The Internet has brought the world closer in many ways. With the use of email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, family and friends can socialize with friends from all corners of the globe. When used improperly, however, this same technology can cause a lot of harm. Rather than bring family and friends together in a good way, cyber bullies are using the Net to intimidate, embarrass and ridicule people with their slanderous posts. With so many Canadian young people using social network sites today, cyber bullying in Canada has become a major concern across the country.
What is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying is a form of bullying that uses advanced electronic technology to cause people harm. Cyber bullies take advantage of computers, cell phones, tablets and other electronic equipment to post slanderous material or send threatening emails and texts to others in an effort to intimidate them or make them look bad in the eyes of their peers. Some common examples of cyber bullying activities include:
- Spreading rumors or gossip about others to damage their reputation
- Sending hurtful emails and texts
- Posting slanderous information about others on websites or blogs
- Sharing embarrassing pictures, videos or stories to ridicule or shame others
- Sending mean messages or texts to people in someone else’s name
- Stealing others’ passwords and altering their profile in a negative way
- Sharing hurtful information about others in public chat rooms
- Excluding others from social or instant messaging sites
Cyber Bullying Statistics in Canada
Cyber bullying is a very real issue in Canada. Unfortunately, many Canadian youth have been both victims and perpetrators of these attacks. The following cyber bullying facts from the organization PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network) tells the tale of how this bullying is affecting Canadian youth today:
- Over 1/3 of Canadian teens have witnessed cyber bullying activity at some time.
- 1 in 5 say they have been victims of cyber bullying attacks.
- 25% of Canadian youth admit to participating in cyber bullying activity.
- Of these, over half say they were “just joking around”.
- Bullying statistics in Canada currently surpass 2/3 of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) member countries.
Cyber Bullying vs. Real Life Bullying – What’s the Difference?
Real life bullying occurs in specific places and at specific times such as during school, at home or in the workplace. When targets are not in these places, they have a respite from bully attacks. In contrast, cyber bullying occurs continuously, at any time, day or night, targeting students when they least expect it. Cyber bullies can post hurtful material on the Internet without anyone knowing who they are. These messages are difficult to erase but easy to spread far and wide.
According to PREVNet cyber bullying statistics, approximately 94% of Canadian young people are enrolled in Facebook and 87% own a cell phone by the time they are in 10th grade. This makes them easy targets for cyber bully messages, emails or texts. Once malicious information has been posted online, it could very well go viral, making it difficult for students to escape the ridicule, harassment and intimidation these attacks can cause.
Here are some of the most common types of bullying activity committed online:
Harassment – sending rude and offensive messages on a regular basis
Denigration – spreading false, derogatory information about others via a web post, email or texting. Also includes distributing altered photographs designed to humiliate others.
Impersonation – Using a person’s stolen online identity to distribute malicious information about others
Flaming – fighting online by sending angry and vulgar electronic messages to one another
Outing/Trickery – Obtaining embarrassing secrets or information about people through deceptive means and passing them onto others
Cyber Stalking – Sending or posting threatening or intimidating messages repeatedly to the same person, making that person feel fearful of his or her personal safety
Effects of Cyber Attacks
According to PREVNet reports, cyber bullying in Canada is on the rise. Although children and teens are major targets, anyone who has an online account or owns a cell phone is susceptible to a cyber attack. Unsuspecting teens can find themselves the target of cyber bullies from one day to the next, without prior warning. Like real life bullying, cyber victims may be targeted due to their nationality, religious beliefs, physical or mental disability, gender or sexual orientation. Perpetrators may be former friends or acquaintances of the victim or someone who’s jealous or envious of their popularity, talents or skills.
Although no two people react to bullying the same way, most young people are devastated by such attacks. Cyber bullying can easily damage a young person’s reputation and character, causing him to lose self-confidence and the respect of his peers. A teen may suffer physically, mentally or emotionally through the ordeal, especially when friendships are on the line.
Cyber bullying separates young people from their peers, making them feel fearful, isolated and depressed. In an effort to find relief from their sorrows, many teens turn to using alcohol or drugs. Tragic cyber bullying stories tell of teens committing suicide due to humiliating gossip or pictures being spread about them online. Others develop serious health problems, drop out of school or become withdrawn from family and friends.
How Can Parents Protect Their Kids from Cyber Bullies?
