Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 5 Cyberbullying


Ask yourself:

  • How do you use technology to communicate, socialize, collaborate and research topics while developing your knowledge, critical and creative thinking strategies and ethical social skills?
  • How can you become a responsible digital citizen who respects the legal rights and privacy of others?

When surfing the Internet you need to be aware of your safety and security. You probably know how to make optimal use of your computer, mobile phone and tablet. You also need to distinguish between responsible online behavior and the legal, psychological and emotional consequences of irresponsible, hurtful online behavior. Cyberbullying, a harmful online behavior, is a growing international phenomenon.

Imagine coming home from school, grabbing a snack, turning on your computer only to discover numerous hurtful comments and several pictures of you at awkward moments during the last few days. You feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the hurtful messages and pictures. You are crushed, sad and angry because you thought you had lots of friends. Why would they do this to me? What's wrong with me? You feel vulnerable and exposed in your own room, your safe haven from the world. And you don't know who sent this mean, hurtful, nasty junk. How can you react when your attackers are unknown? How can you return to school when you are sure that everyone has seen or heard about what happened? How can you be interested in hanging out with friends at the mall, the park or Cineplex? Who can you really trust? Should you tell anyone? Who? How do you complete your schoolwork when a knot in your stomach makes it impossible to concentrate? Your nights are restless with the cruel words and images racing through your mind. How do you deal with your already busy life with this additional burden of anxiety and stress?

Sergeant Brian Trainor – retired police officer talks about cyberbullying

Here are the facts

In the twenty-first century rapidly changing technologies are transforming many aspects of our daily lives. These new technologies, software and innovative applications are an integral, important, ubiquitous part of your world. Cyberspace is a hectic, busy place:

  • In Canada 83% of teenagers own or share a computer compared to 93% in the United States and 70% in the United Kingdom
  • Mobile phones have become a popular device for communication and connecting to the Internet with at least 70% of Canadian teenagers and 78% of United States teenagers owning cell phones
  • Young people 8-18 report talking on a cell phone for an average of 33 minutes on a typical day
  • Teens also receive and send text messages, or "texts". Girls report sending and receiving about 132 texts per day, whereas boys receive and send about 94 text messages
  • Boys spend more time per day on the computer playing games while girls spend more time visiting social network sites. But all teens equally like to visit social networking sites
  • Teenagers report on average spending 2.9 hours doing schoolwork online compared with 3.4 hours offline
  • The number of teens using Twitter is growing significantly
  • Ownership of different brands of tablets is also increasing
  • Canadians now spend more time online (18 hours per week) than watching television (16.9 hours per week)

Think about how you use technology:

  • To communicate and socialize with close friends or online friends around the world
  • Accumulate data and research information to complete school assignments
  • Research and purchase products, new or used
  • Find jobs
  • Use mobile technology to take and exchange pictures and videos, and text others
  • Play online video games, watch television shows and films, YouTube clips, listen and purchase music and music videos
  • Collaborate, create and post online content. Blogs, Wikis, podcasts, YouTube clips, websites and short films enable them to share ideas, images and information with a wider audience and receive responses about your creative endeavors
  • Connect in groups with others of the same age who have similar interests such as: musical groups, sports teams, clothing designers, celebrities, gamers or fellow gear heads
  • Multi-task on a range of platforms, e.g. game consoles, computers, tablets or smart phones

Exploring and embracing the many positive benefits of modern technology is great. But participating in online activities and communities also comes with responsibilities and consequences.

An Analogy

For example, for most of you, the day you pass the driver's test is a monumental occasion. Driving provides a sense of freedom, not having to rely on others and the key to new occupational and recreational experiences. But drivers are also expected to drive safely, know and obey the motor vehicle laws for their province or state. Hopefully they will also adhere to many courteous and thoughtful driving behaviours. Failure to follow these laws can result in citations, fines and suspended licenses. Reckless and dangerous driving behaviour too often results in death.

Be smart and be safe!

When surfing the Internet you also have to be aware of your safety and security. You need to distinguish between responsible online behavior and the legal, psychological and emotional consequences of irresponsible, hurtful online behaviour.

