Social media use and cyber-bullying: a cross-national analysis of young people in 42 countries

Wendy Craig, Meyran Boniel-Nissim, Nathan King, Sophie D Walsh, Maartje Boer, Peter D Donnelly, Yossi Harel-Fisch, Marta Malinowska-Cieślik, Margarida Gaspar de Matos, Alina Cosma, Regina Van den Eijnden, Alessio Vieno, Frank J Elgar, Michal Molcho, Ylva Bjereld, William Pickett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Social media use (SMU) has become an intrinsic part of adolescent life. Negative consequences of SMU for adolescent health could include exposures to online forms of aggression. We explored age, gender, and cross-national differences in adolescents' engagement in SMU, then relationships between SMU and victimization and the perpetration of cyber-bullying.

Methods: We used data on young people aged 11-15 years (weighted n = 180,919 in 42 countries) who participated in the 2017-2018 Health Behaviour in School-aged Childrenstudy to describe engagement in the three types of SMU (intense, problematic, and talking with strangers online) by age and gender and then in the perpetration and victimization of cyber-bullying. Relationships between SMU and cyber-bullying outcomes were estimated using Poisson regression (weighted n = 166,647 from 42 countries).

Results: Variations in SMU and cyber-bullying follow developmental and gender-based patterns across countries. In pooled analyses, engagement in SMU related to cyber-bullying victimization (adjusted relative risks = 1.14 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.10-1.19] to 1.48 [95% CI: 1.42-1.55]) and perpetration (adjusted relative risk = 1.31 [95% CI: 1.26-1.36] to 1.84 [95% CI: 1.74-1.95]). These associations were stronger for cyber-perpetration versus cyber-victimization and for girls versus boys. Problematic SMU was most strongly and consistently associated with cyber-bullying, both for victimization and perpetration. Stratified analyses showed that SMU related to cyber-victimization in 19%-45% of countries and to cyber-perpetration in 38%-86% of countries.

Conclusions: Accessibility to social media and its pervasive use has led to new opportunities for online aggression. The time adolescents spend on social media, engage in problematic use, and talk to strangers online each relate to cyber-bullying and merit public health intervention. Problematic use of social media poses the strongest and most consistent risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S100-S108
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number6S
Early online date20 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Adolescent health
  • Cyber-bullying
  • Epidemiology
  • Social media
  • Violence


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