Copyright: Drazen Zigic
Licensed by JMIR
Dr Zhraa Alhaboby, an academic in health sciences at The Open University (OU), has published a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research highlighting the scale and impact of cybervictimization on those living with long-term conditions or disabilities.
Sadly, people living with chronic conditions experience harassment in both offline and online contexts. In this study, cybervictimization is used as an umbrella term for negative online experiences, which the research found to be a significant public health issue with serious consequences.
The research examined the scope of cybervictimization among adults living with long-term conditions in the United Kingdom and the perceived impact on the self-management of chronic conditions. Data from 152 participants showed that almost one in every two adults with chronic conditions in this sample was cybervictimized (45.4%). Most victims (76.8%) were disabled, and the relationship between cybervictimization and disability was statistically significant.
Dr Alhaboby, academic and researcher in public health at the OU and author of the study, has worked on projects related to cybervictimization and chronic conditions, disability discrimination and cyberhate, chronic disease management, and using innovative technologies in health care. Her research has provided evidence to support policy change and recommendations for law reforms in the United Kingdom.
Dr Alhaboby explained the significant impact that online abuse could have:
“For us to understand cyber-victimisation experiences we must acknowledge that what happens online is real, and the impact is real. It does not stop if you switch off your phone or computer. The urgency to check the messages does not help either. For a person who is living with a chronic condition, the distress from such experiences can result in poor health outcomes. We have seen this with persons with diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease and thyroid disease.”
To that end, the research found that 61.1% of victims reported that experiencing cybervictimization had affected their health condition self-management plan and provided further details on this impact. Formal support was generally rated as “poor,” with only 24.5% of victims having disclosed this experience to their physicians.
Dr Alhaboby added:
“Our participants shared how cyber-victimisation had affected their health, by changing their lifestyles, being too afraid to leave home, changes to medications and going to their health appointments. Most of them felt their health will never be the same.
“What makes it more disturbing is disability discrimination. Cyberspace is not as inclusive and accessible as we would like to think. Most victims were disabled and perceived it was motivated by disability prejudice.”
Looking to the future, Dr Alhaboby hopes the study will encourage stronger awareness of the issue and bring about change:
“There is no magical solution, but recognising the issue is a step forward. We must work at multiple levels to mitigate the impact of cyber-victimisation, do more research to look at specific groups of conditions, provide training for support channels, and increase awareness among the public.”
The full paper is available to access online: https://www.jmir.org/2023/1/e39933
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Please cite the original article as:
Zhraa A Alhaboby, James Barnes, Hala Evans, Emma Short.
Cybervictimization of Adults With Long-term Conditions: Cross-sectional Study
J Med Internet Res 2023;25:e39933