Tijana Milosevic has just successfully defended her dissertation, “Cyberbullying Policies of Social Media Companies: Towards Digital Dignity.” Tijana is the fourth student from the PhD program in Communication to earn the degree.
Tijana entered the program in the Fall 2012 after earning a Master’s Degree in Media and Public Affairs from George Washington University. She completed her doctoral degree in under three years. Her dissertation analyzes the role of social media platforms in preventing bullying and the relative effectiveness of mechanisms that are used.
With a seemingly growing number of incidents, cyberbullying is gaining significant importance in the public agenda. When cyberbullying incidents result in suicides, social media and digital messenger companies such as Facebook, Twitter or Kik, among many others, can find themselves in the spotlight and are pressured to respond. Most scholarly research on cyberbullying focuses on the role of educators, families and peers in handling cyberbullying. Legal studies discuss whether there is a need for introducing new laws specific to cyberbullying. Milosevic’s dissertation addresses a gap in academic research regarding the role of social media and digital messenger companies in intervening with and preventing cyberbullying cases. In the United States, state laws and proposed federal laws contain anti-cyberbullying provisions which stipulate the role of schools in working with parents and sometimes law enforcement to address cyberbullying. However, these laws do not contain provisions regarding the responsibility of social media platforms where these incidents tend to take place. Furthermore, in the United States, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) shields these services from the liability in such cases. The situation is similar in the European Union. Yet, when an incident with severe consequences unfolds, the companies become embroiled in controversy, which creates incentives for them to assume corporate social responsibility and regulate cyberbullying behavior.
The primary purpose of Milosevic’s dissertation was to provide an analysis of cyberbullying policies as described by social media organizations and the tools of enforcement. It also provided an analysis of e-safety NGOs’ roles in informing cyberbullying policies and e-safety self-regulatory efforts in the United States and the European Union. As an introductory chapter to these main findings, the dissertation conducted a brief analysis of five cyberbullying cases that resulted in suicides and garnered international attention. The chapter’s purpose was to provide the context for the public portrayal of cyberbullying in such instances and the subsequent pressures that social media companies can face.
Milosevic’s research is situated within the field of children and media, which contextualizes the nature of youth risks online and tends to assume a critical stance towards moral panics that can emerge around children’s use of technology. It is based on a theoretical framework that analyzes social media companies’ discourse as the culture of connectivity and the works on privatization of digital public sphere. The analysis provided in this work focuses on the tension between the empowering aspects of the online public sphere for freedom of speech on the one hand, and private companies’ management of users’ civil liberties on the other. The work is based on a qualitative analysis of fourteen social media and digital messenger companies’ cyberbullying policies and all the corporate materials relevant for cyberbullying (documents, blogs, websites); the relevant media coverage both in connection to the policies and high profile cyberbullying incidents; twenty-seven in-depth interviews with company and e-safety NGO representatives, e-safety experts and consultants as well as academics whose work is relevant to this topic. Government documents, court rulings and hearings of significance for the regulatory and self-regulatory framework are analyzed as well. The results focus on how the effectiveness of cyberbullying policies is understood and portrayed by the companies and how such a discourse can work towards eliding the aspects of the issue that the companies may not be willing to discuss publicly; the roles of e-safety NGOs in policy design as well as in the oversight of the self-regulatory effort. Normative questions as to the responsibility of the industry in regulating cyberbullying and the availability of anonymous platforms are raised as well. The Dignity Framework is used to discuss the extent to which such policies reflect an endeavor towards changing the paradigm of youth social relations in digital environments: How may the current social media companies’ and government policies create conditions for more dignified social relations among youth online?”
Dr. Milosevic is now headed for University of Oslo where she was awarded a four-year post-doctoral fellowship in Children and Media Studies. Well-done, Tijana!