Standing Up or Standing By: Understanding Bystanders’ Proactive Reporting Responses to Social Media Harassment

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Social media harassment, a cyberbullying behavior, poses a serious threat to users and platform owners of social media. A growing body of research suggests involving bystanders in interventions to combat deviant behaviors. In this paper, we contextualize the bystander intervention framework and reporting literature to social media in order to understand why bystanders report social media harassment. Our contextualized intervention framework focuses on three sociotechnical aspects—the online social environment, characteristics of the technology platform, and their interplay—that explain bystander reporting on social media platforms. We tested the model using data gathered from 291 active Facebook users. We found that four contextualized factors, (1) perceived emergency of the social media harassment incident, (2) perceived responsibility to report, (3) perceived self-efficacy in using built-in reporting functions, and (4) perceived outcome effectiveness of built-in reporting functions for tackling social media harassment, shaped bystanders’ willingness to intervene against social media harassment. In addition, we showed that perceived anonymity of the reporting system counterbalances the negative influence of the presence of others on bystanders’ willingness to intervene. For research, we contribute to the cyberbullying literature by offering a novel sociotechnical explanation of mechanisms that shape bystanders’ willingness to report social media harassment. For practice, we offer insight into how to build safer and secure social media platforms for all users.

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