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Cyberbullying; what we know and where we go from here?

India has shown an impressive growth in the number of internet users over the past few years. A 2019 study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) suggests that 36% of the 12+ year-old population of India have access to the Internet. One-third of these users are aged between 12-19 years. This transformed landscape of children’s social life includes cyberbullying as a new reality. Importantly, even in this changing landscape, cyberbullying is yet to be understood in detail in the context of India.

To overcome this, members of the cyberbullying prevention research collaborative have launched a capacity-building initiative in India. This initiative is a part of the cross-cultural collaborative project funded by the SPARC grant of the Ministry of Education, Government of India. The first course offered in this series was titled, ‘Cyberbullying; what we know and where we go from here?’, by Dr Krista Mehari, University of South Alabama, from 20th Sept- 2nd Oct 2020. The University of South Alabama hosted the course on an online platform for international students in India.

Objectives of the course were to: 1. Understand the key characteristics of cyberbullying; 2. Identify risk factors and outcomes of cyberbullying; 3. Identify existing research gaps on cyberbullying and its prevention, especially in the Indian context.

We offered 12 hours of self-paced online interactive learning in the form of recorded videos, reading material, discussion boards and exercises, as well as, two live sessions of 2-hours each spaced across two weeks. The course will remain active for three months till December 2020 for learners to engage with the content and to gain most out of it. Around 30 learners from varied disciplines registered to access the course material. Learners ranged from the fields of psychology, Community Medicine, Psychiatry, Nursing, Computer Science, Social work and Sociology. The content of the course expanded on the theories behind cyberbullying behaviour, its risk and protective factors along with its impact. Further, the participants wanted to discover methods to measure the cyberbullying behaviour, especially in a particular socio-cultural context, and to understand and apply preventive strategies which are known to work for cyberbullying.

To address the participants’ learning objectives, the course was structured in modules that dealt with the topics such as; what is cyberbullying (definition, examples and prevalence), theories of aggression, unique circumstances of cyberbullying, risk factors and outcomes associated with cyberbullying, cyber victimization, and cyberbullying prevention research. We had tailored the course material for the Indian researchers highlighting the gaps and the scope for future research.

The course offered an opportunity for learners to engage with each other and the instructor to enable learning. In the first live session, the group discussed whether the risk and protective factors identified for cyberbullying elsewhere would be similar or different in the Indian context. Also, which preventive strategies would be relevant to the Indian context?

The group unanimously agreed to the presence of the problem in India; however, cyberbullying has not been understood or addressed. They described the observable forms, eg., stalking, sharing embarrassing or nude pictures, writing anonymous mean comments online. On further brainstorming, the group identified cultural factors like gender, class, caste, regional, differences; the lack of open communication between parents and children, tolerance or normalization of aggressive behaviour as potential contributors to the behaviour. Further, the differences in the overall development between countries (the US and India) could play a role in regional differences such as the technological illiteracy among parents. Participants also noted that the digital experience is shared in India through prevalent sharing of devices.

In the second live session, the group divided into small break-out rooms discussed the potential research questions that they felt were relevant in the Indian context. Data on cyberbullying and for that matter, bullying, in India, is scanty. Thus, there is a wide scope of research in the area to understand and prevent the problem. Questions identified by the group ranged from identifying what is considered as cyberbullying; understanding the online experiences of the youth; the burden and social correlates of traditional and cyberbullying; and measuring its impact on health and well-being. Further, the group felt a need to involve a greater set of stakeholders such as parents, teachers, school administrators, policymakers, law enforcement agencies to understand and tackle the problem better.

In conclusion, the course helped the participants identify that there is a huge gap in learning about the problem in the Indian context. More research; using qualitative methods, as well as geographical representative longitudinal surveys, will be required to learn about the problem and to inform stakeholders about ways to prevent it. Further, once understood, adolescents and parents could generate demand to create a safe and respectful social environment for adolescents in school as well as online.

Parental views on preventing and minimizing negative effects of cyberbullying

Some members of the collaborative recently published a paper in the journal of Children and Youth Services Review regarding parental views on preventing and minimizing the negative effects of cyberbullying on their children. The researchers conducted seven focus groups with a total of 26 parents and caregivers of 4th-6th grade students. In these focus groups, parents discussed their strategies for coping with their children’s technology use and cyberbullying. Among these parental strategies were practicing empathy & building confidence (communication), active monitoring & restrictive monitoring of media use (monitoring), and teaching their children to seek out professional resources. The findings from this study further reinforce the importance of having parents involved in cyberbullying prevention efforts and may inform future strategies and programs aimed at cyberbullying intervention and prevention. You may read the full article here.

