My name is Labiba and I am a JFCY volunteer on the PLE Team and the Cyberbullying Subcommittee.  My blog post is about the use of phones, internet and other technologies by bullies to mock, intimidate or terrorise their victims.

Bullies have always been around.  Sometimes people are bullies because it makes them feel good to have power over others and win in all situations. Sometimes they just do it because they can, without stopping to think whether it is morally wrong or how harmful it is for the victims. Sometimes they are victims of violence themselves either at home or in school or somewhere else.

With newer and more creative methods of communicating on the internet, bullying has become more sophisticated.  Since a bully can’t see the person on the other side of their messages, videos, or texts, it is easier to ignore the effects that bullying has on victims.  A bully can also hide behind an online identity, so that nobody knows who is doing the bullying.  This can make bullying even more harmful.  People have fewer opportunities to think about the consequences of their actions when they are sitting in front of a screen or staring at a smartphone.

SOCIAL ISSUES – What are the consequences of cyber-bullying for the victim?

We all know the destructive effects of bullying. It can have a permanent or long-term impact on how a bully’s victim feels about himself or herself and how well the victim is able to build relationships with other people. Bullying also has mental health and physical health consequences that can be very serious. While some children are able to leave all these behind when they grow up and live healthy and happy lives, others find dealing with bullying exceptionally difficult and sometimes impossible. There have even been recent reports of bullied teens taking their lives in extreme cases of cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying may be more invasive than real life bullying for a number of reasons. It follows the victim everywhere, unlike school yard bullying. Some organizations are trying to prevent and reduce bullying.  For example, there are privacy settings and a new “trusted friend” feature on Facebook which you can use to prevent bullying and tell a friend about bullying attempts.

Once a bully posts a photograph, video or comment online, there is no calling it back. It can reach anyone anywhere and be downloaded onto hard disks almost instantaneously. It can be used years later. It can affect a person’s image even if they move away and years later when they apply to school, look for a job, or meet a potential partner in life.
As the virtual world becomes increasingly important and “real” for us, our virtual image matters as much as our real-life image, but it is unfortunately much less in our control.

Sometimes, telling others that you are being bullied is difficult because you may think they will think you are weak or are over-thinking it. But ignoring the situation when you are bullied can also make it worse. We suggest that you should try and speak out and get help early to stop bullying. We suggest that you share any bullying attempts with a person you trust. If you ask for help early on you may be able to prevent some of the more severe effects of bullying.

Everyone should always take a minute to consider what affect an online activity can have on others and on themselves later down the road.

LEGAL ISSUES – What are the consequences for the bully?

School Suspensions and Expulsions

Ontario’s Education Act requires a principal to consider suspending a student who is involved in bullying while at school, at a school-related activity, or in “other circumstances” where the activity will have an impact on the school climate. There have been decided cases in which cyber-bullying has been accepted to be such “other circumstances”. If suspended for 20 days the Principal can recommend an expulsion and then the case will be heard by a committee of the school board, who will make the final decision whether or not to expel the student.

Criminal Charges

Repeated communications that are carried out over a period of time and cause victims to reasonably fear for their safety, even if they do not result in physical injury, may fall within the definition of criminal harassment. Examples of activities covered by the definition include sending inappropriate or threatening messages or e-greeting cards; creating websites that contain threatening or harassing messages or provocative or pornographic photographs, which are usually altered; tracking victims’ electronic footprints; and sending messages to victims’ friends, family, co-workers and other associates pretending to be them.

Civil Liability

Harassing, intimidating or bullying online, asking someone for their log-in information, creating multiple personal profiles, and providing false information when creating a profile are all activities that breach the terms and conditions of most social networking websites. When you sign up for an account, you agree to follow these terms, and any breach allows the website to ban you from future use of their website. Sometimes cyber-bullying may give rise to civil action to be brought against you and/or your parents.  A civil action is when one person sues another for the damage caused by the second person’s actions, even if those actions weren’t breaking the criminal law.

Whether or not any disciplinary, criminal or civil action is taken to deal with bullying will depend on complaints received by the authorities, the seriousness of the conduct, the severity of the effect on victims, and the willingness of victims’ parents and friends to take a stand against bullying. If you are participating in cyber-bullying, you should know that it is possible to trace you even when you are using a fake ID online. If you are about to do/say something online that you would not do offline, stop and ask yourself if you would like it if the people you respect found out what you did, even if you think it is not something big enough to get you in trouble.

Cyber-bullying Resources

If you have specific legal questions relating to bullying, please contact JFCY at 416.920.1633

If you are a victim of bullying and need support, check out some of these organizations:

Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668 6868 or on www.kidshelpphone.ca
LGBT Youth line at 1.800.268.9688 or on www.youtline.ca

If you want to find out more about cyber-bullying and how you can help raise awareness and prevent cyber-bullying, you can look at some of these websites:

Web Aware on www.bewebaware.ca
Canadian Safe Schools Network on www.canadiansafeschools.com
There is a list of books and other resources on blocking and dealing with cyber-bullying as well as other forms of bullying on this website: http://www.cheo.on.ca/En/bullying

Here at JFCY, the cyber-bullying sub-committee wants to know all about your thoughts on this post. Please let us know if this post is helpful and/or informative and what you would like to see in future posts. Post your comments, questions, requests and ideas as they are extremely valuable to us and will help us better understand what to write about in our next post.  Our comments are moderated, so if you do not want your comment published to the blog, just say so when you submit it. Or you could email us at jfcyontario@gmail.com.

Thanks to JFCY PLE Team member AND volunteer Labiba Rukhsana for this post.  Labiba is on JFCY’s cyber-bullying subcommittee.