Cyberbullying / June 18, 2021

Cyberbullying can be criminal

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Wise - Article - Cyberbulling can be criminal - image

Friday, June 18 is #StopCyberbullyingDay. Founded in 2012 and coordinated by the Cybersmile Foundation, the annual, global event encourages and empowers people around the world to show their commitment to a kinder, more inclusive and diverse internet.

According to the #StopCyberbullyingDay website, 59% of the world’s population uses the internet, and 60% of internet users have been exposed to bullying, abuse or harassment online.

MediaSmarts and PREVNet, in partnership with TELUS, surveyed more than 800 youth aged 12 – 18, and their findings show that 42% had experienced cyberbullying in the four weeks prior to the survey. Similarly, Comparitech, a pro-consumer website that researches and compares tech services, conducted a survey of 1,000 parents from 2018 to 2021. Sixty percent of parents with kids aged 14 to 18 reported their kids experienced online bullying.

While statistics may vary from source to source, one thing is clear - cyberbullying is particularly common among young people.

Understanding cyberbullying

According to Public Safety Canada, cyberbullying happens when people use computers, cell phones or other devices to embarrass, humiliate, torment, threaten or harass someone.

Cyberbullying typically occurs continuously over a period of time, but the difference between bullying offline and bullying online is the reach. Because the bullying is happening digitally, it can reach the person/people being bullied wherever they are, at any time of day. Many people being bullied online feel like they have no escape.

The TELUS Wise guide, Helping our Kids Deal with Cyberbullying, lists some common examples of cyberbullying, including:

  • Spreading rumours
  • Embarrassing someone by sharing personal information, including photos or videos
  • Imitating someone online by accessing their accounts or creating fake accounts
  • Social exclusion where someone is left out intentionally
  • Harassing players in an online game
  • Commenting in an aggressive or negative way in an online community to instigate conflict (trolling)

What are the legal implications?

In 2012, 15-year old Amanda Todd from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, died by suicide after years of relentless cyberbullying. Her mother, Carol Todd, is now a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and legal reform. Carol recently told Amanda’s story in Dark Cloud, a TELUS documentary released on October 10, 2020, coinciding with the eight-year anniversary of Amanda’s passing and World Mental Health Day.

Amanda’s passing and the tragic loss of life of other young Canadians as a result of cyberbullying incited a growing call for legal reform. Cyberbullying is now a chargeable offence under both criminal and civil law.

On March 10, 2015, sharing intimate images without consent also became a punishable offence under Canada’s Criminal Code and those charged with and found guilty of this form of cyberbullying can face consequences including:

  • Up to five years in jail
  • Seizure of the device used to share the image
  • Reimbursement of costs to remove the image from online platforms

According to RCMP, there are several other Criminal Code offences that relate to cyberbullying. Depending on the situation, charges could be laid in the areas of:

  • Criminal harassment: communications that make someone afraid for their safety
  • Child pornography: sharing intimate images/videos of minors under 18 years of age (according to The Wall Street Journal, the average daily volume of youth’s text messages that included sexual content is up 37% from pre-pandemic levels)
  • Uttering threats and extortion: threatening to share personal information if someone does not comply
  • Assault: threats or acts of non-consensual force, violence, bodily harm or destruction of personal property
  • Identity theft/fraud: creating a fake online presence to negatively impact someone’s reputation
  • Defamatory libel: spreading rumours

What can you do if you experience cyberbullying?

There are several ways you can protect yourself if you experience cyberbullying first hand or help others if you’re a witness. The TELUS Wise guide mentioned above offers some helpful suggestions. Below are some additional considerations:

  • Get serious about privacy: use the settings available to you on social media apps and websites to keep your personal information and content safe
  • Be selective: if you’re sending photos or videos to friends (or anyone for that matter), make sure you’re doing so because you want to, not because someone is pressuring you to do so
  • Post intentionally: before posting or sharing something online, take a minute to think about it and make sure it’s something you’re comfortable having out there and potentially shared further
  • Protect your passwords: general security etiquette can go a long way in ensuring that your personal information stays out of the wrong hands
  • Log out: when you aren’t using accounts or devices, log out, so nobody can access your device without permission
  • Be open: talk with your friends about cyberbullying and what it means to be a responsible digital citizen
  • Take a stand: if you witness cyberbullying, speak up. Do not participate in anything that could be hurtful to someone else and support someone who is being bullied. Your behaviour is an important example for others

Not only is cyberbullying detrimental to people’s mental and physical wellbeing, it can be illegal as well. Make sure you do your part to create an inclusive and kind digital world and lend your voice to the global conversation on #StopCyberbullyingDay.

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