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Social networking sites, unwanted sexual solicitation, Internet harassment, and cyberbullying



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  • Youth were asked to name the two activities that they spent the most of their time online doing. In 2006, 16% said SNS was one of the 2 activities; in 2007, this jumped to 34%.
  • For both boys and girls, the % who said SNS were one of the top two things they spend the majority of their time online doing, increased 2-3 fold
  • Ditto for age. Note here that you can see trends over time the general difference between the red and yellow lines) as well as by age group over time (e.g., comparison of points at 2006 and 2007 by age, 29% of 14 year olds said SNS were in their top-two in 2006 compared to 45% in 2007)
  • Rates appear to be stabilizing. For both ‘ever harassed’ in the last year, and ‘harassed monthly or more often’, the same percentage of youth reported being affected in 2006 and in 2007.
  • Similar to an increase in SNS use (i.e., an increase in the % who said SNS was in their top two most time consuming activities online), we see an increase in the % of youth who report being harassed in an SNS. Note however, that the increase of % harassed is less than the % increase in SNS use overall (i.e., a 2-fold increase in harassment would be 18% (9% X 2), not 16%)
  • Among those who said SNS was one of the two online activities they spent doing most, the rate of harassment *somewhere* online decreased from 61% to 50%. In SNS, the rate remained relatively stable (35% in 2006, 37% in 2007)
  • In order to make direct comparisons between environments, you need to have a measure that is exactly parallel.
  • Using a parallel measure of bullying across environments, 31% say they are bullied at school vs. 13% online and 6% via cell phones.
  • Among those harassed, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 are upset. The good news – that means 2 in 3, or 3 in 4 are not upset by what happens. We need to figure out how to identify these kids who are upset to make sure they have the support they need. And, we need to acknowledge that the vast majority of youth are not affected by being harassed.
  • Youth who are harassed online are significantly more likely than non-harassed youth to report other problems, including being bullied over time, social problems, depressive symptomatology (for boys), alcohol and other drug use, and problems with anger. In short – these youth have a lot going on.
  • Note: these three things query a wide range of things from the relatively benign to the serious. They do NOT all represent solicitations for *sex*.
  • For both the YISS and the GuwM, we note a decrease in solicitation frequency. Note that we also see a stable frequency among those reporting frequent (i.e., monthly or more often) solicitation.
  • We now have data from four samples that allow us to map the frequency of unwanted sexual solicitation. When we do so (above), we very clearly see a pattern in which those youth 14-15 years of age and older are much more likely than their younger peers to be involved. Note that this age group is also normatively and developmentally appropriately becoming curious about sex.
  • As the % of youth who report SNS are in their top two most time consuming activities increased two-fold, so too did the % of youth reporting being solicited in SNS (note that the percentage is actually less than two-fold, which would be 8% (4% X 2).
  • Among those who report that SNS is where they spend the majority of their time (i.e., is in their ‘top two’), the rate of solicitation decreased from 27% to 22%. The rate in SNS remained stable (15%).
  • Note that this measure is parallel to the question about online solicitation. Similar to the bullying question – in order to compare rates across environments, we need to have parallel measures.
  • Despite what most people might assume, more youth report unwanted solicitation at school (17%) than online (13%).
  • About 1-3 or 1-4 youth who are solicited are upset by the experience. The good news: the vast majority of targeted youth are unaffected. We need to figure out a way to identify the youth who are upset and make sure they have the support and access to services they need.
  • Youth who report an unwanted sexual solicitation are significantly more likely than their unsolicited peers to also report a poor relationship with their caregiver, being bullied offline, having symptoms of depression (for boys), substance and alcohol use, delinquent behavior (including carrying a weapon to school in the past 30 days), and life challenge. In short: these youth have a lot going on.
