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The Covid-19 Pandemic Disrupted Both School Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying, and the rise of cyberbullying in the past several years, has substantially affected the mental health of millions of students  and has been the focus of legislation, community efforts, and school-based initiatives. In the era of online learning, many experts worried about a spike in cyberbullying. In a new working paper from Brown’s Annenberg Institute, researchers Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Joshua Goodman, Jennifer Greif Green, and Melissa K. Holt found the opposite was true.

The researchers looked at data from Google Trends, which analyzes how popular a given topic is based on the prevalence of searches on Google. The researchers were able to look at how often “school bullying,” “cyberbullying,” and related topics and keywords were searched for before, during, and after the onset of Covid. The researchers then combined the Google Trends data with national data on school instructional modes to examine the link between in-person schooling and bullying.

The researchers found that historically speaking, there is a drop in bullying searches over the summer and during school holidays. They also found that state-level data of self-reported bullying reflected the Google Trends data, meaning states with higher rates of reported bullying having a higher prevalence of searches.

 Most importantly, the data indicated that the pandemic did not produce a spike in cyberbullying, and in fact, dramatically reduced both school bullying and cyberbullying based on the Google Trends data; both school and cyberbullying searches were historically low in spring 2020 and then again in the 2020- 2021 school year. 

The researchers suggest the data indicates cyberbullying is strongly associated with in-person bullying, and ultimately is a continuation of in-person bullying enacted online. Secondly, the researchers note the importance of using Google Trends in the future as a real time surveillance data point.
-Catherine Dragone