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What We Can Do About Cyberbullying


Part 3 of a 3 part cyberbullying series


So, what can cyberbullying be?

Mediums through which cyberbullying often occur include cellular voice mail, emails, social media platforms, voting/rating sites, blogging sites, websites, virtual worlds, texting, and online gaming. No matter what the medium, cyberbullying includes but is not limited to:

1. Direct text messaging of threats or harassment. This could also include something called a “text war,” where the intent is to have a group of individuals target one person with an overabundance of text messages.

2. Stealing passwords. This can allow the cyberbully to have access to your accounts and pretend to be you while online. Once a person has your password, they can change your profile to something that could include sexual or racist remarks.

3. Inappropriate social media pages, blogs, or website creations that can contain nothing but lies about you, or even questionable pictures, but that are available for all to see.

4. Purposely sending inappropriate “morphed” (doctored) pictures to others, including friends and family.

5. Internet Polling/Voting Booths. Most online polling programs are free, and others can start a poll asking, “Do you think Jane Doe is easy to get into bed? Yes or no?” or “Who is the ugliest, fattest, or dumbest person in the school?” One such site to be aware of as a parent is www.formspring.com.

6. Outing. This is where the peer aggressor will share someone’s secret or embarrassing information online with others.

7. Purposely sending malicious software (viruses and trojans) to your computer.

8. Purposely sending porn and spam to your e-mail.

9. Physical threats to do you or others harm.

So, what can you do if a cyberbully is targeting you or a friend?

  • Know what cyberbullying/violence can be and tell an adult you trust that you are being targeted. If the adult you approach takes no action, find another one. We want you to keep telling people until someone helps to make it stop.

  • Ignore all cyberbullying attempts. If you take the bait, it will only get worse.

  • Restrict those who can communicate with you via e-mail, DMs, IM, and text.

  • Restrict others from being able to add you to their buddy list, which can usually be done in your privacy setting.

  • Google yourself and see what is out there on the WWW about yourself or a family member - the results may shock you. It’s also recommended that you set up “Google Alerts” to help monitor your digital presence online.

  • Block the sender - most social media platforms, IM and SMS apps have this feature.

  • Report the issue to the sender’s internet service provider (ISP). Most ISP’s have strict rules surrounding this issue.

  • If happening during school hours and from a fellow student, notify the school administrator immediately.

  • Remember to record, copy, screen capture, and save everything and take legal action where appropriate to do so.

Cyberbullying Signs:

Although it is not uncommon for targets of cyberbullying not to tell others that they are being victimized, there are several behavioural signs that parents, teachers, and guardians should be aware of to help identify a person who may need help:

  • A marked change in the youth’s computer or cellphone habits.

  • Appear angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer or cellphone.

  • Won’t say who they are talking to or texting with.

  • They have trouble sleeping.

  • Stomach and headaches.

  • Fear of leaving the house.

  • Crying for no apparent reason.

  • Frequent visits to a school nurse, wants to call parents to come and get them.

  • Lowered self-esteem.

  • A marked change in attitude, dress, or habits.

  • Unexplained broken personal possessions, loss of money, loss of personal items.

  • Stories that don’t make sense.

  • Missing or incomplete schoolwork and decreased success in studies.

What parents should do if your child is being targeted by a cyberbully:

Earlier, I noted that according to Dr. Hinduja and Dr. Patchin, there are two primary reasons why our youth are not disclosing that they are being targeted:

1. Victims don’t want to be blamed for the behaviour and are often afraid that parents will simply remove the source of the problem (their computer or cell phone), and

2. Victims feel that adults are ill-equipped or unwilling to intervene on their behalf in a calm and rational manner to resolve the situation.

This is why it is so important that when your child does disclose to you that they are a target of cyberbullying, you do not overreact as the parent by immediately banning your child from access to the internet via computer or cellphone. Although this may seem to be the easiest thing to do to deal with the issue, it does not ultimately deal with underlying issue that your child has been targeted. If your child believes that you will not react calmly in a rational manner to resolves the situation, disclosure will not take place and disclosure is the first step in the recovery process. Like it or not, internet access is an indispensable component to 21st century adolescence, and if your child believes that the banning of access will be the primary step you will take to deal with the issue, they will not disclose and they will continue to suffer alone.

So, what should a parent do once the child has disclosed that they are being targeted?

  • Remain calm and use choice speech such as, “I know that it must have been hard for you to come and tell me what is going on, but I am very glad you did, so let’s talk about how we are going to deal with this challenging issue.”

  • Ensure that your child is safe and that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe.

  • Figure out how far the bullying has gone.

  • Collect all evidence to support the fact that your child is being cyberbullied. (SMS texts, IM texts, DMs, voice mails, emails). This can be as simple as teaching your child to screen capture (screencap) and print and then paste into a word document.

  • Is the targeted bullying something that can be handled by your child changing their behaviour, such as not communicating with the bully or blocking the bully?

  • If the bullying took place on a website, report the abuse to that site. Remind your child how to block the person from contacting them online.

  • If they have had their email or social network hacked, have your child change their passwords.

