Cyberbullying is more likely to occur between current or former friends as well as dating partners than between teenagers who have never been friends or in a romantic relationship, according to a study.
Cyberbullying, also known as cyber aggression, is defined as electronic or online behaviour intended to harm another person psychologically or damage his or her reputation.
The findings showed that the likelihood of cyberbullying was approximately seven times higher between current or former friends and dating partners than between young people who had neither been friends nor dated each other.
"A common concern regarding cyberbullying is that strangers can attack someone, but here we see evidence that there are significant risks associated with close connections," said Diane Felmlee, Professor at Pennsylvania State University, in the US.
Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club, and or sport positions and social connections.
"Competition for status and esteem can be one reason behind peer cyberbullying," Felmlee added.
In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful feelings of hurt as a result of a breakup, and they may take these out on a former partner via cyber aggression, the study said.
Further, girls were doubly prone to fall victim to cyber aggression than boys.
"Cyber aggression towards girls may be in part an attempt to keep girls 'in their places'," Felmlee pointed out.
In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth were four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to be victimised on a cyber platform.
"The study reflects the social norms in our society that continue to stigmatise non-heterosexuality," Felmlee noted.
Overall, the incidents of cyber aggression ranged from threats and posting of embarrassing photos to nasty rumours and criminal activities such as identitying theft and physical relationship violence that the attacker has posted about online, the researchers said.
For the study, the team analysed survey results of nearly 800 students in the grades from eighth to twelfth of a 2011 batch at a public school in a suburb of New York City.
The survey collected data about participants' social networks, dating history, and cyberbullying experiences. In most cases, the cyber aggression occurred over Facebook or text messages..
The study was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, recently, and is set to appear in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.