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Incidents of online harassment are increasing and can have significant consequences for victims. Witnesses (“digital bystanders”) can be crucial in  identifying and challenging harassment. This study considered when and how young adults intervene online, with the aim of understanding the applicability of existing theoretical models (i.e., Bystander Intervention Model; Response Decision-Making Framework). Thematic analysis of eight focus groups (UK community sample, N ¼ 67, 18–25 years) resulted in five themes: Noticing and Interpreting the Harassment, Perceived Responsibility for Helping, Consequences of Intervening, Perceived Ability to Make a Difference, and Deciding How to Help. The online context amplified offline preferences, such as greater preference for anonymity and perceived costs of intervention (e.g., social costs). Intervention strategies varied in visibility and effort, preferring “indirect” micro-interventions focused on supporting victims. A new, merged model specific to digital bystanders is proposed, with implications for the design and messaging on social networking sites discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberzmad027
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Computer Mediated Communication
Issue number5
Early online date4 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research in this article was supported in part by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (EP/PO11454/1) “Cybersecurity Across the Lifespan.”

Data availability:
The data underlying this article cannot be shared publicly for the privacy of individuals that participated in the study and due to the sensitive nature of this topic. Anonymized themes may be shared on reasonable request to the corresponding author


  • bystanders
  • online communities
  • qualitative methods
  • social networking sites
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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