People on social media are often unsupportive of the victim of cyber-bullying who has shared highly personal feelings, says a new study. On social media websites, there appears to be unwritten rules about what is acceptable, and the study suggests that over-sharing personal emotions or information violates these rules, the researchers said.
"Our study suggests over-sharing of personal information leads bystanders to blame and not feel for the victim," said lead author Hannah Schacter, a graduate student of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US.
The study suggested that rather than placing the burden on the victims to monitor their own online behaviour, more online empathy is needed. This is a challenge because the bystanders do not see the anguish of victims of online bullying, the authors noted.
"Young people need to understand that by revealing personal issues publicly online, they may make themselves more vulnerable to attacks from those seeking to harm others," said Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology at UCLA.
Sharing your feelings with a close friend is quite different from publicly sharing with many people who don't know you well, she added. The study involved 118 people, from throughout the United States, aged between 18-22. Around 58 percent of the participants were female.
The researchers created a fictitious Facebook profile of an 18-year-old girl named Kate. In response to a post, Kate received a mean comment, which said: "Who cares! This is why nobody likes you." It was from a Facebook friend named Sarah and the comment got six likes.
Participants responded to questions about how much they blamed Kate for being cyberbullied, how much empathy they had for Kate and how likely they would be to support her. Although the majority participants considered Sarah's comment as an example of cyberbullying, but they varied in their responses to Kate's being bullied depending on her original post, the researchers said.
Regardless of whether Kate's post was positive or negative, participants viewed Kate more negatively when she posted a highly personal disclosure, the findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, showed.