There is a disease afflicting Canadian children. It causes low self-esteem, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide. It is called cyber bullying.
37 percent of Canadian children report being harassed online. Their harassment includes name-calling, exclusion, and stalking. It can occur through emails, instant messages, and social media platforms.
But cyber bullying in Canada does not receive legal scrutiny. It is an offence to share intimate images without someone's consent, and it can be an offence to harass someone. Yet many bullying behaviours don't fall under the purview of the law.
What are the different kinds of cyber bullying, criminal and otherwise? What can parents and children do to prevent bullying? What should people do after the bullying has occurred?
Answer these questions and you can start preventing cyber bullying today. Here is your authoritative guide.
There are many different types of cyber bullying. Some acts fall under multiple categories, while some cannot be clearly categorized. But you can consider some generalizations.
The Criminal Code of Canada provides a working definition for criminal harassment. It reads,
"No person shall... engage in conduct... that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them."
But non-criminal behaviours can count as harassment and cyber bullying. Making fun of someone's physical appearance, intellect, or friend circles counts.
Cyberstalking is stalking that occurs over the Internet. It can include making repetitive posts or sending someone many messages. This counts as harassment if a person fears for their own safety.
Sexual harassment involves making unwelcome sexual remarks or actions. It can occur in school or online. It can entail making jokes about someone's physical appearance or sexual characteristics.
It can involve sharing personal information about someone's sexual life. This includes spreading rumours about who a person is or is not having sex with. Showing sexually explicit material to someone who does not want it also counts.
Revenge porn occurs when someone distributes sexually explicit images of others without their consent. This can include videos uploaded to file-sharing websites.
Impersonation involves pretending to be someone else for the purpose of duplicity. It is not cyber bullying if someone uses an alias when interacting with someone else.
It becomes cyber bullying when the person uses the alias to elicit personal information. They may pretend to be someone else's friend in order to get them to divulge something. They then share that information with others.
Some people may impersonate in order to demean the person they are pretending to be. They may create a social media profile under someone's name, then post explicit or harassing content. This can get the impersonated individual in trouble, even though they did nothing.
Extortion involves obtaining something through threats and acts of violence. Many people who commit extortion pretend to be an employee of a company. They say that someone's account will get suspended if they don't pay money or perform certain tasks.
People can use photos and videos to shame someone else in several ways. They can take a pre-existing photograph and edit it in an embarrassing matter. This includes adding demeaning texts or inserting unsavoury people into the image.
They can take a private photograph and make it public. This includes photographs of a sexual nature.
The person depicted can consent to take the photographs. But it constitutes cyber bullying if they do not consent to others sharing them.
A cyberbully can also take photographs or videos of someone without their permission and then share them. The video may be innocuous, showing someone out in public. But it counts as harassment if the depicted person does not consent to be photographed.
Sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada regulate hate crimes. It is a criminal offence to advocate genocide and promote hatred against an identifiable group.
Many people use the Internet to broadcast hate-filled messages. They believe they will remain anonymous and gain a following. A cyberbully can commit many different hate crimes.
They can claim that they are going to kill everyone in school of a certain race, religion, or sexual orientation. They can spread false information like Holocaust denialism or fake news.
Outing involves disclosing someone's sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. This occurs most often with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It often leads to the person experiencing harassment and abuse, making it an act of cyber bullying and a hate crime.
Some people use the Internet to encourage someone to harm themselves or commit suicide. They may ask a person to send photos or videos of them in the act of harming themselves.
They may tell someone how they can commit suicide. This includes sending videos or photographs of someone harming themselves. This may not drive them to harm themselves, but it can upset the person receiving the content.
A few people have encouraged victims of cyber bullying to act violently. They have told them to kill their bullies or perform a school shooting. This can be online bullying and a criminal offence.
Encouragement of suicide can come as a part of sustained cyber bullying. Some bullies may start harassing a person and sharing personal information. When the victim develops suicidal thoughts, the bullies encourage them to follow through.
But encouragement can come independently of a cyber bullying campaign. Telling someone to kill themselves counts as bullying, even if it was a joke.
Many parents stop cyber bullying by blocking their child's access to the Internet. This does limit their susceptibility to bullying. But it prevents them from talking with their friends and researching topics for school. There are ways for children to use the Internet without running into bullies.
Tips for Parents
Do try to set times on your child's Internet use. Allow them to use it as much as they need for schoolwork.
Then give them two hours to socialize and browse for content. Be in the same room as them and take a look at their computer screen. Disable their device when their time has run out.
Do not allow your child to make social media accounts until they turn thirteen. Ask them for links to their accounts and check them once a week.
Touch base with your child about their Internet use. Ask them directly if anyone has been harassing them. Talk to their siblings and friends to see if they are reporting anything to them.
If your children are bullying, remove their access to the Internet. Report them to school administrators and discipline them.
Tips for Children
It is okay to share photographs and videos on your social media pages. But never share content that you think might hurt someone's feelings.
Try to avoid making social media posts while travelling. When you are away from home, it is hard to track how others are treating you online. Do not tell strangers where you are going and how long you will be gone.
Do not post personal information about yourself in public posts. If you need to have a personal conversation, talk to someone over the phone or in person.
If you must text someone a personal detail, keep it short. Never share intimate details, including photographs. Do not share your account information, including your password. Do not connect with someone you don't know or recognize. Try to avoid reading comments from other people. Do not open messages from people you do not know.
When you see cyber bullying, report it right away. You are not "a snitch" if you do that. You can prevent someone from hurting themselves or someone else.
If you notice people leaving harassing comments, intervene. You can report them to administrators, especially if they engage in hate speech. It does not matter if you don't know who the victim is.
Send private messages to the victim with words of encouragement. Tell them how sorry you are that they are dealing with harassment. If you know them, offer yourself as someone they can turn to for help.
Affirm your child after others have harassed them. Be a resource for them and listen to what they have to say.
A child can develop depression, anxiety, or PTSD after experiencing harassment. Learn about the signs of these mental conditions. Get your child help through in-person and online therapy.
Everyone can play a role in ending cyber bullying in Canada. A wide range of behaviours can constitute online bullying. This includes death threats, sexual harassment, and hate crimes.
Parents should supervise their child's Internet use. They should keep their child off social media sites until they turn thirteen. Children should report harassment when they see it.
Victims of harassment should receive affirmation. If they show signs of trauma, they should get counselling.