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Bystanders Join In Cyberbullying on Social Networking Sites: The Deindividuation and Moral Disengagement Perspectives

Chan, Tommy K.H; Cheung, Christy M.K; Benbasat, Izak; Xiao, Bo; Lee, Zach W.Y

Bystanders Join In Cyberbullying on Social Networking Sites: The Deindividuation and Moral Disengagement Perspectives Thumbnail


Tommy K.H Chan

Christy M.K Cheung

Izak Benbasat

Bo Xiao

Zach W.Y Lee


Cyberbullying on social networking sites (SNSs) escalates when bystanders join in the bullying. Although researchers have recognized the devastating consequences of joining in cyberbullying behaviors, little is known about the role of information technology (IT) and its underlying mechanisms in fueling such negative group behavior on SNSs. To address this research gap, we develop and test an integrative model that explains bystanders’ joining in cyberbullying behaviors on SNSs. Based on the theoretical premises of the social identity model of deindividuation effects (the SIDE model), we derive two deindividuation experiences enabled by SNSs, namely experienced anonymity and experienced social identity. We further use the social network research framework to gain insights into how IT features (i.e., digital profile, search and privacy, relational ties, and network transparency) enable these two deindividuation experiences. Considering the socially undesirable nature of joining in behaviors, we integrate the SIDE model with moral disengagement theory to explain how deindividuation experiences allow bystanders to bypass their psychological discomfort when engaging in such behaviors through the practice of moral disengagement mechanisms. Our research model is tested using a scenario survey, with two samples recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk and Facebook. Our results support the influences of IT-enabled deindividuation experiences on bystanders’ joining in cyberbullying and demonstrate the mediating effects of moral disengagement mechanisms in bridging the effects of deindividuation experiences on joining in behaviors. For researchers, the integrative view offers a conceptual bridge connecting IT features, deindividuation, moral disengagement, and negative online group behaviors on SNSs. For practitioners, our findings provide platform owners and governmental agencies with directions on how to mitigate cyberbullying on SNSs and other forms of deviant and undesirable online group behaviors.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 15, 2022
Online Publication Date Aug 18, 2022
Publication Date 2023-09
Deposit Date Jul 26, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 26, 2022
Journal Information Systems Research
Print ISSN 1047-7047
Electronic ISSN 1526-5536
Publisher Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Issue 3
Pages 828–846
Public URL


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