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Deciphering Cyberbullying Using Social Learning Theory

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Executive Summary

Cyberbullying is referred as an act of harassment using electronic means. The victims are usually targeted by the means of social media and other such online tools. This may vary from disturbing rumours, threats to sexual remarks about a person. It also includes exposing personal information about the victim and hate speeches. The victim’s low self-esteem becomes an advantage for these cyberbullies. According to statistics 1 in 5 Australians are subjected to bullying (National centre for educational Statistics, 2016). Cyberbullying is unique and is very different when compared to traditional bullying. Due to the fact that there is no physical distance maintained, it becomes an advantage for the offenders and the victims feel helpless and hopeless (Hinduja and Patchin, 2015). The sense of ‘anonymity’ gives the victims the supremacy to exert power on the victims (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004).By approaching the problem from a criminological perspective, this policy brief aims to provide a solution to cyberbullying using the prevalent Social learning theory.

Proposed Policy Action

The policy action aims to

  • Provide strict action against the offenders. The policies devised by the government should focus on helping the victims overcome cyber bullying.
  • Social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter should have better privacy settings and should tackle the problem of anonymous users.
  • Reconciliation centres should be provided for the victims and their parents to face the issue and provide comfort and support to the victims.

Context/Scope of Problem

Cyberbullying is a well-known problem in today’s society. It is the modern form of bullying with the involvement of communication and technology. Thanks to technological advances and the ever-changing media age, cyber tyrants are becoming more and more popular and can remain virtually anonymous on the internet (Patchin & Hinduja, 2006).In fact, anonymity is a characteristic feature of cyberbullying (Kowalski & Limber, 2007). Cyberbullying can also create temporary accounts (e-mail addresses, social networks, etc.)Profiles) or use victim aliases (Erdur-Baker, 2010). As a result, cyberbullying offenders practice the Power and online rule by maintaining the identity of the unknown offender (Ybarra& Mitchell, 2004 in Patchin & Hinduja, 2006). The anonymity of the cyberbully has associated with it the physical distance offered by the internet making behaviour easier in all bookings. The anonymity of the authors can free them from normative and social norms. (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006: 155). Since cyber attackers do not see their victims, they also have less empathy for the victims (David-Ferdon & Hertz, 2007).

According to Patchin and Hinduja (2006) there are many multitudes to cyberbullying apart from just online aggression. It is very unique and complex because it occurs beyond physical and personal space. Over time this can lead to lack of motivation and sense of hopelessness and worst-case scenario suicidal attempts. Furthermore, children are in most cases afraid to tell their parents about the bullying making it difficult for parents to help their children (Perren et Al., 2012).

Policy Action

Current Policy

There are no federally governing laws, particularly for cyberbullying. One may be arrested on the ground of harassment or other such deviant behaviors but there is no specific law. Most of the states in Australia have imposed rules on schools to be more vigilant on the grounds of cyber bullying but are not specific on how it should be done. These action policies aim to educate the students on the perils of cyberbullying but do not tech them the mechanism to overcome it. Moreover, they cannot effectively deal with the problem once it begins as there are no measures in place to deal with or deter perpetrators of these actions.

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Theoretical framework

This policy brief is based on Aker’s Social learning theory. Learning theories comes into existence while explaining the behaviour of a deviant with respect to the knowledge acquired by him and the experiences he/she has gained ( Bower & Hilgard, 1981). The theory of social learning, a perspective that provides a general explanation of crime, is the only one that is sociologically derived as a learning theory of crime and delinquency, which explains why people get involved (or not) to engage in criminal, delinquent or dissenting behaviors (Akers, 1985). The theory of social learning basically supports those who are in contact with different peers become deviant themselves once they have developed definitions or settings favorable for the violation of the law. In addition, other aspects, such as offender characteristics victims and the subsequent positive or negative consequences. Behaviour can tell if people are learning divergent acts (Akers, 1998, 2009). In the development on theory of social learning, Ronald Akers has tried to clarify how individuals develop antisocial behaviour: definitions and study of the mechanisms and processes through which criminal learning transpires (Lilly et al., 2011). Akers (1998) argued that the same learning process in a context of the social structure, the interaction and the situation create a behaviour that is deviant. The theory of social learning suggests that people who visit other people accept and approve the crime more than they associate with those who reject the crime. Akers (1973) explains that it is in the social environment in which the individuals learn delinquent and criminal behaviour.

