Bystanders Join in Cyberbullying on Social Networking Sites: The Deindividuation and Moral Disengagement Perspectives

Tommy K. H. Chan, Christy M K Cheung*, Izak Benbasat, Bo Xiao, Zach W. Y. Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Cyberbullying on social networking sites (SNSs) escalates when bystanders join in the bullying. Although researchers have recognized the harmful consequences of joining in cyberbullying behaviors, little is known about the role of information technology (IT) and its underlying mechanisms in fueling such negative group behavior on SNSs. To address this research gap, we develop and test an integrative model that explains bystanders’ joining-in cyberbullying behaviors on SNSs. Based on the theoretical premises of the social identity model of deindividuation effects (the SIDE model), we derive two deindividuation experiences enabled by SNSs, namely experienced anonymity and experienced social identity. We further use the social network research framework to gain insights into how IT features (i.e., digital profile, search and privacy, relational ties, and network transparency) enable these two deindividuation experiences. Considering the socially undesirable nature of joining-in behaviors, we integrate the SIDE model with moral disengagement theory to explain how deindividuation experiences allow bystanders to bypass their psychological discomfort when engaging in such behaviors through the practice of moral disengagement mechanisms. Our research model is tested using a scenario survey, with two samples recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and Facebook. Our results support the influences of IT-enabled deindividuation experiences on bystanders joining in cyberbullying and demonstrate the mediating effects of moral disengagement mechanisms in bridging the effects of deindividuation experiences on joining-in behaviors. For researchers, the integrative view offers a conceptual bridge connecting IT features, deindividuation, moral disengagement, and negative online group behaviors on SNSs. For practitioners, our findings provide platform owners and governmental agencies with directions on how to mitigate cyberbullying on SNSs and other forms of deviant and undesirable online group behaviors.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Systems Research
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • online harms
  • cyberbullying
  • social networking sites (SNSs)
  • bystanders
  • joining-in behaviors
  • deindividuation
  • anonymity
  • social identity
  • moral disengagement

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