Social media has proven itself to be a valuable tool for communicating, engaging and forming relationships, but by the same token, it has also proven itself as an effective tool for cyberbullying and propagating hate. We’ve all seen spiteful messages exchanged on Twitter and Facebook. While adults are guilty of such behaviour, cyberbullying seems most prevalent amongst young people. A survey conducted in 2011 by Kids Help Phone found that 65% of respondents, aged 13 to 17, had been the targets of cyberbullying—defined as being insulted, being threatened or having rumours spread about them via electronic means—at least once. Also according to the survey, cyberbullying is most rampant on social networking platforms with harassment via text messaging coming in second.
No one can dispute that youth must be protected from cyberbullying. Kids Help Phone recommends educating people in Canada about issues relevant to cyberbullying, developing clear definitions and guidelines about what constitutes cyberbullying and supporting work that addresses cyberbullying.
After three Canadian teens, victims of cyberbullying, committed suicide within the last two years, the federal government has decided to crack down on cyberbullying. Last week, the government tabled a bill aimed at modernizing the Criminal Code and combating cyberbullying. If passed, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act would amend existing criminal harassment laws to cover harassment through electronic means. The bill would also make it a criminal offence to knowingly distribute sexually explicit photos of a person without consent; an act punishable by as many as five years in prison.
Along with legislative changes, the federal government announced that it’s taking action to address all forms of bullying through education, awareness and prevention activities, including a number of websites that Canadians can use to get the information they need to protect themselves from online threats as well as report incidences of online sexual exploitation.
Bullying is a behaviour that will most likely never go away, and with the popularity of social media growing, especially among young people, it’s a problem that will only become more prevalent. Legislative changes are helpful, but education is what’s needed. Bullies need to learn the true consequences of their actions, and victims need to know where to turn for help. Society also has a role to play: bullying must become unacceptable. Just as society’s attitude towards smoking changed, so too must its attitude towards bullying. And social media would be the perfect vehicle for an anti-bullying campaign.