Many of today’s new technologies are designed for the sole purpose of facilitating communication between individuals. Not only do these technologies enable communication between friends and family, but a large part of their appeal is that they present the opportunity to meet new people. Among the more popular ways of meeting others online are instant messaging, chat rooms, Facebook and other websites specifically designed for the purpose of meeting and connecting with those who share similar interests. With the click of a mouse, today’s young people have access to the world, and are increasingly more likely to create friendships, and even relationships, online with individuals they have never met in person.
On one hand, today’s new technologies have made communication much easier. Young people have free rein to make new friends with individuals who share similar interests. They can express themselves by sharing thoughts and ideas with like-minded youth. This is especially good for youth who live in rural areas, which have fewer services and a smaller youth community. The potential for increased communication represents freedom – a world generally unrestricted by the piercing eyes of parents, and an exciting world where anything is possible and everyone is no further away than the click of a mouse. Today’s new technologies save time and are instantly gratifying – no more waiting weeks or days to hear back from a pen pal, or even minutes to receive an email. Today’s new technologies feature instantaneous or “real time” communication; a feature very attractive to young people. Youth can “chat” online with multiple people simultaneously, have a conversation with a number of parties, or even send messages to thousands of people. This communication is generally at a low cost, if not entirely free. The opportunity to find other individuals who share similar interests is a big draw – and on the Internet – one can find others who share even the most obscure interests.
More Internet use leads to more opportunities for bullies
There is no denying that technology is playing an increasingly important role in the lives of young people. According to the 2005 Young Canadians in a Wired World study of Grades 9 to 11 students, young people are avid users of technology. Young Canadians are more connected than ever before. Ninety-four percent of young people have access to the Internet in their homes, while 23% of young people have their own cell phones, often equipped with text messaging capabilities and digital cameras. Youth use the Internet to extend their existing social networks and develop new ones. Twenty-one percent of students in Grades 7 to 11 have reported meeting an Internet friend online and 72% said that it was a good experience.1
However, for some young people, the Net is a vehicle for bullying and sexual harassment. The Internet offers a place where some users feel anonymous. One study found that 59% of users have assumed a different identity. Of those, 17% suggested that they pretended to be someone else so they could “act mean to people and not get into trouble”.2
The Internet is a growing and popular tool for bullies. Cyber bullying occurs when a bully uses email, websites, or text messaging to harass other people. Cyber bullying can be done directly to an individual by sending them insults or threats via email, instant messaging, or text messaging. Using all of these technologies and websites, bullies can send insults about a classmate to numerous individuals. In addition, these bullies build sites that target specific students or teachers.
Legal repercussions of cyber bullying
Sometimes, cyber bullying can be a crime. It is a criminal act, under the Criminal Code, to repeatedly communicate with others and cause them to fear for their safety and the safety of those around them. Defamatory libel — writing or stating something that is intended to harm someone’s reputation — is also a crime.3 Some forms of bullying, however, are not considered criminal, even though they have a harmful impact on those targeted.
Cyberbullies may be difficult to trace. They may use computers that are not their own, or claim that they were not the source of the message, but that someone else used their computer. However, if a message is traced back to the bullies, and they are using a school or workplace computer, they will be disciplined through the rules applicable in that space. If the school or workplace does not take appropriate actions against a cyber bully there may be other repercussions. For instance, if the bully is posting discriminatory messages based on any of the grounds covered by the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act4 such as race, disability or sexual orientation, and the school or workplace does not address this discriminatory conduct, the victim may make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (see www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca to see about potential complaints). This complaint would be filed against the school or workplace based on failure to protect its students or employees against discrimination in the form of cyber bullying.
Stopping and responding to a cyber bully
What can you do about cyber bullying if there are no legal repercussions? The following tips may help.5
When cyber bullying takes place over email:
- if you do not recognize the sender’s name, do not open the message;
- if you recognize the sender as a bully, ignore and delete the message;
- if the bully is using a personal email account, notify the sender’s account provider;
- if you cannot determine the identity of the bully, use email tracking software to trace the identity of the sender. Once you know, you can contact your Internet Service Provider to block the sender from your mail;
- if the bullying is occurring in an institution, such as work or school, ask that the institution’s anti-bullying policy be applied; and
- if the message is very disturbing, contact the police.
For cyber bullying over text messages:
- tell someone else about it to get support;
- change your phone number or get a new cell phone number; and
- if the message is very disturbing, contact the police.
For cyber bullying that takes place through websites, identify the Internet Service Provider on the site. It can determine who runs the site and request that the site be removed. If there is any false information on the website, report it to the police.
For more information on cyber bullying and youth using the Internet see the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre website and follow the links to the resource Techno-tonomy: Privacy, Autonomy And Technology In A Networked World.
1 V. Steeves, Ph.D., “Young Canadians in a Wired World Phase II: Trends and
Recommendations”, (Media Awareness Network, November 2005).
3 Media Awareness Network, “Challenging Cyber Bullying”.
4 RSA 2000, c. H-14.