Cyberbullying, a harmful online behaviour is a growing international phenomenon among people your age. There are numerous definitions of cyberbullying. Some are broad definitions that include almost every possible type of online harassment. Others are specific examples of hurtful behavior. A Google search for "cyberbullying definitions" located over 600,000 hits. The search included definitions for young people, parents, teachers, Wikipedia information, dictionary examples e.g. Oxford, Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and legal definitions.

Two teens snicker while holding their cell phones behind a visibly upset girl holding her phone. enlarge image
Cyberbullying victim

Source: Getty Images


Cyberbullying: Sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other forms of social aggression using the Internet or other digital technologies. These online communications can be vicious. Cyberbullying can be 24/7. Damaging text and images can be widely disseminated and impossible to fully remove. Teens are reluctant to tell adults for fear of overreaction, restriction from online activities, and possible retaliation by the cyberbully.
Source: Nancy Willard, 2007
Cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.
Source: Patchin & Hinduja, 2012

Key Concepts: Recognized Forms of Cyberbullying

Harassment: Harassment occurs when an individual or a large group repeatedly sends distasteful, hurtful messages to one targeted individual.

Denigration: Denigration is spreading gossip or making up rumors, posting or sending materials that are untrue or cruel. The intention is to disrupt friendships or harm the reputation of a person.

Impersonation: Impersonation occurs when a young person obtains or knows someone’s password to an Internet account. Masquerading as the owner of the password the impersonator has the means to say or post harmful words or materials that could ruin a reputation or disrupt friendships.

Outing and Trickery: Outing is sharing publically personal information or images to embarrass an individual. Trickery, a component of outing, occurs when the target believes the personal information or image in an email or text sent to one person or a select group of friends and will not be forwarded to others. 

Exclusion/Ostracism: Being a member of numerous social media sites or online games is common with many young people. For many reasons an individual can easily be excluded or dropped from a group. Not belonging or being an outcast from an online social group can have a devastating impact on a young adolescent or teenager.

Flaming: Flaming involves the exchange of cruel, rude, insulting, crude and sometimes threatening exchanges between two individuals or small groups. These arguments usually take place in a public domain such as discussion boards of games. Sometimes bystanders try to end or escalate the argument.

Happy Slapping: Happy slapping involves the recording, usually on a mobile phone, of an assault on an individual or a fight. The video is circulated so that anyone in a school or community can witness the physical altercation.

Cyber stalking: Cyber stalking occurs when an individual or small group repeatedly sends hurtful, threatening, intimidating or extremely distasteful messages to another person. The sender(s) wants to degrade the target, by damaging his or her reputation and current friendships. The intimidating messages are sent through personal communications although the stalker may try to hide his or her identity. Cyber stalking sometimes occurs after an angry breakup or the termination of a friendship.

The Victims:

Almost anyone can be cyberbullied, from the most popular outgoing teenager to quiet timid individuals who barely make an impression on their classmates. Shariff (2008) reports that teachers, administrators and school support staff have also been victimized by cyberbullying. Similar to traditional bullying, cyberbullying victims are often perceived as being different. Some do not or cannot adhere to any of the current trends in clothing. Others are not associated with a certain group e.g. a sports team, the skate boarders or a dance group. Students who struggle with learning or have behavioral issues are more likely to experience cyberbullying. (Hinduja and Patchin, 2012) Twice as many lesbian, gay, and transgendered (LGBT) students than heterosexual students experience cyberbullying.

Some Victims of Cyberbullying in Canada:

