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Title: Victim and non-victim perceptions and experiences of cyber-harassing and cyberstalking behaviours
Author: O'Neill, C.
Awarding Body: Nottingham Trent University
Current Institution: Nottingham Trent University
Date of Award: 2011
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People are increasingly using the Internet and mobile phone technology to communicate with others in their daily lives. Despite researchers' claims that cyber-harassment is becoming increasingly widespread, little is known about the phenomenon. This thesis adopted a mixed methods approach to gain a holistic understanding of the experience of cyber-harassment, how it is perceived by non-victims, and police officers' perceptions of, and role in combating the crime. Although cyber-harassment is a crime within the UK, prosecuted using the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), few may perceive it as such due to the virtual nature of the perpetrator's behaviour. Using data gathered in an online survey completed by 320 undergraduate students, principal axis factoring revealed three dimensions underlying perceived criminality of 18 cyber-harassing behaviours – deception/disclosure, harassing messages, and malicious software. Sending malicious software and harassing messages were perceived as criminal but participants were unsure about more ambiguous acts associated with deceiving or disclosing information to the victim. High Internet self-efficacious individuals (i.e., those who feel more in control of online interactions) were more likely than low Internet self-efficacious individuals to perceive malicious software as criminal. Low-agreeable individuals were more likely than high-agreeable individuals to perceive harassing messages as criminal. Whilst personality and Internet self-efficacy influenced perceived criminality for some cyber-harassing behaviours the findings were not consistent. However, females were more likely than males to perceive harassing messages and behaviours associated with deception/disclosure as criminal. Males were more likely than females to perceive sending malicious software as criminal. Participants reported experiencing a range of cyber-harassing behaviours and males were more likely than females to receive malicious software, be subscribed to unwanted services, receive abusive/threatening messages via the Internet, or to report that someone sent their friends/family/work colleagues email messages in an attempt to damage their reputation. Internet self-efficacious individuals were less likely to receive harassing messages via the Internet or be subscribed to unwanted services. Agreeable individuals were less likely to receive harassing messages to their phone, and neurotic individuals were unlikely to be subscribed to unwanted services. Participants' ratings of upset following their experience of cyber-harassing behaviours were positively associated with the number of behaviours they experienced, and females were more upset than males. Personality and Internet self-efficacy were not associated with ratings of upset but upset was associated with specific behaviours, indicating that the nature of cyber-harassment was problematic for participants. Furthermore, interpretative phenomenological analysis of 12 victims' experiences revealed the impact of cyber-harassment resembled PTSD-like symptoms, highlighting the detrimental impact cyber-harassment can have on victims. Despite the impact of cyber-harassment reported by victims, the qualitative research conducted for this thesis revealed that the virtual nature of their experiences caused confusion, as they struggled to understand whether their experiences were real in comparison to their offline experiences. The views of 17 non-victims and 8 police officers were subjected to thematic analysis which revealed victim-blaming tendencies. Non-victims were likely to blame the victim for their experiences and would offer support if they had adequate knowledge of the victim and evidence of cyber-harassing incidences. Police involvement in cyber-harassing cases was dependent on threats being made to the victim, and victims were perceived as unhelpful in providing evidence and following their advice. Non-victims viewed perpetrators more sympathetically than victims, and there was little understanding about the impact that cyber-harassment can have on victims. The findings from this research are discussed in terms of psychological theory, and suggest that 'just world' beliefs may play an important role in perceptions of cyber-harassment. A caveat is raised that the findings from this research are drawn from small, qualitative studies but the research provides some interesting insights to cyber-harassment, and it is hoped that the findings will be transferable to future research investigating the phenomenon.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available