Differential reinforcement refers to the balance of actual or expected rewards and punishments due to a person's behaviour (Akers, 1998, 2001). Awards serve to reinforce certain behaviour, while penalties weaken that behaviour. According to the theory of social learning, an imbalance in differential reinforcement increases the probability of behaviour by operating through four key modes that include positive gain, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment (Akers & Jennings, 2009). A person's behaviour can be increased or decreased in several ways: Presentation or removal of positive or negative stimuli (Akers & Sellers, 2013). For example, the behaviour can be increased by the presentation of a positive stimulus (eg, a thrill or irritation or the suppression of a negative stimulus such as when financial stress is mitigated by the theft of money) (eg negative reinforcement). Conversely, the behaviour may be accompanied by the introduction of a negative stimulus such as criminal sanction (eg positive sentence) or cancellation of a positive sanction like the loss of driving license for driving under influence (eg negative punishment). Once behaviour is learned, it stimulates an expected consequence (Akers, 1985).

Current policy problems

The policy made on behalf of cyberbullying only covers the issue but does not focus on it. The main issue for the policymakers are

  • All the policies responses should be made in the best interests of the bullied victims. The policy recommendation should cover privacy, liberty, freedom of speech and also security (Brown, Jackson & Cassidy 2006).
  • The internet service providers cannot be forcibly made remove the offensive content.
  • Acts such as Enhancing online safety for children (2016) only provide guidelines for schools and parents on identifying cyber bulling but do not provide a solution.
  • Schemes introduced by the government such as the tier scheme, etc., allow to curb the control over cyberbullying but then again to do not have total control over the problem.

Policy recommendation

  • School should address the problem and provide more use policies for helping their students as well as parents in overcoming cyber bulling. Majority of the target for cyber bullies are school going teenagers especially girls. Schools should provide drills on what has to be done when dealing with a bully and whom to contact and should be always assured that they are not alone.
  • Policies should be made which govern the anonymity in social media websites.

Anonymity on the internet provides a great sense of control for the bullies as they can exert passive aggression and not be worried about the consequences.

  • Research should continue on evaluating the patterns of cyberbullies and the use of the internet.

By identifying the patterns research engines and algorithms can be generated to nab the bully

  • Internet service providers should have a tap on the online material which is published and delete the offensive ones.
  • Strict policy actions should be made against cyberbullying so that offenders do not commit the crime and consistency on the effectiveness of these policies should be maintained.

Cyberbullying is in many ways an extension of traditional bullying that has always tormented its victims in many ways. The analysis of cyberbullying using Social learning theory aims to provide better policy recommendations for cyberbullying. It is important to note that not all polices addressed can be held fruitful but can make the issue more understandable.


  1. Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J. (2015). ‘Bullying beyond the schoolyard’. 2nd ed
  2. Ybarra, M. and Mitchell, K. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: associations with caregiver–child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27(3), pp.319-336.
  3. Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J. (2006). Cyberbullying: An Exploratory Analysis of Factors Related to Offending and Victimization. Deviant Behavior, 29(2), pp.129-156.
  4. Kowalski, R. and Limber, S. (2007). Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students. Yearbook of Pediatrics, 2009, pp.37-40.
  5. Erdur-Baker, Ö. (2010). Cyberbullying and its correlation to traditional bullying, gender and frequent and risky usage of internet-mediated communication tools. New Media & Society, 12(1), pp.109-125.
  6. David-Ferdon, C. and Hertz, M. (2007). Electronic Media, Violence, and Adolescents: An Emerging Public Health Problem. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), pp.S1-S5.
  7. Perren, S. and Gutzwiller-Helfenfinger, E. (2012). Cyberbullying and traditional bullying in adolescence: Differential roles of moral disengagement, moral emotions, and moral values. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(2), pp.195-209.
  8. Bower, G. and Hilgard, E. (1986). Theories of learning. New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India.
  9. Akers, R. (1985). Deviant behavior. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. Co.
  10. Cassidy, W., Brown, K. and Jackson, M. (2006). ‘Under the radar’: Educators and cyberbullying in schools. School Psychology International, 33(5), pp.520-532.
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Deciphering Cyberbullying Using Social Learning Theory. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
“Deciphering Cyberbullying Using Social Learning Theory.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Deciphering Cyberbullying Using Social Learning Theory. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Dec. 2023].
Deciphering Cyberbullying Using Social Learning Theory [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Dec 10]. Available from:
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