Cyberbullying is a very real part of our current social world, particularly for young people. Aspects of bullying online that are different than bullying in person make it even more dangerous and destructive for young people. Because the “victim” and the “bully” are not face to face when it is done online, facial expressions and body language are not visible to bullies. A bully can say mean things hidden behind the anonymity and invisibility of the internet.
Recently I watched a movie called “Cyberbully” which showed very real consequences of cyberbullying. In this movie, a young woman in high school joins a social media site where she is connected to her friends and classmates online. Through a series of events, she shares personal information with someone she doesn’t know well online who then uses that information to make fun of her and ridicule her online. Other people join in on the mean behaviour online. Eventually she has a hard time going to school and she even attempts suicide. While attending an cyberbullying support group, ideas for preventing and reducing cyberbullying are discussed. For example, avoiding sharing personal information online, standing up for others who are being bullied online, and protecting privacy with online settings.
Watching this movie made me think about some real life cyberbullying situations where young people have lost their lives because of the anguish and difficulty they face. Amanda Todd was a young woman who shared some private information with someone she didn’t know online. Eventually this person shared that information with many other people online and caused Amanda to change schools and try various methods of “getting away” from this person. Because this person managed to follow her online wherever she went, Amanda eventually made a youtube video explaining her anguish being bullied and then committed suicide. I am so sad at the difficulty that this young woman experienced. Amanda Todd is one of many young people who have taken their own lives or attempted suicide as result of such bullying.
In Canada, there are both civil and criminal laws related to cyberbullying. Provinces in Canada also have specific laws related to cyberbullying. The Education Act in the province of Ontario defines both bullying and cyberbullying. The maximum penalty for a person charged with cyberbullying is 10 years in prison. These are very important laws to keep young people safe.
As our world and the way that we interact changes, we must also change with it, including our education and laws. The law in Canada also requires schools to provide bullying prevention education to all the students. It can be difficult as adults to truly understand what our children and students are experiencing in their world of social media but we need to do our best to stay current and aware.