The Internet is an important part of most young people’s lives. If Canadian parents are to keep up with their children and teens online activities, they need to brush up on their Internet skills. Savvy parents can help train their kids in proper Internet usage as well as show them how to protect themselves from dangerous characters online. Parents who stay abreast of the latest in electronic technology will be better able to protect their kids from becoming victims of cyber attacks.
Most kids today begin using the Internet at a fairly young age. By monitoring the online activities of their children and preteens, parents can better secure their safety. Parents should also ensure their teens are fully aware of safety measures they can implement to protect their personal data and online identity. Social sites such as Facebook have privacy settings that give teens greater control over who they connect with. These settings also help protect a teen’s personal information to avoid bullies breaking into their account. By reading cyber bullying articles that explain how bullies operate, teens will have a better idea of how to protect themselves online.
Teaching their kids responsible Internet behavior is also part of a parent’s job. Responsible Internet conduct includes:
- Being respectful of others by not posting or sharing negative or malicious material about them, not even “in fun”
- Safeguarding personal information and passwords
- Not sharing email addresses or mobile phone numbers with people they don’t know or trust
- Not posting compromising photos, videos or stories about themselves or others
- Refusing to partake of bullying activities
- Reporting online bullying to a trusted adult
How Can Schools Help Stop Cyber Bullying?
As schools are responsible to provide their students with a safe learning environment, it’s to their advantage to look for ways to stop online bullying before it gets out of hand. Parents should stay abreast of how schools are handling these issues in the event their children or teens are targeted by their peers.
Before schools can implement a policy against online bullying, they need to assess how cyber bullying is currently affecting their student population. This assessment can be made by gender, age or grade level and include the medium by which most of the aggression is coming from.
A realistic assessment can give school officials a better idea of what kind of strategy to put into place to deal with cyber attacks. Having a policy in place can help the school maintain a safer, more stable learning environment.
When developing a policy, schools should consider a two-fold strategy: training teachers and staff in how to prevent and respond to cyber bullying activities and training students in responsible Internet conduct and usage. Educating teens on the dangers of online bullying can not only help curtail bullying acts, but can protect teens from legal repercussions that could endanger their future.
Cyber Bullying and the Law
Cyber bullies can be held accountable for their actions under Canadian civil and criminal law.
Civil law cyber bully cases deal with:
- Defamation: Defamation entails damage to a person’s reputation due to spreading malicious rumors, gossip and lies. Victims can sue cyberbullies for damages that their false statements and lies have caused.
- Contributing to an unsafe environment: Schools have a responsibility to provide their students with a safe learning environment. Cyber bullying violates students’ safety by subjecting them to the ridicule, intimidation and humiliation of their peers. According to the Safe Schools Act in Ontario, students who partake of cyber bullying activities can be suspended or expelled for their malicious acts – even when these acts are committed off of school property. Victims can also sue schools that don’t make every effort to preserve the safety of their learning environment.
- Taking responsibility for a victim’s actions: Cyber bullies can be held responsible for physical harm victims cause themselves, if the perpetrators knew these repercussions could occur. If, for example, a bully suggests a victim commit suicide, the bully can be held liable for the victim’s death, if the bully knew that suicide was a feasible repercussion.
Criminal law cyber bullying cases deal with:
- Harassment: Criminal harassment occurs when a bully’s actions or words can be construed as a threat to that person’s safety. Bullies who are convicted of harassment can face a prison term of up to 10 years.
- Defamatory libel: Criminal defamatory libel most frequently occurs when bullies make libelous statements against people in positions of authority, damaging their reputation. If convicted, bullies face a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
Cyber bullying produces much of the same emotional and psychological trauma as real-life bullying in a young person’s life. The fact that online bullying is ongoing and farther reaching makes its effects even more devastating over time. Rather than look at online bullying as a joke or prank, young people should consider the serious repercussions it can have. With cyber bullying, there’s no telling who will be the next victim or how far rumors or gossip will be spread.
By taking a stand against cyber bullies from the start, students can do their part to put a stop to bullying activities and benefit from a safer, more productive Internet environment. The following cyber bullying quotes say it all:
“Unless and until our society recognizes cyber bullying for what it is, the suffering of thousands of silent victims will continue.” – Anna Maria Chavez
“Cyberbullying is Bullying. Hiding behind a pretty screen, doesn’t make it less hateful, written words have power.” – Anonymous
“Bullying is not okay. Period.” – Jim C. Hines