In Nova Scotia - Rehtaeh Parsons

In British Columbia - Amanda Todd

In Saskatchewan - Todd Loik


The Prevalence of Cyberbullying
  • In Canada 34% of students in grades 7-11 have been cyberbullied (Media Awareness Network);
  • In a review of 35 published papers between 5% and 72% (average 24.4%) of young people experienced cyberbullying;
  • Other studies estimated from 6% to 30% of teens have been victims of some form of cyberbullying;
  • In England 25% of young people aged 11-19 have been bullied on the Internet,
  • Hinduja and Patchin (2012) found about 17% of young people admit to cyberbullying others.
Sign saying No Cyberbullying
Results of surveys
  • Although anyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, this behaviour seems to be most prominent during the middle school years.
  • However, online harassment continues in secondary schools.
  • Both genders engage in cyberbullying and academic research suggests that it is more prevalent in females.
  • Gaming is the most popular activity for males online whereas communication is the most popular activity for females.
  • Flaming and exclusion are the more common types of male cyberbullying.
  • Denigration and outing/trickery types are more common among females. (Willard 2007 reports)
  • More males report being cyberbullied than females but more females are likely to inform adults about their online harassment experiences.
  • Young people from different racial backgrounds report taking part in cyberbullying at comparable rates (Hinduja and Patchin, 2008.)
  • Only 5% of middle school students reported cyberbullying to an adult or teacher.
The question is: WHY do some young people participate in cyberbullying?
Possible Motives
  1. Revenge - most common reported reason
  2. Jealousy – also common
  3. Anger, frustration and trying to right a wrong
  4. Victims themselves -Young people who have been targets of various forms of traditional bullying or cyberbullying by the “mean girls” or “tough guys” can stand up for themselves or others while remaining anonymous.
  5. To maintain powerful social standing
  6. Boredom - for entertainment and amusement without considering the hurtful consequences
  7. Enhance social status - A creative but degrading video clip may be considered cool by others and increase popularity
  8. Young people involved in cyberbullying may believe their actions are a common behaviour and socially acceptable.
Harmful effects
  • Negative emotional and psychological effects.
  • Feeling angry, sad, frustrated, depressed, and heightened social anxiety.
  • Lower self- esteem and report more suicidal thoughts (offenders and victims).
  • Higher rates of school absences, substance abuse, aggressive behavior, and physical ailments such as headaches or stomach aches (as reported by Kowalski and Limber - 2010).
Comparing traditional bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying and cyberbullying are both acts of aggression. Both often take place without the knowledge and supervision of adults. These acts of aggression can occur over a period of time. Cyberbullying and bullying are about relationships and individuals with unequal amounts of power.

Traditional bullyingCyberbullying
Traditional bullying Cyberbullying
Takes place when a more powerful person attacks a less powerful victim. Victim worries about parents, teachers and other adults overreacting and taking away or placing restrictions on their mobile phones, computers, tablets and Internet access. Not being able to communicate or socialize with their friends, would cause you to feel cut off from your world; is like sucking cyber oxygen out of your life.
The attack can be physical: hitting, kicking, pushing, wrestling, verbal: name calling, insulting, put-downs, or psychological: spreading rumors, social exclusion or extortion. A perpetrator of cyberbullying does not have to be physically or verbally intimidating and is typically anonymous.
The individual or group of bullies is known to the victim. The cyberbully does not observe the suffering or pain of the target and does not receive immediate feedback about his or her hurtful actions.
Takes place in and around schools with some bystanders observing the bullying. Perpetrators do not believe they will be identified and punished therefore they can act in more cruel ways online.
  Content can remain on the Internet for an extended period of time.
  Social media such as Facebook, YouTube, websites and smart phones are common venues and mediums.

Source:Willard (2008)

Canadian Bullying Statistics

Should I report cyberbullying?

Victims of bullying are often reluctant to talk about their experiences because they perceive the bullying might become worse. It is critical to learn and understand the consequences of cyberbullying and especially the local laws against it.

Action 1  

Do >

Online survey

Create an online survey dealing with cyberbullying within your school. Ask questions to find out what students know about the nature of cyberbullying, personal experiences with cyberbullying, and the many consequences of this online behavior. Include questions about their gender, age, and use of technology but have the students remain anonymous. Compare your findings with the other reports. How would you account for any significant differences?

Action 2  

Do >

Responsibility, Recognition

In a small group design a Venn diagram that illustrates the differences and similarities of traditional bullying and cyberbullying. Share your diagram with other groups.

On Becoming A Responsible Digital Citizen

In the 21st century with the pervasive nature of technology, cyberbullying is a challenge for you and your peers. This behavior that often takes place in non-school settings can have a negative influence on learning and a school's atmosphere. There is not a "silver bullet" solution for addressing this online behavior. Rather it requires a pro-active response that enables you to become a responsible digital citizen. Responsible digital citizens know about privacy and invading other people's privacy. They carefully guard their personal information such as their name, cell number, home and e-mail addresses. Personal information about relationships or problems shared online can leave you in a vulnerable position. Responsible digital citizens know how and with whom to discuss intimate information.

