Examining Key Populations in the Context of Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Initiatives
Literature Review on 2SLGBTQ+, Girls, and Ethno-racially Diverse Youth
The primary goal of this report is to review and synthesize the literature on the cyberbullying experiences of youth and young adults who are minoritized based on their gender, sexuality and/or ethno-racial identities to inform cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives. A previous literature review, “Cyberbullying research in Canada: A systematic review” (Zych et al., 2020) conducted for Public Safety Canada revealed that there is a gap in knowledge in this area. The current cyberbullying review focused on recent literature to examine: the prevalence of cyberbullying perpetration and victimization among girls, and gender and ethnic minority groups in Canada and abroad; the impacts of cyberbullying on youth and young adults in different minoritized groups; how ethnicity and gender are understood as risk factors and protective factors and the specificity of factors associated with different ethnic and gender minorities; the considerations that should be made to better protect minority groups from cyberbullying; and the remaining gaps in research and understanding in relation to cyberbullying among youth who are minoritized. This report presents a systematic review of academic literature and grey literature, from Canada and abroad, on the topic.
This literature review is limited to literature written in English available through web searches from the early 2000s to present, appearing in electronic databases (academic journal articles and peer reviewed articles) and in select sources of grey literature (e.g., government publications), and does not include consultations or interviews. The search included Canadian and international literature.
Documents were screened according to the following inclusion and exclusion criteria:
- Studies were included if cyberbullying was explicitly measured through a specific instrument.
- Papers that measured cyberbullying as a part of bullying and treated bullying and cyberbullying as a single variable were excluded.
- Studies were included if they present quantitative or qualitative results about cyberbullying in Canada and internationally.
- Empirical studies (i.e. studies that include original research results) were included. Review studies (i.e. studies that include reviews of other studies, without original research results) were excluded.
- Research published in English were included.
- Research that appears in a peer review article or government report was included.
- Studies were included if they involved children, youth, and/or young adults (8 – 25 years of age).
A total of 156 academic articles and six grey literature documents about the experiences of cyberbullying among minoritized youth were included. These were published between 2004 to 2021, but this area of study is recent: 89% of studies were published in the last 10 years. The English studies are predominantly from the Western world and spanned 47 countries (greatest representation is from the United States). In addition, six academic articles discussing cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives with findings related to minoritized youth were found. Of these, two initiatives were designed specifically for minoritized youth.
Overall, research about the specific cyberbullying experiences of minoritized youth is a recent area of study. As a result, there are limited studies on risk and protective factors and even fewer intervention studies to inform cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives for gender, sexual and ethno-racial minority youth. Though few, common and specific risk and protective factors can serve to identify mechanisms to be targeted by prevention and intervention programs.
Sexual minority youth
Based on the consistently higher risk of cybervictimization and negative outcomes in the literature in comparison to heterosexual youth, cyberbullying targeting sexual minority youth (i.e., LGBQ+) should be a priority focus of cyberbullying prevention programs.
This review suggests that cyberbullying programs can target the protective and risk factors for LGBQ+ youth. Specifically, family support, in-person support, and school connectedness are key protective factors. Thus, a focus on cultivating strong, trusting, safe, and respectful relationships at home and at school will decrease the likelihood of being cybervictimized in LGBQ+ youth. These findings suggest that prevention and intervention programs that focus on connection such as spaces for youth to get in-person support from their peers, building supportive families for LGBQ+ youth (e.g., early education, resources, support groups for families of LGBQ+ youth) and connecting youth to at least one supportive adult in school settings may be particularly effective for reducing the risk of cybervictimization and mitigating associated outcomes on LGBQ+ youth.
Furthermore, risk factors such as offline bullying victimization can both exacerbate negative outcomes of cybervictimization and predict cybervictimization and cyber-perpetration. Thus, programs designed to prevent and intervene in offline bullying and specifically sexuality-related victimization may also be effective at reducing the risk of cybervictimization and mediating the associated impacts for LGBQ+ youth. Preventing offline homo/biphobic victimization may also reduce the risk of cyber-perpetration by young people who are questioning or unsure of their sexuality.