  • Think about integrating online mental health services with online applications that youth have adopted. For example, see SNS as an opportunity. Before the Internet, youth who were troubled were often nameless, voiceless, and difficult to reach. Now, with SNS, they are easier to *see*. What if we integrated online services such as’s online, real-time chat resources for those in crises with popular SNS…? (and by ‘integrated’, I mean more than having a profile on the SNS)


  • 1. Internet Safety Technical Taskforce1stMeeting, Apr 30 2008, Washington, DCSocial networking sites,Unwanted sexual solicitation,Internet harassment, andcyberbullyingMichele L. Ybarra MPH PhD* Thank you for your interest in this presentation.  Please note thatanalyses included herein are preliminary.  More recent, finalizedanalyses can be found in: Ybarra, M., & Mitchell, K. How risky aresocial networking sites? A comparison of places online where youthsexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics.2008;121(2):e350-e357, or by contacting CiPHR for furtherinformation.
  • 2. BackgroundOne in three teens 12-17 engage in some formof content creation in 2006 (Lenhart, Madden, Magill et al.,2007) Girls are more likely to post photos (54% v40%) Boys are more likely to post video (19% v10%)
  • 3. Roadmap for today’s discussionUnwanted sexual solicitation andharassment Definitions What are the prevalence rates over time? What is the influence SNS have? How do the rates online compare to thoseoffline? Are there other factors that we need to beaware of?
  • 4. Growing up with Media Survey 1,588 households Online Survey Baseline data: August and September, 2006 Follow-up: October – December, 2007 (76% rr) Eligibility criteria: Youth: Between the ages of 10-15 years Use the Internet at least once a month for the last 6 months English speaking Adults Member of the Harris Poll OnLine Equally or most knowledgeable about youth’s media use Funded by the CDC (U49/CE000206)
  • 5. Youth Internet Safety Surveys 1,500 households were surveyed Random digit dial telephone survey Eligibility criteria: Youth: Between the ages of 10-17 years Use the Internet at least once a month for the last 6 months English speaking Adults Equally or most knowledgeable about youth’s Internet use YISS-1 conducted 1999-2000; YISS-2 conductedin 2005 by Dr. David Finkelhor and colleagues atUNH
  • 6. Frequent SNS use is growing16%34%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%35%40%2006 2007One of the two activities youthspend most time online doing
  • 7. …for boys and girls12%22%31%37%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%35%40%Boys Girls20062007
  • 8. …and across all ages2% 4%13%19%29% 28%9%26%23%45%52%41%0%10%20%30%40%50%60%10 11 12 13 14 15 1620062007
  • 9. Internet harassment&CyberBullying
  • 10. Internet harassmentWhat Youth Said… Boy, 14: “I have my own … website and I have my own pageon it and someone posted something bad about me on it.” Boy, 15: “I was playing a first person shooter game andunintentionally offended this person who became very seriousand began to threaten me by saying if this was real life he wouldphysically harm me. [It happened because he] was unable toaccept this was just a game.”Quotes taken from the Youth Internet Safety Survey – 2 report (Wolak, Finkelhor,Mitchell, 2006)
  • 11. Internet harassment: DefinitionsDepends on the survey.. YISS1 & YISS2 Rude or mean comments (YISS1 only) Felt worried or threatened because someone wasbothering or harassing them online Someone has used the internet to threaten or embarrassthem by posting or sending information for others to see Growing up with Media Rude or mean comments Threatening or aggressive comments Spread rumors about youth, whether they were true or not
  • 12. Internet harassment:Prevalence rates over time From YISS1 to YISS2, the prevalence rate of Internetharassment increased from 6% to 9% (Mitchell, Wolak,Finkelhor, 2006). In the Growing up with Media Survey, 34% reportedharassment at baseline, 34% at follow-up Frequent harassment: 8% reported being harassedmonthly at baseline, 8% at follow-up Continuity of harassed youth over time 20% reported harassment at baseline and follow-up 13% reported harassment at baseline only 14% reported harassment at follow-up only .
