings.
Obviously, the bullying wasn't real, and students participating in the study thought they were testing a new online chat support feature linked to college surveys. So as they took a survey, they had a chat window open, where the fake bullying scenario happened.
The chat monitor, who was supposed to help students as they filled out their surveys, acted as the bully and followed a script with another volunteer, who acted as the victim. The victim posted that he was having trouble with a part of the survey, with the bully responding with questions like "How did you get into college if you can't even take a survey?'" and "Figure it out yourself."
About 68 percent of those taking the fake survey noticed the abuse, but only ten percent of that number directly addressed the bully, while others tried to help the victim. The rest, though, remained silent.
After their surveys and chat room testing were complete, 70 percent of those who saw the bullying scored both the chat and the chat monitor lowly. So they noticed the bullying, but took indirect action instead. The remaining 15 percent who saw the bullying didn't intervene directly or indirectly.
Part of the problem seems that people just don't know how to handle such situations.
"At the end of the study, when we told participants about the true purpose of the study, many who didn't respond or who responded indirectly said that they wished they had directly intervened," says Dillon. "Many said they wanted to respond to the bullying, but weren't sure what they should do."
Often, confronting a bully often makes the situation worse, so Dillon recommends that helping the victim, or even getting the victim away from the bully, is the best response.