This study examined the influence of online peers who are not regularly seen in person by considering whether online, pro-delinquent support is associated with self-reported delinquency independently of delinquent peers.
Data were from a longitudinal, panel survey of two cohorts of middle and high school students located within six school districts (N = 1,177). Analyses first examined the overlap between online peer support for delinquency and perceived peer delinquency. Next, models considered how measures of online peer support for delinquency were associated with the prevalence (logit), variety (negative binomial), and changes (first difference) in self-reported delinquency. The study found that online peers generally did not enable exposure to new messages supportive of delinquency; rather, they supplemented influences derived from delinquent peers. Little evidence was found that online peer support was associated with general delinquency and violence, although changes in online peer support were associated with changes in these outcomes. Partial evidence was found that online peers are associated with the prevalence, variety, and changes in self-reported theft and substance use. The study concluded that the influence from unique online peers is largely secondary to offline peers, although this depends upon the crime type under investigation. (publisher abstract modified)