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The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use

An Interpersonal Approach

Scott E. Caplan

Since the advent of the Internet and increasingly mobile devices, we have witnessed dramatic changes in computer-mediated technologies and their roles in our lives. In the late 1990s, researchers began to identify problematic forms of Internet use, such as difficulty controlling the amount of time spent online. Today, people live in a perpetually digital and permanently connected world that presents many serious types of problematic Internet use besides deficient self-regulation. Thousands of studies have been published on interpersonal problems such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, relationship conflicts about online behavior, and the increasingly problematic use of mobile devices during in-person interactions. The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use: An Interpersonal Approach also examines future trends, including the recent development of being constantly connected to mobile devices and social networks. Research in these areas is fraught with controversy, inconsistencies, and findings that are difficult to compare and summarize. This book offers students and researchers an organized, theory-based, synthesis of research on these problems and explains how interpersonal theory and research help us better understand the problems that online behavior plays in our personal lives and social interactions.

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4. Cyberbullying and Online Interpersonal Aggression


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Chapter Four

Cyberbullying and Online Interpersonal Aggression

Interpersonal aggression has always been part of online behavior. From the earliest days of computer-mediated communication, members of text-based messaging systems and online communities engaged in “flaming,” verbal expressions of hostility and insults (Lea, O’Shea, Fung, & Spears, 1992). Given that so few people were using the Internet at the time, and that most flaming occurred between anonymous users, online aggression was relatively non-threatening compared to modern online interpersonal aggression. As mobility and social networking became commonplace, people began using these platforms to engage in intentional, repeated aggression towards other people. Today, young people’s lives are entirely enmeshed in online social behavior (Lenhart, Smith, & Anderson, 2015) and concerns about the effects of cyberbullying victimization motivate both scholarly and public interest in the problem.

In their review of “cyberbullying myths” Sabella, Patchin, and Hinduja (2013) noted that mass media headlines often describe cyberbullying as far more common and prevalent than empirical research suggests. Sabella et al. (2013) present several examples of news stories claiming ← 103 | 104 → that cyberbullying had become an “epidemic,” with headlines such as “Cyberbullying a National Epidemic” (Education Insider, 2010) and “It’s Time to Stop the Cyberbullying Epidemic” (McGraw, 2015). Sabella et al. (2013) argued, “Recent headlines can serve to fuel what may be a distorted and artificially-inflated view of cyberbullying” (p. 2704). Similarly, as Mitchell and Jones (2015) observed, “The amount of public and academic attention to cyberbullying sometimes overshadows...

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