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We know white kids cyberbully more than minorities; we don’t know why

by Andy Matarrese
June 01, 2011


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Andy Matarrese/MEDILL

Cyberbullying-related deaths in the news

Tyler Clementi: Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, killed himself in September after discovering his roommate allegedly recorded a romantic encounter Clementi had with another man and released it online.

Phoebe Prince: Prince, 15, hanged herself in January 2010 after months of ridicule from classmates online and in school in Massachusetts.

Alexis Pilkington: Although her parents say they think the mean-spirited messages Pilkington, 17, received before committing suicide in March 2010 weren't the main cause of her death, people were still posting nasty messages on a Facebook page made in her honor after her death.

Tyler Clementi. Phoebe Prince. Alexis Pilkington.

All these young people committed suicide, and all of their deaths have been connected with cyberbullying.

They were also all white.

It’s unclear why, but new data from the Department of Education show that schools with a higher percentage of white students show more incidents of cyberbullying. For schools at which white enrollment is 95 percent or more, almost 13 percent of schools surveyed reported cyberbullying among their students at least once a week. Where white enrollment is 50 percent, the number of schools reporting cyberbullying drops to 5 percent.

Data on social media use among school-age children is scarce, said Paul Booth, a new media and technology professor at DePaul University. Explaining the trend, it seems, may be a matter of taking a guess based on demographic statistics, at least until more research is available.

Speaking generally, he said, college-educated, higher-income people are more likely to use social media. They are also more likely to have access to the Internet and computers.

Eighty four percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or more have broadband Internet in their homes, according to the Department of Commerce, versus 51 percent of adults with a high school diploma.

Whites have the larger share of college degrees, so are therefore more likely to have greater access to computers and Internet, Booth said, and so do their kids: Children share the technology use habits of their parents.

Economics may play a part as well, said Tim Mittleman, another professor at DePaul who studies social media. Internet access and computer technology aren’t cheap, he explained. Those with more money are more likely to have computers and an Internet connection.

“Where there’s less money, there’s less likely to be computers or internet access at home,” he said. “And less likely participation in social networking, and therefore less likely cyberbullying.”

Since white Americans are a typically wealthier demographic, the odds that children of white parents will have a computer are slightly higher.

Indeed, white Americans are the among the most wired group in the country, barely a few decimal points behind Asians at 68 percent of whites accessing the Internet in their homes, according to the Commerce Department. Those numbers were 50 percent for African-Americans and 45 percent for Hispanics.

So part of the trend, Booth said, might just come down to odds.

“I would say that bullying happens everywhere in school, and if you’re in a community of people that are using social media, that’s where you’re going to see the bullying,” he said.