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(Defining the Line) is about how activities and expressions that children perceive as “fun” are often limited by wisdom or “sagesse” – as defined by society’s rules. And, it is about how children gain the self-fulfillment and awareness of others in their lives so as to move from being “carefree” to “caring.” Furthermore, it considers how the obligation to care for others becomes integrated into children’s agency and their own sense of self at various stages of moral development and in some cases, moral “disengagement.” 

Dr. Shauna Van Praagh


Welcome to the Define the Line projects at McGill University. Supported by a dynamic multidisciplinary team of researchers from McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Faculty of Education and School of Information Systems, we engage in legal and empirical (qualitative) research on emerging public policy as it relates to cyberbullying and sexting. We contribute to an important niche in mobilizing knowledge about the emerging landscape of legal, policy and educational responses as they evolve to address new challenges, as digital and social media take over as central mediums of communication in society.

Our goal is to guide legislators, judges, lawyers, law enforcement units, policy makers, educators, corporations, parents, mental health counselors and all stakeholders who seek to navigate the dilemmas of balancing free expression, privacy, protection, safety and regulation of online behaviors. Our ongoing research addresses emerging laws and policies, controversies, social and educational challenges as they relate to online criminal harassment, defamation, sexting, surveillance, privacy, ownership of online content and the ramifications of non-consensual distribution of private photographs, videos, and other forms of expression.  Our research examines and informs audiences about how children, youth and young adults define the lines between joking, teasing, entertainment and horseplay (often dictated by norms of communication endorsed and modeled through popular culture), and criminal or defamatory forms of expression that are embedded in prejudice, intolerance, violence and discrimination. We help our audience gain a clearer understanding of the blurred lines that cross over from friendly jokes to harassment, homophobia, sexism (intentional or unintentional) and other forms of exclusion that carry legal liability and legal risks. 

We also search for creative and empowering uses of social media that engage stakeholders of all ages towards building initiatives that incorporate ethical models; legal, and media literacy as the foundations of public policy and sustainable public education.

We hope you take the time to browse through our website to gain the benefit of the range of articles that our team of academic and research experts, law students and education graduate students share with you.  We also welcome your comments on our Facebook page and encourage you to follow our Twitter feeds.

Stay tuned for my upcoming book with Cambridge University Press entitled:

Sexting and Cyberbullying: Defining the Line for Digitally Empowered Kids which will be published by December, 2014.


Shaheen Shariff, Ph.D.,

Director, Define the Line

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education

Associate Member, Faculty of Law and Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism

Affiliate Scholar, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford University Law


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