Online peer intervention

One of the biggest changes in our understanding of bullying over the past few years has been our increased awareness of the important role that witnesses, or bystanders, play in any bullying situation. Research on offline bullying has shown that witnesses can be just as important as targets or perpetrators in determining how a bullying scenario plays out. This is especially relevant in the case of electronic bullying, where witnesses have many more choices in how they might engage: they can choose to be invisible, to join in anonymously, to re-victimize someone by forwarding bullying material – or they can choose to intervene, to offer support to the person being targeted and to bear witness to what they have seen.

In the summer of 2015, TELUS partnered with PREVNet and MediaSmarts to conduct a national survey of 800 youth ages 12–18, to learn more about their attitudes and experiences as witnesses to electronic bullying. Little research has been done in this area, so we sought to discover the factors that influence whether or not young people intervene when they encounter bullying online and their perspectives on the helpfulness of various ways to do this.

The responses provided by the young people who participated in our survey paints a complex portrait of the roles of witnesses and the choices that they make -- and offers tremendous insight into how adults can better support them. These findings and implications will be elaborated on in the full report.

The following are a few key findings:

Experiences of electronic bullying

  • Electronic bullying is happening a lot. In the four weeks prior to taking the survey, 42% of youth said they were electronically bullied and 60% said they had witnessed others being electronically bullied. 
  • Boys and minorities were more likely to experience electronic bullying and to have bullied others electronically.
  • Older youth were more likely to experience electronic bullying compared to younger youth.
  • Youth who are victimized online are also more likely to bully online.

Intervening in electronic bullying

  • The good news is that youth want to help: 71% of those who saw electronic bullying did something to intervene at least once.
  • Neither gender nor age made a difference in willingness to intervene.

Motivation for and barriers to intervening

  • Youths’ willingness to intervene in electronic bullying depends on their relationship with the target. 90% of youth said they would intervene if their family member were the target of electronic bullying while only 37% would intervene for someone they do not know personally.
  • Youth were asked to rate 17 intervention strategies to handle electronic bullying. Most thought it would be helpful to comfort the target privately; tell a trusted adult; and talk about how to handle it with parents and/or friends.
  • The least helpful strategies would be to read it and do nothing, or laugh at it.
  • When asked about the factors that would increase their likelihood of intervening in electronic bullying, participants said they would be most motivated to do something if the electronic bullying was clearly wrong or hurtful.
  • It’s also important for youth to believe that something will come out of intervening that will actually make a difference and for them to be able to do this anonymously.
  • Rewards or praise for intervening were not seen as being important for most youth.
  • When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements about barriers to intervening, most youth believed something can be done in response to electronic bullying. But they were not fully convinced that their concerns will be taken seriously, or that adults will be helpful and worried that intervening might make things worse for the target, or turn them into targets themselves.
  • Youth who had been electronically bullied in the four weeks prior to the survey were more likely than their non-bullied peers to believe there would be negative consequences for intervening.


While there are many positive findings, the results are also a call to action for adults. Electronic bullying is still a significant problem and is happening to far too many youth. There are clear messages:

  1. Youth need to be empowered and fully involved in preventing and intervening in electronic bullying.
  2. Adults need to be more active in empowering youth to address it by removing the perceived barriers and by increasing motivation to intervene.
  3. Creating healthy relationships and relationships that respect diversity will ensure that the rights of all youth are respected and actively supported.

Check out the complete reportinfographic, and tip sheet First Do No Harm: How to be an active witness.