COM0015 Blog #4 | Cyberbullying: The Ugly Side of Social Media

cyberbullyingPerhaps I’m too much of a decent human being—or just too naïve—but, I’ve never once thought of using social media to harm people or ruin their lives.

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.

Image from the Canadian Press/Sheila Boardman

COM0011-521: “You’re Banned from Social Media!!!”

Yesterday, a Nova Scotia (NS) Crown attorney asked a judge to kick a 15-year-old girl off social media as part of her sentencing after she pleaded guilty to a “brutal” assault that was filmed and posted on Facebook.

cyber bullying keypadYou’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard of the rise of cyber bullying in Canada and the US.  Mostly girls, examples of teens that succumbed to the online bullying include high profile cases like Amanda Todd , a 15-year old from British Columbia (BC), and Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year old from NS, both of whom committed suicide after repeated online or cyber bullying.

Another case involves a 15-year old girl from NS who was charged after a female student — with autism — was punched at school earlier this year.

“It was a planned attack. It was lunchtime, the accused stood and waited for the victim to come through the hall at lunchtime, stated her name and then sucker punched her, knocked her on the floor and proceeded to grab her by the hair and kick her in the head and facial area,” said Steve Drake, the Crown attorney. “It all happened in approximately 10 to 12 seconds. It was brutal.”

As horrible as this was, it was the actions of a second student who filmed the assault and posted it on Facebook, spreading the episode and garnering unwanted attention, that raised the profile of this incident

The NS Attorney General likens the social media ban to barring a drunk driver from driving or requiring a drug abuser to stay away from drugs. Here’s the issue — How do you effectively enforce the ban when there are a multitude of devices from which one can access social media tools?

I perceive this as similar to “shunning” in certain religious communities in that enforcement responsibility lies with family, friends and the local community to ensure this girl does not access social media.

Will this be enough of a deterrent? Will this engage others, such as parents and the local community to help combat cyber bullying?

What are your thoughts?