Comments on social networks also reinforce socialisation during adolescence

Cybergossiping occurs when two or more people make evaluative comments on a digital device about a third person who is not present. This kind of online behaviour is common among adolescents when they are instant messaging and on social networking sites. Cybergossiping directly impacts the group, and can just as easily foster as damage the quality of the relationships among its members.

What is known as gossiping among friends, that is to say, teenagers talking to each other about other people, is a kind of dialogue considered fun and casual, and tends to be quite popular. These kinds of conversations have a bad name but happen in all cultures. But gossiping also has to be interpreted as a mechanism that unites the group, facilitates information transfer, strengthens bonds and influences the behaviour of the group’s members. Since gossiping is entertaining, it is also satisfying. However, cyber gossiping can also lead to risky cybernetic behaviour such as cyberbullying, which implies intentional harm among peers online. This statement is one of the conclusions drawn from the study led by University of Cordoba Developmental and Educational Psychology Professor Eva Romera.

Professor Romera is also a member of the Laboratory of Coexistence and Violence Prevention Studies (LAECOVI in Spanish). The study looks closely at online behaviour and evaluative comments made by teenagers between 12 and 19 years of age when they are gossiping.

Scientific research thus far that has assessed the nature of this interactive behaviour among teens has been limited and is almost always focused on negative behaviour, implying indirect assaults that are intentionally hurtful. This study by Professor Romera and a group of collaborators, which was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, has come to turn the tables on this belief. According to Romera, though this research does not rule out the fact that cyber gossiping can lead to negative behaviour (such as excluding someone from the group or harming their reputation), its “socializing function” also has to be valued. Accordingly, making evaluative comments online about somebody who is not present can have a positive influence among teens because it lets them “feel better, feel more integrated into the group, better understand what others think and learn more about the people around them.” Ultimately, according to the study, cyber gossiping should be interpreted in a broad sense of the word, in which besides being considered a risk, “it is a social learning mechanism” that fosters new ways of social interaction.

Cybergossiping is a way to practice online communication skills, which are useful in building positive virtual relationships because the complexity of this communication also usually includes critically reviewing and looking for ways to reconcile the contributions of each interlocutor.

In order to carry out this study, done in collaboration with the University of Seville and the University of Nariño (Colombia), a thorough literature review on gossip and cyber gossip was done. Then, a questionnaire was designed and validated, by interviewing 3,747 Spanish and Colombian secondary school students. The final questionnaire consists of nine questions, chosen from a much higher number by means of rigorous statistical analysis. This method of self-report survey, according to the University of Cordoba professor “allows for confidential responses regarding something linked to trust and discretion.”

The analyses point to the notion of cyber gossiping being similar in both countries and that it is done at the same rate among males and females, thereby dismissing the idea that females are “bigger cyber gossips” than males. A lower rate of cyber gossiping among Colombian adolescents was detected in comparison to Spanish adolescents. The reasons for this last finding reside in the fact that, according to the study, in Colombia, there is a greater tendency to abide by the rules and a lower rate of teenage social network use.

Another conclusion reached by the researchers is that cyber-gossip should be addressed in the classroom. Romera explains that the current educational system should include “learning how to interact on social networking sites. Tools that can allow for healthy, quality virtual relationships should be offered and these tools would promote the learning of new ways to interact. While the relation between cyber gossiping and other kinds of risky behaviour has been confirmed, the potential of cyber gossiping should be considered when proposing educational ideas, and this potential should be researched further.

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Romera, EM; Herrera-Lopez, M; Casas, JA; Ortega-Ruiz, R; Del Rey, R. How Much Do Adolescents Cybergossip? Scale Development and Validation in Spain and Colombia. FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00126