LGBQ+ youth are online more than their heterosexual counterparts, which can be a risk factor. However, interventions that restrict Internet use may be counterproductive; LGBQ+ youth would rather risk the potential cybervictimization than lose the community and connection they find online. The benefits of online social connection (e.g., identity development, mental health, self-determination, friendship, access to resources) that may not be available in their in-person contexts are necessary for their wellbeing.
Girls, trans and gender-expansive youth
While findings were mixed, the majority of studies found that girls are more likely than boys to experience cybervictimization, which is often characterized by distinctive gendered and sexualized content. Depression, anxiety and other internalizing symptoms are key mediators and predictors of cybervictimization experienced by girls and young women. Therefore, programs that are designed to improve girls' and young women's mental health may also be effective to prevent and mitigate the harms of cybervictimization.
Trans and gender expansive youth are underrepresented in the literature and consequently there are no studies exploring the effective mechanisms for prevention and intervention of cyberbullying in this population. However, the limited findings indicate more research and prevention efforts should focus on addressing the increased risk for cybervictimization for trans and gender expansive young people compared to their cis-gender peers. Notably, research on 2SLGBTQ+ youth, in general, may provide some initial insight into potential mechanisms to explore for trans and gender expansive youth.
Ethno-racial minority youth
The prevalence of cybervictimization among ethno-racial minority youth varies based on the ethno-racial group being studied. However, most studies found that ethno-racial minority youth who experience cybervictimization experience more severe outcomes than ethno-racial dominant youth. There is limited research on cyber-perpetration.
Risk and protective factors highlight the importance of a strong sense of identity and belonging in preventing and mitigating the harms of cybervictimization and cyber-perpetration among ethno-racial minority youth. Therefore, programs that are effective at strengthening ethnic identity may be effective in mitigating the outcomes of racist cybervictimization. Such programs could focus on relationships, specifically, family involvement in mediation (e.g., control and monitoring), strengthening connections among peers, and building a sense of welcome and belonging within the school and community may be effective for preventing cybervictimization and cyber-perpetration among ethno-racial minority youth.
Mental health is also an important predictor of both cybervictimization and cyber-perpetration for ethno-racial minority youth. Program components that are effective at improving mental health of ethno-racial minority youth (e.g., self-esteem, depression, suicidal ideation), may reduce the risk of cybervictimization. Finally, since offline bullying victimization is a key predictor of cybervictimization, programs that are effective at preventing and intervening in offline bullying, including racist bullying of ethno-racial minority youth may be effective at preventing cybervictimization among ethno-racial minority youth.
This report reviews an under-researched area that is critical to address given the increased risk of cybervictimization of minoritized youth. It also emphasizes the need for cyberbullying programs that respond to diverse experiences of online discrimination in our society. This focus on the experiences of minoritized youth is essential for equity and justice in relation to well-being and safety in Canada.
Based on the findings of this literature review, we recommend that Public Safety Canada and its network of government, academic, and community partners:
- Fund and conduct research to address the gaps. Specifically, support research focused on the distinctive nature of cyberbullying that targets minoritized youth, systemic risk and protective factors of cyberbullying from a socio-ecological framework, and longitudinal mixed methods research. Researchers with expertise from lived experience are well positioned to lead research in this area or at a minimum should be partners.
- Develop, pilot, and evaluate prevention and intervention initiatives based on risk and protective factors of cyberbullying for minoritized youth. These should be programs that involve social and system level contexts and are geared toward all youth to support cultural shifts to effectively prevent cyberbullying. Additionally, these should also include population-specific programs where minoritized youth can strengthen their sense of identity and connect with peers who understand their experiences.
- Leverage existing partnerships and networks and build new relationships with young people who are gender, sexual and ethno-racial minorities in Canada, their families, communities, schools and governments. These stakeholders are critical to ensure the accessibility and relevance of funding opportunities, the validity of research design and findings, the relevance of programming, and the development of meaningful and effective social policy and social change.
Khanna, N., Maxwell, E., & Craig, W. (2021). Examining Key Populations in the Context of Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Initiatives: Literature Review on 2SLGBTQ+, Girls, and Ethno-racially Diverse Youth (2023-R006). Public Safety Canada.
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Research Summaries are produced for the Crime Prevention Branch, Public Safety Canada. The summary herein reflects interpretations of the eport authors' findings and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Public Safety Canada.
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