Prof. Shaheen Shariff wins Facebook Digital Citizenship research grant

Posted on Monday, February 13, 2012

Prof. Shaheen Shariff. / Photo: Owen Egan

By McGill Reporter Staff

McGill Professor Shaheen Shariff has been named as one of four worldwide recipients of Facebook’s first Digital Citizenship research grants – a $50,000 (U.S.) award that will support her Define the Line project, designed to help reduce cyber-bullying and promote responsible digital citizenship.

Facebook had announced last August a program to support world-class research that improves understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with how kids are growing up in a world of social media and technology. As part of that initiative, Facebook is investing $200,000 to support research that highlights trends associated with digital citizenship, with an initial focus on bullying prevention.

The Define the Line project is the one Canadian entry selected from among the nearly 100 grant applications made by academics and non-profits from more than 12 countries. Two of the four recipients are from the U.S. and the other from Europe.

Shariff has pioneered research into the phenomenon of cyber-bullying since she joined McGill’s Faculty of Education nine years ago. Last year, she launched a new website, www.definetheline.ca, to help kids better understand the risks and responsibilities involved in the use of social media. The bilingual site also helps parents, teachers and policy makers sort through the issues and implications raised by the fast-expanding use of digital communications. Shariff’s team of Education and Law students develop resources, workshops and interactive online forums designed to discourage cyber-bullying and enhance responsible digital citizenship.

The project is drawing attention from political leaders across Canada concerned about cyber-bullying. Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, a member of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee, congratulated Shariff and her team at McGill for winning the Facebook grant. “Dr. Shariff’s Define the Line project, based on her pioneering research in media and technology, truly embodies the spirit of socially responsible digital citizenship,” Ataullahjan said in a statement.

The Senate committee is studying cyber-bullying as a child-protection issue, Ataullahjan noted, and “while we recognize that the social and educational opportunities that come with social media are momentous, the negative consequences of being online mean that we have an onus to teach our children the responsibility of digital citizenship.”

Quebec Premier Jean Charest on Sunday announced new measures to combat cyber-bullying, including an anti-bullying law and a three-year public-awareness campaign.

For her part, Shariff said the Facebook grant will help her team conduct surveys in schools in Montreal and in California to assess how kids think about differences between harmless jokes and harmful teasing, and to create online tools and teaching modules aimed at preparing youngsters to responsibly use social media.

“We are confident that Facebook’s support on this project will help a range of stakeholders – teenagers, teachers, parents, policy-makers and corporations — to understand how youth use social media,” Shariff said. “This will ultimately contribute to the development of better public policy and teaching models.”

To view a video about Shaheen Shariff’s cyberbullying research go to:  http://youtu.be/rALek3hI_0s

 

 

 

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