Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Information Sciences

Major Professor

Dania Bilal

Committee Members

Devendra Potnis, Courtney Childers, Chris Elledge


Researchers have been investigating the cyberbullying phenomenon since the early 21st century. There is a substantial body of cyberbullying studies focused on text-based formats. However, studies revealed that visual-based social media platforms are more powerful than text-based platforms in affecting people’s emotions, causing significant psychological impact. Young adults ages 18-29 use visual-based social media heavily in their daily lives; therefore, visual cyberbullying on various sites has become a critical issue for this generation. Yet, the majority of existing cyberbullying studies focused on age groups under 18. The studies that did investigate this phenomenon among young adults focused mainly on text-based types of cyberbullying. Few studies have investigated visual-based cyberbullying of the adult population. Thus, this dissertation study explored university students’ perspectives of visual-based cyberbullying, with a specific focus on Instagram, because of its popularity.

A Holistic Theoretical Framework was proposed to guide the study. This framework is grounded in the Social Ecological Model and the Cognitive-Affective-Behavioral frameworks. This study applied a mixed-method approach to collect data using four techniques: surveys, interviews, visual narrative inquiry, and scans of policy documents.

Findings reported in this study have disclosed the nature of visual-based cyberbullying on Instagram as experienced by university students, revealed students’ perspectives of visual-based cyberbullying, unveiled the visual elements from actual incidents narrated by students, generated a novel definition of visual cyberbullying, and illuminated the gap between current university policies and real-world practices regarding the visual-based cyberbullying issue.

This study contributes to the cyberbullying theoretical foundation, especially in exploring visual cyberbullying from cognitive, affective, and behavioral perspectives. Furthermore, the study collected visual cyberbullying cases that were crafted and narrated by study participants who witnessed cyberbullying incidents in real life. Future studies and practitioners may benefit from this study by applying the visual cases participants created to inform the design of research instruments and literacy educational materials. In addition, policymakers in higher education may learn from this study about the need to address cyberbullying more effectively in policy documents targeting undergraduate students. This study may also serve as a reference for the definition and examples of visual cyberbullying.

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