Drishti Sharma

This book is a product of a bilateral, cross-cultural, north-south collaboration, and a multidisciplinary collaboration between India and the US. The core research team of six members- three each from India and the US, represents varied backgrounds such as family studies, psychology, community medicine, public health and computer science. Establishing meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration is core to impactful research. This partnership has been an enriching one with its share of challenges enabling learning and a successful collaboration. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) of India, under the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC), commissioned this action-based research on cyberbullying in 2018. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the research sponsors.  The two-year project that was supposed to culminate in April 2020 was extended by another year due to the pandemic.

This joint research initiative aimed at understanding cross-cultural similarities, risks and solutions of cyberbullying in India and the U.S.  Research and practice on cyberbullying in the U.S is much more informed as compared to India. While the research discipline is still at a nascent stage in India, it is important to engage with key stakeholders to understand the gaps, key challenges and generate evidence to guide relevant policy decisions.

This book intends to inform stakeholders in India on cyberbullying, research gaps in India and ways to promote online safety. The existing evidence has been synthesized and supplemented with preliminary findings of the survey data and focus-group discussions with various stakeholders such as civil society, academia, parents, and youth, etc.

During the early stages of research work, empirical research on cyberbullying was conducted simultaneously in India and the US. As part of the capacity-building effort, three workshops and two training programs were conducted in India during 2020 and early 2021 to orient researchers and the youth, parents, school teachers, school principals, along with other critical stakeholders such as lawyers, law enforcement officers, civil society members, health care providers, and media personnel on cyberbullying. This enabled broader understanding of cyberbullying and its expression in India and provided guidance for future work.

The pandemic posed challenges owing to the restrictions which is why most of the ground research, capacity-building efforts, stakeholder consultation, and collaborative report writing work had to be done virtually. The HRD Ministry permitted online training and workshops for all the projects funded under the SPARC scheme. The team was able to respond to this change well without any impact on the work. The growing importance of digital communication during these times further underscored the importance of the work done on this study.

The University of Florida and the University of South Alabama provided the Canvas platform to host the course and study material. The instructors designed the learner-centered modules which were supported through online platform- Zoom, enabling shared learning, exchange of ideas and collaboration. The training sessions designed to meet the need of building research capacity in India focused on- Cyberbullying- what we know where we go from here prepared and delivered by Krista Mehari, PhD, University of South Alabama; and Best practices in planning and Evaluation offered by Jennifer Doty PhD, University of Florida.

Each course offered 12 hours of self-paced online interactive learning in the form of recorded videos, reading material, discussion boards and exercises, and two live sessions of 2-hours each spaced across two weeks. The courses remained active for three months from October till December, 2020, for learners to engage with the content at their pace and gain the most out of it. More than 100 participants from varied disciplines such as psychology, community medicine, psychiatry, nursing, computer science, social work and sociology registered to access our course materials.

The next two workshops focused on co-learning about cyberbullying in the Indian context. School-based Cyberbullying Prevention, meant to improve teachers’ knowledge on various forms of cyberbullying and its impact on adolescents and identify steps to be taken at the school level to prevent its effects; and Parent-based cyberbullying Prevention to guide parents with practical tips for children & digital safety. The third stakeholders workshop intended to create a contextual understanding of the cyberbullying prevention ecosystem in India. The modules were tailored specifically for the Indian researchers addressing their needs, knowledge gaps and the scope for future research. The registration surveys helped in collating the learning objectives of the participants that were mainly to discover various methods to measure cyberbullying behavior. The existing measurement scales to quantify cyberbullying behavior are not yet tested in the India. This book offers a list of existing scales and presents vital implications for future research. Another topic of great interest is the interventions or preventive strategies that have been tested and are known to work in India. The literature on these intervention studies in the context of India is limited.

This book attempts to lay the grounds for future research by providing a summary of what is known to work elsewhere. The key topics of the book have been prioritized to address the key stakeholder needs. The review of the literature and the empirical research conducted across the two countries allowed analysis and identify similarities across borders. The similarities enable us to translate research into tangible action items to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. Constructive suggestions regarding country-specific based on the experiences and learning in the India, US and elsewhere are provided. Emerging areas for collaborative research in cyberbullying, which has received scant attention in India have been identified.

I acknowledge the immense contribution of the international cyberbullying prevention collaborative group members, Megan Mareno, Christopher P Barlett, Joy Gabrielli, Tracy Evian Waasdorp, Jackie Yourell, Yi-Wen Su and Stacey Steinberg for providing scientific guidance throughout the process. We also received tremendous support from students and colleagues at Maulana Azad Medical College, IIIT Delhi and PGIMER Chandigarh, especially Minakshi Sharma, Aradhita Gupta, Aarushi Arya, Neha Singh, and Anamika Dhiman. The work of Dr. Wisniewski is partially supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under grant IIS-1844881 and by the William T. Grant Foundation grant #187941.

It is a known fact that the resources, especially those for research, are inequitably distributed across the world. These could include, access to information, grants, skills, time, incentives, career prospects etc. When it comes to research collaboration, the inequity often triggers frustration in researchers from both sides in north-south partnerships.

I am a researcher from the developing world. And I have lived through the challenges that come along the road of successful international research collaboration. Yet, I firmly believe that if these inequities are addressed, the whole mankind will benefit. It will help address conditions in the global south, which are often high in magnitude regionally and yet remain under-studied— cyberbullying among youth being one among many.

I would like to further acknowledge the funding support by the Government of India and the data-gathering support by the US universities, that has enabled this international collaboration for knowledge exchange and learning possible.

This will certainly have a far-reaching impact on the country & it’s research ecosystem in the long term. This has been an enriching journey where we overcame the challenge vis-a-vis culture and geographical distance. I would share an anecdote on East to West cultural exchange. On 2nd October 2020, the graduate students of Maulana Azad Medical College created and shared a video exploring the Relevance of Gandhi in Modern Youth and Family with their U.S. counterparts, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Twenty-two undergraduate students From the University of Florida,  watched this video clip followed by a structured discussion with their course instructor on cultural similarities and differences across the two time periods and geographies. This helped them gain perspective on India, Gandhi ji’s ideology of truth and non-violence. Where on one hand, Gandhi exemplifies India and its people’s life. On the other hand, in the context of the international collaboration, I am reminded of a Nobel Laureate of Indian origin— Rabindranath Tagore. His was the ideology of looking at the world as a global village with free exchange. Actually, we need a bit of both— Gandhi and Tagore, we need to think global and act local to solve the challenges that society faces today.

I end by quoting a famous poem by Tagore. It was originally written in Bangla, later translated in English. The poem impresses upon the importance of global exchange for any country’s development.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

 Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;

 Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”