Reference : Editorial: Special issue on bystanders of online aggression
Scientific journals : Article
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Social, industrial & organizational psychology
Editorial: Special issue on bystanders of online aggression
Machackova, Hana []
Pfetsch, Jan []
Steffgen, Georges mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Integrative Research Unit: Social and Individual Development (INSIDE) >]
Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace
Bystanders of online aggression
[en] bystander ; online aggression
[en] Online aggression — and especially cyberbullying — are topics which have gained substantial attention from researchers as well as public in the past years. While online aggression denotes any aggressive incidents conducted through information and communication technology, cyberbullying is a specific form of this aggressive behavior characterized by the repetition of intended harm via digital media (see e.g., Menesini & Nocentini, 2009; Smith & Steffgen, 2013). Though the first years of research in this field were dominated by a focus on victimization, there is currently growing attention centered on the experiences of those who witness aggressive incidents online — that is, the bystanders of online aggression.

This attention on bystanders is highly warranted since their roles are often pivotal in the whole process. Online aggression often takes place in the virtual presence of bystanders (Jones, Mitchell, & Turner, 2015). Similar to offline aggression and bullying (Cowie & Hutson, 2005; Salmivalli, 2010), the responses and reactions of bystanders can influence the course and consequences of the online incidents (Pfetsch, Steffgen, Gollwitzer, & Ittel, 2011). These responses can take on many forms (Pfetsch, 2016; Shultz, Heilman, & Hart 2014), including, in general, offering support to the victim, reinforcing the aggressive acts, or remaining passive.

To understand bystander reactions, prior research focused on several individual characteristics, such as age and gender differences, empathy, coping, self-efficacy, anxiety and loneliness, or prior victimization (e.g., Barlińska, Szuster, & Winiewski, 2013; Machackova & Pfetsch, 2016; Olenik-Shemesh, Heiman, & Eden, 2017; Steffgen, Costa, & Slee, 2018; Van Cleemput, Vandebosch, & Pabian, 2014). Moreover, attention has been given to the specific context of the online incidents. Though there is ongoing fruitful discussion concerning the specificity of the online aggression, especially with regard to bullying and cyberbullying (Menesini, 2012; Olweus, 2012; Olweus & Limber, 2018), there are several features of online aggression which should be recognized because they can create the specific context which may affect bystanders’ responses. For instance, online bystanders can be distant from all of the actors and they can be invisible and unidentifiable, while the other actors can be also unknown and invisible to the bystanders (Dooley, Pyżalski, & Cross, 2009; Slonje & Smith, 2008; Sticca & Perren, 2013). Contextual factors, such as anonymity or proximity, have also been examined, as well as other factors, including the relationship to a victim or aggressor (e.g., Brody & Vangelisti, 2016; Machackova, Dedkova, Sevcikova, & Cerna, 2016; Sticca & Perren, 2013).

So far, the research on the bystanders of online aggression has provided some explanations concerning the nature of their responses. However, many questions still remain unanswered or require more robust empirical evidence. These questions concern, for instance, the contextual factors which differentiate the responses of the bystanders of offline and online aggression, the assessments of the severity of the online incidents, and the interplay between the individual and contextual factors. Responding to the need to gain more insight into such topics, we decided to launch a special issue to address the different aspects related to the bystanders of online aggression.

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