  • 13. Internet harassment: Who is theharasser?Based upon data from the YISS2 (Ybarra, Mitchell, Wolak, Finkelhor,2006). 8%: Preadolescent (10-12 years old) 51%: Adolescent (13-17 years old) 21%: Young adult (18-25 years old) 2% Adult (26-40 years): 2% 18% Don’t know: 18%The majority (59%) of harassment comesfrom other minors
  • 14. Social networking sites andharassment16%34%9%16%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%35%40%2006 2007One of the two activities youthspend most time online doing% harassed in a socialnetworking site
  • 15. What is the likelihood SNS users willbe harassed?61%50%35% 37%0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%2006 2007SNS users harassed *somewhere*SNS users harassed in SNS
  • 16. How do rates compare online andoffline?From GuwMDefining BullyingWe say a young person is being bullied or harassedwhen someone else or a group of people repeatedlyhits, kicks, threatens, or says nasty or unpleasantthings to them. Another example is when no oneever talks to them. These things can happen atschool, online, or other places young people hangout. It is not bullying when two young people ofabout the same strength fight or tease each other.
  • 17. How do rates compare online andoffline?69%87%94%89% 87%27%11% 10% 12%5% 2% 2% 1%6%1%0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100%School Internet Cell phones Community Other placesWeekly or more oftenSometimesNever
  • 18. Impact of Internet harassmentAbout one in three youth targeted byInternet harassment report feelingvery/extremely upset (or afraid) becauseof the incident: 30% in YISS-1 38% in YISS-2 25% in GuwM (wave 2)
  • 19. Are there other factors?Type of psychosocial problemOdds of psychosocial problems givenreport of Internet harassmentYISS1 YISS2 GuwM W2Peer problemsInterpersonal victimization / offline bullying 3.1 *** + 1.5 * 1.8 **Social problems 2.4 **Behavior problemsDepression 3.6 * +Substance useAlcohol use 2.3 **Inhalant and other ‘hard’ drug use 4.7 **Respond to stimuli with anger 1.07 **Ybarra M, Mitchell KJ, Wolak J, Finkelhor D. Examining characteristics and associated distress related to Internet harassment: Findings from the Second Youth Internet SafetySurvey. Pediatrics. 2006. 118A(4):e1169-1177.Ybarra ML, Diener-West M, Leaf PJ. Examining the overlap in internet harassment and school bullying: implications for school intervention. J Adolescent Health. 2007 Dec;41(6Suppl 1):S42-50.Ybarra ML. Linkages between depressive symptomatology and Internet harassment among young regular Internet users. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2004 Apr;7(2):247-57.
  • 20. Synopsis The prevalence rate of Internet harassment appears tobe stable. SNS users are not significantly more likely to beharassed now in SNS then they were in 2006. School is by far the most common place youth reportbeing bullied (31%) versus elsewhere (e.g., 13% online) The majority (59%) of Internet harassment comes fromother minors Youth who report being harassed online are signficnatlymore likely to also report a myriad of concurrentpsychosocial problems offline too.
  • 21. Unwanted sexual solicitation
  • 22. What Youth Said… Girl, 14: “I was chatting on the Internet and this guy justpopped up in an Instant Message and started talking really dirtyto me and saying things that I had never heard of before. Hetold me he was 30 years old and then he said, ‘LOL’ (laugh outloud).” Girl, 12: “I went into the chatroom and they asked me if Iwanted to have cybersex. I was asking them what kind of musicthey liked and stuff.” Boy, 11, who was playing an online game with a man, 20: “Heasked me something personal, something about a man’sprivates.”Quotes taken from the Youth Internet Safety Survey – 2 report (Wolak, Finkelhor,Mitchell, 2006)
  • 23. Defining unwanted sexual solicitationon the Internet Someone tried to get me to talk about sex onlinewhen I did not want to. Someone online asked me for sexual informationabout myself when I did not want to tell the person,e.g., really personal questions, like what my bodylooks like or sexual things I have done. Someone asked me to do something sexual when Iwas online that I did not want to do.
