NEW research involving experts from two Scottish universities has found that Facebook users are more likely to blame victims than perpetrators for online abuse because people may have become numb to cyberbullying.

Cyberpsychology researchers Dr Chris Hand, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), and Dr Graham Scott, from the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) found there is little public sympathy or support for victims.

Their study is said to be the first to analyse the relationship between victim attractiveness and how the public blame victims of cyberbullying or stalking. They say the results could be used to highlight unconscious bias among those who support victims, such as the police, teachers and counsellors and employers.

The research involved creating fake Facebook profiles that were never made live online. Mundane comments were posted such as “Roll on 5 o’clock, going out for dinner with my pals” or “Really glad to finish that project at work”. Researchers responded with a range of positive, neutral or abusive comments, some as strongly worded as: “I hope you die.”

Members of the public were recruited to study each profile and its contents and were asked to fill out a ratings questionnaire about how much they thought the profile owner was to blame for abuse and negative comments. They were also asked how physically or socially attractive they found the profile owner.

Hand said: “In the majority of cases people blamed the victim. The overall findings were quite surprising because the victims didn’t get a lot of support or sympathy.

“There are two main reasons why people do this – one is that we believe bad things happen to bad people and the other is because we see some of ourselves in the perpetrators. I think we need to understand how we can support people more. Everyone should be able to use social media safely and responsibly but we don’t see that.”