Cross-national capacity-building on cyberbullying research

In India, research on cyberbullying is limited, certainly in proportion to its size and diversity. To overcome this, members of the cyberbullying prevention research collaborative have launched a capacity-building initiative in India. This initiative is a part of the cross-cultural collaborative project funded by the SPARC grant of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, Government of India. The team includes Doctors Jennifer Doty, Krista Mehari, and Pamela Wisniewski from the US, and Doctors Drishti Sharma, Mona Duggal, and Nandini Sharma from India. The idea behind launching the courses is to promote the learners’ interest in cyberbullying prevention research by informing about the main body of research around cyberbullying in terms of the risk factors, predictors, methods of studying cyberbullying as well as evidence-based interventions. The collaboration has resulted in two tailored short-courses for Indian learners, of which more than 100 learners from across the country have registered for the two courses combined:

  • Cyberbullying what do we know, and where do we go from here? by Dr Krista Mehari, University of South Alabama, from 20th Sept- 2nd Oct 2020
  • Planning and Evaluation Course by Dr Jennifer Doty, University of Florida, from 14th-28th Oct 2020.

Cyberbullying and Law

Recently, one of our student volunteers went to Buchholz High School to attend a presentation by Professor Stacey Steinberg’s UF Law students that discussed legal perspectives on cyberbullying. During the presentation, they identified Florida statute 784.048 regarding cyberstalking and its extent of punishment. They also identified the measures that students can take to prevent and stop cyberbullying. For example, someone who cyberbullies often posts mean comments online and spreads hate/rumors. To combat this, the law students suggested that students should not participate when they see cyberbullying and to refrain from sharing or liking posts just to fit in. Notably, when examples of cyberbullying were presented to the high school students in each class, all agreed that recording and posting fight videos online was the most common and happens daily. This aligns with our lab’s definition of cyberbullying: any intentional electronic aggression, repeated or shared, that the victim cannot defend themselves against (Smith, 2008). We will continue to research and measure this form of cyberbullying going forward. 

Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: Its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385.

Violence Prevention Program

The work of Dr Drishti Sharma and colleagues with Setu, a school-based violence prevention program developed for Indian adolescents, was recently published in the Journal of Early Adolescence. They designed this program to suit the cultural milieu of children living in an urban metropolis in India. The active ingredients of the 1-month intervention were positive identity development, emotion regulation strategies including mindfulness, empathy and perspective-taking skills, and problem-solving skills. Setu (सेतु) means “bridge,” and throughout the program, the image of building a bridge to cross a turbulent river was used, with each skill representing a new plank in the bridge. Findings based on measurements made after six months of intervention suggest that the program may curtail the increase in violent behaviour (such as bullying, fighting and victimization) in early adolescence.

Teens and Screens

Recently, our very own Dr. Pamela Wisniewski spoke to over 300 audience members at the Parkview Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The presentation, which was part of the Teens and Screens: Taking Charge of Mental Health event for 2019, revolved around the topic of Risk and Resilience: A Teen-Centered Perspective on Teens and Technology Use. If you are interested in the topic, you may watch the recording of Dr. Wisniewski’s presentation below:

SPARC Grant

The members of the Cyberbullying Collaborative have received a Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC) grant to support research in India. This grant will help strength a cross-cultural collaboration between U.S. and India researchers and graduate students in order to prevent cyberbullying through effective parenting. Through this collaboration, we will examine cross-cultural similarities and differences in media parenting to inform prevention of cyberbullying in contexts with high penetration of technology in both emerging and established economies.

The Cyberbullying Prevention Study

Dr. Megan Moreno, a member of our Cyberbullying Prevention Research Collaborative, and colleagues recently published a study in Prevention Science that looked at the way media presents information about bullying and cyberbullying. The research team used advanced software to gather information on the wording used in 463 U.S news articles from the last 6 years to see if bullying and cyberbullying were presented from an emotional or a public health-centered standpoint. Dr. Moreno and colleagues discovered that news media covering cyberbullying used more emotional, fear-based words compared to those covering bullying. However, both bullying and cyberbullying were equally represented from a public health perspective. Due to the immensely influential nature of news media coverage, the team believes these findings can be used to create more collaborative, multidisciplinary teams (including journalists, public health practitioners, researchers, and more) that use news media to improve prevention of bullying and cyberbullying. Ultimately,  the goal will be to promote awareness and prevention efforts by increasing coverage of success stories rather than maintaining a focus on fear.

Last updated October 22nd, 2020

Evidence-based Approaches for Cyberbullying Prevention