  • 24. Unwanted sexual solicitation:Prevalence rates over time From YISS1 to YISS2, the prevalence rate ofunwanted sexual solicitation decreased from19% to 13% (Mitchell, Wolak, Finkelhor, 2006). In GuwM, 15% reported solicitation at baseline,13% at follow-up Frequent solicitation: 3.4% reported beingharassed monthly at baseline, 3.4% at follow-up Continuity of solicited youth over time 6% reported solicitation at baseline and follow-up 8% reported solicitation at baseline only 7% reported solicitation at follow-up only
  • 25. …and across all ages2%8%14% 14%23%25% 25%21%0%5%9%10%15%18%19%15%6% 6%12%13%23% 24%5%13%10%18%22%7%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17YISS-1YISS-2GuwM W1GuwM W2
  • 26. Unwanted sexual solicitation: Who isthe solicitor?Based upon data from the YISS2 (Wolak, Mitchell,Finkelhor, 2006). 43%: 17 years of age and younger 30%: 18-25 years of age 9%: 26+ years of age 18%: don’t knowRoughly half (43%) of sexual solicitationscome from other minors
  • 27. Social networking sites and unwantedsexual solicitation16%34%4%7%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%35%40%2006 2007One of the two activities youthspend most time online doing% solicited in a socialnetworking site
  • 28. What is the likelihood that SNS userswill be solicited?27%22%15% 15%0%5%10%15%20%25%30%2006 2007SNS users solicited *somewhere*SNS users solicited in SNS
  • 29. How do rates compare online andoffline?(From GuwM) School-based sexual solicitation /sexual harassmentThe following question is about your experiences atschool. In the past 12 months, did the followinghappen to you while you were at school? Someone tried to get me to talk about sex when I did notwant to. Someone asked me for sexual information about myselfwhen I did not want to tell the person, e.g., really personalquestions, like what my body looks like or sexual things Ihave done. Someone asked me to do something sexual that I did notwant to do.
  • 30. How do rates compare online andoffline?83% 87%16% 11%0% 2%0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90%100%School InternetWeekly or more oftenSometimesNever
  • 31. Impact of unwanted sexual solicitationAcross studies, about one in three solicitedyouth report feeling very/extremely upset(or afraid) because of the incident: YISS1: 26% YISS2: 31% GuwM: 39% (at Wave 2)Youth solicited in social networking sites (42%)are no more likely than youth solicitedelsewhere (35%) to be distressed by theincident (p=0.50).
  • 32. Concurrent psychosocial problemsType of psychosocial problemOdds of psychosocial problems givenreport of unwanted sexual solicitationYISS1 GuwM W2Caregiver child relationshipsPoor emotional bond 1.1 *Coercive discipline 1.2 *Peer problemsInterpersonal victimization / offline bullying 1.8 * - 1.9 * 2.0 **Behavior problemsSymptoms of depression 3.0 ***Troubled (e.g., negative life event, depression, childabuse) 1.7 **Substance / alcohol use 2.6 *** 3.4 ***Delinquent behavior 1.8 **Weapon carrying at school 10.0 **Life challenge 2.9 * +Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D, Wolak J. Risk factors for and impact of online sexual solicitation of youth. JAMA. 2001;285(23):3011-4.Ybarra ML, Leaf PJ, Diener-West M. Sex differences in youth-reported depressive symptomatology and unwanted internet sexual solicitation. JMed Internet Res. 2004 Feb 6;6(1):e5.Mitchell K, Ybarra M, Finkelhor D. The relative importance of online victimization in understanding depression, delinquency, and substance use.Child Maltreatment. 2007; 12(4): 314-324.
  • 33. Synopsis : The picture is very similar The rate of unwanted sexual solicitation overall is stable. SNS users are no more likely to be solicited in an SNSnow then the were in 2006. Similar percentages of youth report being targeted bysolicitation/harassment at school (13%) and online(10%) Almost half (43%) of sexual solicitations come from otherminors. The overwhelming majority of targeted youthare 14 years of age and older. Youth reporting being targeted by unwanted sexualsolicitation are significantly more likely to also report amyriad of concurrent psychosocial problems offline.
  • 34. Implications for professionals workingwith youth The data do not support the assertion that youthare more likely to be sexually solicited orharassed online than offline. We need to do more to provide support andintervention for youth who are targeted by peeraggression, both online and offline. Most youth do not operate in a ‘vacuum’. Whatare we doing to treat children more globally andprovide services that address all of their needs?
  • 35. Final thoughts The majority of youth who use the Internet havepositive experiences and report that none ofthese types of exposures occur. Youth having problems online are more likely tohave problems offline. We need to be concernedabout those reporting problems over time. We need to focus on the child, not the onlineapplication.