Online Ties Taking Over (OTTO)? A longitudinal study into actual vs. perceived cybercriminal behaviour of offline vs. online social ties among youth

Dates: January 2018 – December 2020
Lead researchers: Dr Marleen Weulen Kranenbarg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), Professor Frank Weerman, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) and Erasmus University Rotterdam, Yaloe van der Toolen VU and NSCR.

Project overview

Research from traditional crime areas suggests there is a strong relationship between an individual’s criminal behaviour and that of their social ties. This project explored the extent to which this is also the case for cybercriminal behaviour. It also investigated whether peer effects differ for cyber and traditional criminal behaviour. This project looked to identify whether this is true also for cyber offenders, building on initial evidence suggesting that cyber criminals tend to have more cybercriminal social ties than non-offenders. It aimed to address some methodological issues of previous research by employing more reliable longitudinal methodologies and obtaining direct measures of peer offending behaviours, rather than just measuring perceptions.

The research included young people in the Netherlands, with survey data collected in 3 waves. Online surveys examine self-reported cybercriminal behaviour of a high-risk sample of juveniles and young adults (aged 12-23) together with those of respondents’ social peers, and distinguished between online and offline social peers. As a result, it will explore the extent of any causal relationship between social ties (either traditional or online) and cybercriminal behaviour. The longitudinal aspect aimed to help distinguish between peer influence and peer selection as shifting social relationships (and changes in self-reported behaviour) explored over time.

Policy implications

The findings from this research have relevance to the Home Office’s ‘cyber prevent’ theme in that it will help to build the evidence base around understanding cyber offenders and the factors that influence cyber offending behaviour. This in turn will help to inform policymakers and law enforcement on how interventions should be designed to target these factors and prevent young people from becoming involved in cybercrime.


Longitudinal study including online surveys.

Funders: Home Office


Posted on

December 9, 2021