FAU Leading the Way Against Cyberbullying

Criminology Professor Sameer Hinduja receives grant from Facebook to study cyberbullying


Sameer Hinduja discusses his research on cyber bullying and good online etiquette to a school in North Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of Sameer Hinduja

Zak Sadik, Contributing Writer

A professor at Florida Atlantic University accepted a $188,000 grant to continue studying cyberbullying and electronic dating violence in America, the first national study of its kind.

Dr. Sameer Hinduja and his research center received the grant from Facebook’s Digital Trust Foundation ﹘ an organization that funds projects that promote online privacy, safety and security ﹘ with the goal of creating a reference point on a topic in which there has previously been little, if any, empirical research.

Cyberbullying is “a unique form of digital abuse that involves a range of tormenting, humiliating, threatening, embarrassing and harassing behaviours,” according to Hinduja.

He says this phenomenon has gained a lot of attention in recent years.

The Cyberbullying Research Center, co-directed by Hinduja, wants to teach American youth how to react to such harassment.

The nearly $200,000 allowance will go toward accumulating data on a national level, which Hinduja says is expensive to collect.

Hinduja says he wants to examine harassment and bullying on social networks, like Facebook, and online gaming platforms.

Hinduja, an Indian American, has been a professor of criminology and criminal justice at FAU since 2013 but has been researching cyberbullying since his days as a graduate student at Michigan State University over a decade ago.

That is also where he began working with his collaborator in the study, Justin Patchin, the co-director of the research center and a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

While suicides are tracked with tangible numbers, and even studies on depression possess some degree of understanding pertaining to how many people are afflicted, Hinduja says the number of those affected by cyberbullying is much more foggy. It is still widely an enigmatic phenomenon that not many people or institutions fully grasp.

The survey will include random phone calls throughout the country requesting permission from parents to discuss cyberbullying with their 17-year-old-and-younger teens.

The goal is to collect a representative national sample on experiences with, and the effects of, cyberbullying from America’s youth without bias ﹘ from all genders, races and sexual orientations.

While there may be no data on a national level, Hinduja says some counties and school districts have begun tracking incidents of cyberbullying in-house.

“We want to make a difference,” Hinduja said.

The second focus of the study, electronic dating violence, is not as renowned as cyberbullying, but also uses the power of social media to exert power or control over another person.

Electronic dating violence consists of “various forms of mistreatment from insults and rumour spreads to threats and physical assaults,” said Hinduja, who added that youth growing up in today’s society don’t fully understand what love is, partly due to what they see in the media.

He made an example of the music video for the song “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna, citing that it glorifies an abusive relationship.

The video follows a young couple through an argument that turns into a physical altercation. And just as the man throws the woman against a wall, the two begin romantically kissing as the chorus comes in.

“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn,” sings Rihanna. “But that’s alright, because I like the way it hurts.”

Scenes like that, Hinduja says, are what may push young adults to enter or remain in unhealthy relationships.

Hinduja was recognized for the 2015 Global Anti-Bullying Hero Award from Auburn University and has been featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, NPR’s All Things Considered, the BBC and in the New York Times for his work. He and Patchin have co-authored six books on cybercrime together.

“Traditional bullying hasn’t been eradicated yet,” said Hinduja. “But we [as a country] have made a dent in it.”

Hinduja says the current study is on pace to be completed by fall of 2016, about a year away. Besides being disseminated to different scholarly journals and research databases, the study’s findings will also be available on the research center’s website.

Zakaria Sadik is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.