Fair game: the effects of target identity, attack topic and role-relevance in the judgement of online aggression

Kimberley R. Allison, Kay Bussey, Naomi Sweller

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Previous research on online aggression has predominantly focused on cyberbullying, largely overlooking forms which are commonly rationalised as less serious (e.g. celebrity hate, behavioural criticisms). In this study, 140 undergraduate psychology students each viewed twelve vignettes depicting online attacks, systematically varying the identity of the target (celebrity vs. non-celebrity), the topic of the attack (personal vs. behavioural), and the relevance of the attack to the target's role (role-relevant vs. not relevant). Participants rated each vignette for perceived expectedness, fairness, impact on targets, and severity. Results indicated significant effects of topic and target identity: attacks on non-celebrities were generally considered worse (less expected and fair, more harmful and serious) than attacks on celebrities, while attacks based on weight or appearance were considered worse than those based on behaviour. Effects of role-relevance were more complex, emerging as interactions rather than main effects. Responses to open-ended questions echoed these findings, but also suggested that participants considered the broader social context of attacks when assessing vignettes. Concerningly, findings suggest that the increasing prevalence and visibility of online attacks results in desensitisation, with more common forms of aggression discounted-yet some standards persist regarding topics and targets who are considered "off-limits".

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationSMSociety 2020: 11th International Conference on Social Media and Society
    Subtitle of host publicationdiverse voices - promises and perils of social media for diversity
    EditorsAnatoliy Gruzd, Philip Mai, Raquel Recuero, Angel Hernandez-Garcia, Chei Sian Lee, James Cook, Jaigris Hodson, Bree McEwan, Jill Hopke
    Place of PublicationNew York, NY
    PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
    Number of pages12
    ISBN (Electronic)9781450376884
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
    EventInternational Conference on Social Media and Society (11th : 2020) - Toronto , Canada
    Duration: 22 Jul 202024 Jul 2020

    Publication series

    NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series


    ConferenceInternational Conference on Social Media and Society (11th : 2020)
    Abbreviated titleSMSociety 2020


    • celebrity
    • cyberbullying
    • desensitization
    • moral disengagement
    • online aggression


    Dive into the research topics of 'Fair game: the effects of target identity, attack topic and role-relevance in the judgement of online aggression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this