Action 3 

Do >

Identity and Theft

Work with a partner as an Internet Security Specialists. List a number of practical strategies for protecting your identity when working on the Internet. Design a pamphlet creatively outlining your ideas for other students.

Laws in Cyberspace

In democratic societies there are a number of laws to protect citizens. There are also protections for their freedoms and rights. What happens when you are in cyberspace? How are you protected? What are your rights? A responsible digital citizen has knowledge about the laws, freedoms and rights in virtual environments. There is a developing body of work taking place dealing with the legal issues addressing cyberbullying, its impact on young people and learning in schools.

Although the laws in many countries stem from British Common Law, emerging laws relating to cyberbullying vary in different countries. Young people and teachers have an opportunity to investigate together how the law in their country, province or state addresses cyberbullying. Shariff (2008) suggests that together they can develop a legal literacy. You can come to understand which forms of cyberbullying would be addressed by civil law (a private case between two parties) or a criminal law (crimes against the state).

  • In online environments, when is a person engaging in slander, a potential libel case or creating an unsafe environment?
  • How are harassment and defamatory libel defined under the Criminal Code or other laws?
  • How is the freedom of expression balanced with an individual’s right to be free from irresponsible, hurtful speech, the disclosure of personal information, psychological and emotional distress brought on by the intentional harmful actions of others?

Just saying, " I didn't know…." is not good enough for when someone is confronted with the legal consequences of his or her acts of cyberbullying. Responsible citizens know they are accountable for their actions in cyberspace.

Action 4 

Do >

Mock trial dramatic presentation

Learn about the laws and regulations regarding cyberbullying in your school district, province/state and the federal laws. Then create a dramatic presentation dealing with a trial of an individual accused of being a cyberbully. Your audience should be able to clearly understand:

  • Why the cyberbullying took place
  • The nature of the online harassment
  • The duration of the cyberbullying and
  • The psychological and emotional impact of this experience.

Different students play different roles e.g. the perpetrator, the target, lawyers, witnesses, the judge etc. The drama should clearly demonstrate to the audience how the laws apply to cyberbullying and the consequences for inappropriate online behavior.



Netiquette is a code of behavior people follow in online environments.
Young people abiding to these social guidelines respect other people’s rights and well-being.

Action 5  

Think >

Responsibility in a digital age

Read the following paragraphs and decide who is demonstrating responsible online behavior:

  • Sonia received an email that left her basking in a sea of emotions. She quickly wrote a response but decided to follow the “24 Hours Rule” before sending her reply. The next day after thinking about the email, she revised her response to avoid the possibility of regretting her initial reaction.
  • Some teenagers consider themselves to be the smartest, most knowledgeable person they know in a particular area. Rui adopted the persona of the “school’s technical genius,” therefore nobody could trace his hacking, or cyberbullying activities.
  • Many people send provocative emails or pictures to others. These images, videos or messages can quickly be circulated to a wider often unknown audience. And they can remain on the Internet for a long period of time.

A “technical genius” or hacker needs to keep in mind the numerous Internet security specialists around the world who have successfully developed sophisticated procedures for detecting the identity of online participants. Ultimately he or she will get caught and there will be consequences because cyberbullying is against the law.

An analogy of the consequences of impulsive behaviour is the case of Laura and James who decided to get matching tattoos. Two years later they both regretted their hasty decision. Tats can sometimes be removed but it is often an expensive painful experience.

Think long-term about what you post or say online! Some online images can become a source of shame and embarrassment, particularly when they cannot be removed.

Digitally responsible citizens develop and adhere to a netiquette that guides their online communication, and behaviors.

Action 6  

Discuss >

Ethical digital citizenship

Locate several netiquette Web resources online. In small groups develop your own code of online behaviour.

The Internet is a powerful tool to enhance learning, thinking, communicating and socializing. Responsible digital citizens know how to behave ethically while using technology to enhance their lives.


A. Cyberbullying 411
- Answers questions about cyberbullying.

B. Cyber Mentors
- Offers assistance for victims of bullying and cyberbullying.

C. Digizen.org
- Encourages teens to become responsible digital citizens.

D. MediaSmarts
- Strategies for fighting cyberbullying