For My Critics: Context is Everything
We have now presented to over 112 junior and senior high schools throughout British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Washington State in the past 24 months. We have reached over 104,000 teens, 39 of whom we have saved/helped given that they were considering suicide or self-harm as an option, because they were being targeted for cyberbullying (digital peer aggression) or sexting gone wrong issues. During this time, the positive feedback that we have received from students, teachers, administrators, school counselors, parents, and law enforcement has been nothing short of amazing. All the reader has to do is head over to our feedback page located at http://www.personalprotectionsystems.ca/feedback.html and view what people are saying about our program.
With all this positive feedback, however, I have had some critics that seem to focus on one specific component of my presentation having to deal with what I call “digital peer aggression,” or what is also known as cyberbullying. During this part of my presentation I make the following statement to students:
“If you are a student that is digitally peer aggressing another student here at this school, or any other school, and if that student seriously hurts themselves or takes their own life because you have targeted them online, neither heaven or earth will stop me or my brothers and sisters in law enforcement from finding you and identifying who you are so that you are arrested and placed before the courts to answer to your criminal actions.” My critics often call this statement threat-based or fear-based education, which they say does not work when it comes to changing online behavior, and that has no place in modern learning. I must respectfully disagree with the caveat that context is everything.
I have now been involved in law enforcement and the criminal justice system for the past 27 years. During this time, I have learned that you do not treat every negative challenge like it’s a nail and hit it with a hammer. The hammer, for the purpose of this article and my presentation, is police arrest and the use of the criminal justice system to deal with criminal online behaviour, rather than just mean or ignorant online behaviour. This is an important distinction that is often missed by my critics.
I have stated several times, in many postings, and on several sites that I do not like using the term “bullying” considering that it is my belief that this word can trivialize criminal behaviour. I am also finding that given the current hypersensitive political environment surrounding this “thing” called bullying, many people are placing all types of online undesirable behavior under the catchall phrase, “cyberbullying.” When, in fact, it is just mean or ignorant behaviour, which falls outside of the criminal justice realm, but may fit well within a restorative justice stream. This is only leading to the dilution of the word “bullying,” thus making it harder to define what bullying actually is and how to deal with it effectively. That is why I like to use the term “Digital Peer Aggression.” This phrase clearly defines that an identified online behaviour is violence-based. Under the Criminal Code Of Canada, once a youth reaches the age of 12 years old, such online behaviour is not called bullying by the criminal justice system, but rather:
Sending False Messages
Distribution of Child Pornography
Possession Of Child Pornography
These are significant criminal code offences that should be followed up by the criminal justice system (the hammer) where appropriate and reasonable to do so, especially when these offences have been proven to have caused a targeted youth to self-harm or take their own life. Digital peer aggression is a high-tech way to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. It is not funny. It’s not kids being kids. It is not developmentally normative conflict. It is not mean or ignorant behaviour. It is emotional, psychological, and physical violence, and young people are self-harming and taking their own lives because of it, and enough is enough. This is the reason for my controversial statement in my presentation that I mentioned above.
When it comes to digital peer aggression that leads an intended target to self-harm or to take their life, it is my opinion that the hammer of the criminal justice system should be utilized to the fullest extent possible, thus holding the aggressor(s), who often attempt to purposely hide behind the online cloak of anonymity, criminally and civilly responsible for their actions.
Yes, I do believe that there should be consequences to actions, and those consequences should be incremental in nature, including the use of community-based restorative justice, which I have both recommended and participated in when it comes to certain online crimes. I have both seen and experienced amazing results from the restorative justice process, but restorative justice also has its limitations. I strongly believe that when it comes to digital peer aggression that leads to self-harm or suicide, the full weight of the criminal justice system should now be utilized. Will this change future online behaviour? Maybe. Maybe not. Will it however, ensure that the aggressor is held criminally accountable for their actions, and send a clear message to other aggressors that such behaviour is not acceptable in our communities, and will be acted upon swiftly and harshly by law enforcement and the courts? ABSOLUTELY!
My statement is not a threat, but rather a truism based upon societal responsibility that is enshrined in the Criminal Code of Canada, specific to reasonable consequences to actions when a target is seriously injured or a life is taken because of such online criminal behaviour. Our teens and young adults need to hear this hard, real-world message loudly and clearly. This is something that both the victims and their families also need to hear, so that they feel more comfortable and empowered to come forward. This is a very important step in the recovery process, to report such a crime knowing that their complaint will now be taken seriously.
So, for those who are critical of my statement, “If you are a student that is digitally peer aggressing another student here at this school or any other school, and if that student seriously hurts themselves or takes their own life because you have targeted them online, then neither heaven or earth will stop me or my brothers and sisters in law enforcement from finding you and identifying who you are so that you are arrested and placed before the courts to answer for your criminal actions,” please remember that context and the seriousness of the online offence is everything when it comes to the “why” I say of what I say.
Digital Food For Thought
AKA “The White Hatter” #thewhitehatter