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Cyberbullying knows no boundaries


A growing number of people in supervisory and managerial positions, and more men than women, are the victim of cyberbullying at work. 

Rebecka ForssellThe findings were revealed in a series of studies by Rebecka Forssell at the Department of Urban Studies. Cyberbullying, also known as online bullying, has come to the fore following the surge in communication via digital and social media, including email, text messaging, Facebook and Twitter.

Cyberbullying at work is a relatively new phenomenon that Rebecka Forssell believes could grow, with negative implications not only for individuals and organisations, but also for society as a whole. In her research, she has examined who is being victimised, how it takes place, and how prevalent it is.

“Bullying that is permitted to continue unchecked over a long period obviously impacts on the individual’s health and well-being and could very well lead to stress-related problems, such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, sleep problems and depression,” said Rebecka Forssell.

A spectrum of bullying

Bullying can take many forms. From more muted approaches – systematically not receiving answers to emails, being removed from email lists, or being excluded from social and collegial contexts on Facebook – to more serious attacks on social media.

“There are certain standards governing how you behave in work life, with the result that bullying often begins in quite subtle ways before escalating and becoming far more explicit,” she adds.

More managers and more men 

In a questionnaire survey conducted in the Skåne region, covering 3,500 professionals aged 25-65, some 3.5 per cent reported that they felt they had been bullied in person, and just under 1 per cent reported that they had been victims of cyberbullying. More individuals in supervisory and managerial positions, and more men than women, stated that they had been subjected to work-related bullying online.

“The proportion who were bullied in person concurs with findings from earlier studies. Far fewer define themselves as being victims of bullying compared to those who report being subjected to negative actions, such as being excluded from various groups and contexts on social media.”

Rebecka Forssell has conducted follow-up interviews with ten individuals who regarded themselves as victims of bullying on social media. Such examples are a teacher who was secretly filmed by a pupil who then distributes the film, a preschool head exposed to pressure and malicious rumours by a group of parents on Facebook and who is then forced to meet the same parents at school. 

“Cyberbullying knows no boundaries and is unconstrained in terms of time and space. For many there is no clear border between working life and private life. For an individual exposed to bullying, it could be difficult to find a setting in which to recover,” Rebecka Forssell concluded.

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Amanda Malmquist