Cyberbullying in WhatsApp Classmates’ Groups: Evaluation of an Intervention Program Implemented in Israeli Elementary and Middle Schools

June 20, 2018

Source: New Media & Society

Social networking platforms, such as WhatsApp, constitute a major part of adolescents’ social lives. Alongside the positive aspects of such platforms, there is a risk of using them as a means for cyberbullying. Schools have become increasingly aware of this risk and are prioritizing fighting cyberbullying through intervention programs, yet few interventions have been studied for their effectiveness. This study reports the results of a wide-scale school-based intervention designed to reduce cyberbullying and improve usage norms in WhatsApp classmates’ groups.

Data were collected from 52 classes in 12 public schools in Israel: n = 47 elementary school classes, 4th to 6th grades, and n = 5 middle school classes, 8th grade. A total of 1402 students answered questionnaires pre-intervention (51% females), while 90% of them (n = 1268, 52% females) answered questionnaires one month post-intervention. Results indicated a significant decrease in WhatsApp cyberbullying and a significant improvement in classroom climate. In addition, improvement in WhatsApp usage norms was positively correlated with a decrease in WhatsApp cyberbullying.

Schools that participated in the study were involved in a large-scale intervention program aimed to reduce cyberbullying and improve usage norms in WhatsApp classmates’ groups. The intervention program was designed based on several existing intervention programs published by the Ministry of Education in Israel. Selected themes were taken from these programs and modified according to evidence-based best practices that were described in the literature review (Barkoukis et al., 2016; Stauffer et al., 2012; Wölfer et al., 2014). As far as it is known, the program that was developed for the current intervention is the first Israeli program to be based on updated scientific literature and research of cyberbullying reduction intervention programs.

The program consisted of eight weekly lesson plans that addressed the following topics: understanding the definition, expressions, and implications of cyberbullying, in general, and WhatsApp cyberbullying, in particular; the role of by-standers, including developing personal and mutual responsibility; familiarization of state laws forbidding cyberbullying; developing skills of judgment and self-monitoring before distributing contents online; and developing school legislation in workshops attended by all the school population (teachers, students, and parents). Each topic was represented in one or two lesson plans which were developed and adapted to students’ grades and development. For instance, in a lesson plan addressing general cyberbullying, an illustration video film was used. Different video films and different guidelines were chosen for elementary and middle school programs. Another lesson plan, addressing the role of bystanders, included a short story. Different stories followed by different questions and assignments were written for elementary and middle school programs, though all sending the same messages.

The intervention program was implemented by the school professional staff (school counselors and homeroom teachers). School counselors had received training in the intervention program prior to implementation by a regional instructor who supervised the program on behalf of the Ministry of Education. The training included three 1-hour meetings. School counselors were then asked to provide the same training to the homeroom teachers in their schools whose classes participated in intervention program (as they are used to do in other intervention programs). The homeroom teachers were required to implement the program during “Life Skills” lessons. Throughout the process of homeroom teacher training and program implementation, the regional instructor received progress reports from the school counselors. The intervention was implemented during the school day, 1 hour per week, for 2months

The content of the lesson plans was transmitted to the student via various means, such as short videos, dilemma-based stories, interactive activities, group-discussion cards, and information sections (news items, relevant laws, etc.). All the lessons included an informative part at the beginning and then group activities and discussions later on. Since the students’ native language was Hebrew, the survey and intervention programs were administered in this language

Results indicated that the major goals of the intervention were achieved. The program was associated with a significant decline in the odds of involvement in cyberbullying in WhatsApp classmates’ groups. A significant improvement was found in reducing the degree of cyberbullying and the percentage of students exposed to cyberbullying from pre- to post-test. With specific reference to the types of cyberbullying, a significant decrease was recorded for verbal violence and more specifically for threats and participation avoidance due to fear of getting offensive responses. Furthermore, results showed a significant improvement in classroom climate. These findings were in line with the study hypotheses…. Overall, this study provides support for the positive role that school-based interventions on cyberbullying in social networks can play.

Updated: Aug. 16, 2018