TU-K Research Team Wins Sh9.4m Facebook Grant

A team of researchers from the Technical University of Kenya has won a Sh9.4 million grant from Facebook to study cyber-bullying on Facebook among undergraduate students in Kenyan universities.

The research project titled “Pixels hurt more than sticks and stones: confronting cyber-bullying on Facebook” was selected from 189 applications worldwide. The one-year project will investigate the nature, prevalence and effects of cyber-bullying on Facebook among undergraduate students in 16 public and 8 private universities in Kenya.

Cyber-bullying is a form of harassment using electronic media. It has become increasingly common especially with the growing ubiquity of social media. Most cyber-bullying cases inevitably occur on Facebook because it is a widely used social media platform. Statistics on the nature, prevalence or consequences of cyber-bullying in Kenya are unknown. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that cyber-bullying is increasingly becoming a major concern in the country. In the recent past, many suicide cases in Kenya have been linked to diverse forms of cyber-bullying. Coincidentally, many of the victims were reportedly bullied on Facebook. Knowing that most cyber-bullying cases go unreported, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The study is part of the Content Policy Research on Social Media Platforms which aims to support Facebook to develop better content policies and assess possible interventions, including experimental and observational studies, along with qualitative and analytic work to understand the mechanisms by which online rhetoric has the potential to influence offline events. It is part of the ongoing initiatives by Facebook to encourage expression and create an environment that is safe and respectful on its social media platforms. Although Facebook has already put in place several mechanisms to make its platform safe for its users, this study will contribute towards its efforts to enable its users to better control unwanted, offensive, or hurtful experiences arising from bullying and other forms of harassment.

The findings of this study will be instrumental in developing a framework for mitigating cyber-bullying by providing both technological and non-technological solutions to making Facebook safer. The findings will also influence policy formulation and implementation on university students’ support systems by agents of socialisation such as government, university management, family, and church, among others.

The expected outputs of the project include research publications such as peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers and edited book chapters. The researchers will also publish a booklet (print and electronic) on how to minimise the prevalence, diversity and consequences of cyber-bullying among undergraduate students in Kenyan universities. One outcome expected from the project is a network of champions from among university students advocating against and educating fellow students on cyber-bullying as a means of stemming the tide of the vice in Kenyan universities. The project will also strengthen the capacity of deans of students to guide students under their care not to perpetrate or fall victim to cyber-bullying.

The five-member research team from the School of Information and Social Studies, is led by Prof. Tom Kwanya as the Principal Investigator. The other members are Angella Kogos, Lucy Kibe, Erick Ogolla and Claudior Onsare.