RMIT University
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Cyberbullying Among Adults

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posted on 2024-06-03, 21:43 authored by Chintha Kaluarachchi
Cyberbullying is increasingly being recognised as a growing phenomenon that results in adverse consequences for its victims, bullies, as well as the wider community. As a growing social phenomenon, myriad research has explored various aspects of this new social phenomenon in relation to cyber safety. Most of the cyberbullying research focus on the prevalence and predictors of cyberbullying, comparing traditional bullying to cyberbullying, risk and protective factors of cyberbullying, coping strategies of cyberbullying, and the characteristics of cyber perpetrators, cyber victims, and bystanders. However, there has been considerably less theory-driven research on cyberbullying. A lot of research focused on cyberbullying perpetration have been largely atheoretical or lack solid theoretical foundation. There have been few studies that have clearly articulated a theoretically grounded model that can explain cyberbullying behaviours. Also, the interventions that claim to reduce cyberbullying have inadequately applied sound theoretical reasoning. On the other hand, little is known about how cyberbullying is perpetrated at the adult level. Although cyberbullying is prevalent amongst all ages, much of the research to date has entirely focused on adolescents or young adults, leaving it unclear how prevalent it is within the wider population. It has been highlighted that the impact of cyberbullying on the adult population has received less attention. The growing issue of cyberbullying amongst the adult population, deemed almost as severe as with younger populations and adults, also equally needing support and protection from this societal challenge, provides the context to this study. The main objective of this research study is to implement positive social change by addressing cyberbullying among adults. The main purpose of this research is to investigate the reasons behind cyberbullying among adults based on answers derived from literature, court cases analysis, and focus group sessions regarding the research questions. This research study employs a multi-method, multi-stage research design that blends qualitative approaches. The research design commenced with a literature review to understand the study context, identify the gaps, form the research questions, and get a preliminary understanding of the research problems. Then, we proposed a conceptual a-priori model to investigate cyberbullying among adults by combining two theories: the general theory of crime (GTC) and the routine activity theory (RAT) from criminology. Using 75 court cases, representing over 1500 pages, we examined how cyberbullying occurs in relation to key entities: the ‘offender,' the ‘technology,' the ‘victim’ and the ‘guardianship.’ Following that, we identified key themes that emerged from the court cases. The court case study is striking and significative. The offender’s inner characteristics, victim’s vulnerabilities, availability, and the capabilities of the technology as well as the guardianship system's flaws fuel cyberbullying. Finally, the focus group approach was used to investigate the operational credibility of online and offline guardianships to prevent and minimise the cyberbullying phenomenon among adults. Our court case findings shows that cyberbullying occurs in the absence of capable guardianship/s. The phenomenon's multidisciplinary nature, the Internet's iterative and limitless capacity for reproduction, and being hidden behind anonymity present unique challenges for guardianships to protect victims; additionally, some cases are minimised or ignored because proof of harm is unavailable. Therefore, we further investigated the concepts of offline and online guardianships to gain a better understanding and help adults stay safe online. According to the focus group findings, most of the existing cyberbullying intervention and prevention programmes are effective in reducing both cyberbullying perpetration and victimisation; however, an effective combination of various intervention strategies with the support of multiple stakeholders would yield greater results. By adopting a socio-technical model and involving multiple stakeholders such as platforms, regulators, government organisations, technology specialists, civil society organizations, and users, it becomes possible to develop comprehensive strategies that address the complex nature of cyberbullying more effectively. It was also found that the cyberbullying literature lacked an overarching framework to systematically guide interventions to combat cyberbullying and assist adults to stay safe online. This research also proposed a comprehensive research framework for cyberbullying that follows the process of cyberbullying from initiation of the cyberbullying idea, identification of the target, their vulnerability assessment, assembly of tech tools, to the bullying action, considering any salient moderators like capable guardianships. The research framework is inspired by two well-established criminological theories that previously have not been applied in combination. This discursive framework which we have proposed has important technical, theoretical, and practical implications which can be used to safeguard adults in Australia and internationally. Focusing on cyberbullying court cases around the world, this thesis examined wide-ranging socio-technical factors that influence cyberbullying among adults as well as how these socio-technical factors are operationalised. Furthermore, this study investigated how the law enforcement system and its review mechanism deal with this societal challenge, and how to minimise this societal problem within the parameters of their statutory authority. This study further explored technological capabilities that can be used to safeguard the victims of cyberbullying. Overall, this research is expected to stimulate the development of evidence-based policy positions and interventions that combat cyberbullying and assist adults to stay safe online.


Degree Type

Doctorate by Research


© Chintha Dammi Kaluarachchi 2023

School name

Acct, Info Sys & Supply Chain

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