  • Contact the parents of the cyberbully. I would recommend that this be done in person and ensure that you bring copies of the evidence mentioned in bullet point #3 to support your allegations. Remember that the other parent will likely be defensive, so ensure that you stay calm and professional and explain that you want to work with them to identify a reasonable resolution to the situation. Dr. Englander, an expert in aggression reduction, recommends the following “script” to help reduce the inevitable defensiveness of the bully’s parent, “I need to show you what your son/daughter typed to my son/daughter online. He may have meant it as a joke, but my daughter was really devastated by the messaging. A lot of kids type things online that they would never dream of saying in person, and it can all be easily misinterpreted.”

  • Contact your child’s school and speak with the principal and let them know what is going on, what actions you have taken to deal with this issue, and the expectations you have of the school should the cyberbullying carry on during school hours.

  • Contact the internet service provider or cell phone carrier of the cyberbully and let them know that your child has been targeted using their service. Again, be prepared to provide copies of the evidence to support your allegations, which they may ask for.

  • If the content of the cyberbullying involves threats, criminal harassment, or hate crimes then contact the police immediately. Again, be prepared to provide copies of the evidence to support your allegations.

  • Seek a civil legal remedy, if appropriate and reasonable to do so.

What Can Schools Do?

A group of elementary school students in Pickering, Ontario in 2008 apologized for posting a video on YouTube mocking a schoolmate who had suffered a stroke. A fourteen-year-old student at Saskatoon’s E.D. Feehan High School found a video on the internet that showed herself being beaten up. In Burlington, Ontario, students are alleged to have set up a website called “davenightisgay” that asked participants to write what they thought of Dave Knight; students posted hundreds of anonymous abusive messages on the site, and the seventeen-year-old student’s family brought a lawsuit against the school board, administration, and the alleged ringleaders. In 2007, nineteen students at Robert Feehan Hall Catholic School in Caledon, East Ontario were suspended after posting sexually explicit, derogatory, and demeaning remarks about their principal. The school took the position that these students’ actions violated the school’s “Code of Conduct.”

Often, I will hear school officials, parents, and even students state that if the cyberbullying does not take place on school grounds, or if it takes place outside of the school’s jurisdiction, then the school has no part to play in dealing with the issue. To put it simply, parents, students, and even some teachers believe that schools do not have the right to intervene when the cyberbullying takes place on a home computer or cell phone off school property. Canadian jurisprudence cannot be any clearer on this issue. In her excellent book, “Confronting Cyber-Bullying,” Canadian internet legal expert, Dr. Shaheen Shariff states:

“If there is a nexus (connection) to the school (peers, teacher, school property), then there is an absolute right to intervene.”

Like it or not, teachers, parents, and students need to understand that the learning environment in today’s wired world is no longer restricted to the school. The Canadian courts have held that a school has the right to impose school discipline for conduct that occurs off school property. When a student turns to bullying behaviour, there exists a legal responsibility under Common Law, Statutory duties (School Act, school’s Code of Conduct, Human Rights Code, Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms) as well as the Criminal Code for the school to respond, especially where there is a direct nexus to the school. For schools not to take action when there is a clear nexus, it places them in a possible position to be held liable in an actionable claim for negligence if they do not act quickly to protect student victims of cyberbullying. Canadian law places on teachers a duty of care that is known as “in loco parentis.” What this means is that a teacher has a “duty of care” to the student under their supervision as if they were standing in the place of that student’s parent. It is because of this that teachers should be cognizant of the fact that one clearly established Canadian legal jurisprudence is the legal responsibility of educators to ensure that the school does not create a hostile, “deliberately dangerous,” or “poisoned” environment which prevents a conducive learning environment for a student.

Some Canadian court cases that support the fact that school boards and employees (teachers and principals) are held to a higher standard of care include:

Meyers v. Peel County Board of Education (1981), 123 S.C.R (3d) 1, “In order to teach, school officials must provide an atmosphere that encourages learning”

R v. M.R.M., (1998) 3 S.C.R. 393 at para. 35 “ A school board has a duty to maintain a positive school environment for all persons served by it”

Each cyberbullying incident should be based on its individual facts and circumstances; to impose school discipline, there must be sufficient evidence, after a full and thorough investigation, that the online threat or intimidation was initiated by a particular identifiable student.

It is important to note that the courts in Canada have voiced their serious concern about the implications of bullying and intimidation in our schools. The courts have indicated that given the number of bullying cases, a strong message needs to be sent to the community that this type of behaviour will not be condoned. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that a threat (like cyberbullying) is a “tool of intimidation” which is designed to instill a sense of fear in its target. The court has asserted that the aim and purpose of the Criminal Code is to protect citizens against such fear and intimidation.

To quote Dr. Shaheen Shariff:

“Failure to supervise (protect) students properly can result in an actionable tort of negligence (unintentional tort). The onus is on the student who brings the claim, for example, as a victim of bullying or cyberbullying, to establish for criteria:

1) That there was a duty of care,

2) That the plaintiff experiences a tangible injury (psychological injury is harder to establish than physical injury),

3) That the injury was foreseeable by the supervisor and could have been prevented, and,

4) That the injury was cau