Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Sociology

Supervisor

Dr. Laura Huey

Abstract

Some prior research has emphasised how adults ought to address cyber bullying, yet little is known about how they actually prevent and respond to digital harassment. This study addresses this gap in the literature by exploring the formal and informal “policing” of cyber bullying by a network of security actors: parents, teachers and school administrators, and the public police. Data were collected through a mixed methods research design consisting of semi-structured qualitative interviews with eight parents, 14 teachers, and 12 members of law enforcement (n = 34) and quantitative surveys completed by 52 parents.

Drawing upon nodal governance theory as a guiding framework, the results of this study suggest that parents are the central figure in the cyber bullying security network, calling upon school officials and members of law enforcement when required. The relationship between parents and school officials and the police is strained and characterised by conflict. Conversely, the relationship between school officials and the police is formalised and relatively well-functioning. However, social, structural, and cultural barriers exist within the security network, weakening inter-group relations and likely undermining security outcomes.

In addition to studying the larger security network, I also conducted an in-depth examination of two members of the security network: the police, who are usually considered reactive, and parents, who are often thought of as being preventative. First, contrary to current legislative efforts to criminalise cyber bullying, police officers prefer to prevent digital harassment whenever possible via their position as knowledge brokers. In addition, when police intervention is required, officers believe that current laws are effective and they try to avoid the courts whenever possible by engaging in restorative justice approaches. Second, parents iii strive to proactively manage their children’s risk of becoming involved in cyber bullying by restricting youths’ access to technology, using monitoring software as a surveillance mechanism, being emotionally available for their children, and encouraging their children to unplug from technology. Given parents’ own uncertainty with social technology, when their children do become involved in cyber bullying they often look for collaborative ways of responding so as to minimise harms to their children.

To effectively improve the ways in which adults prevent and respond to cyber bullying, I argue that we must first understand current approaches and the limitations of such efforts. This study does just that, and the results provide a foundation upon which improved efforts to more effectively support those young people affected by cyber bullying may be constructed.