- 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 anonymous? 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 the movie theatre? 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, and ubiquitous part of our world. Cyberspace is a hectic, busy place:
- In Canada, 84% of teenagers own or share a computer at home and over 90% have access to a smart phone
- Boys spend more time per day on the computer playing games while girls spend more time visiting social networking sites. But all teens equally like to visit social networking sites
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, TikTok videos, websites and short films enable them to share ideas, images, and information with a wider audience and receive responses about your creative endeavours
- 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 gearheads
- 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 come with responsibilities and consequences.
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 can result in injury and death. Texting while driving is the number one cause of fatal car accidents for teens in Canada.
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 behaviour and abusive 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 2022 Google search for “cyberbullying” located over 18,700,000 hits.
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. Damaging texts 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
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
Key Concepts: Recognized Forms of Cyberbullying
Harassment and Sexual Harassment (Sextortion): Harassment occurs when an individual or a group of people sends distasteful, mean, insulting, or threatening messages repeatedly, such as posting or sending stories, pictures, jokes, or cartoons that are intended to embarrass or humiliate a person; blackmailing or threatening the victim with harm if they do not post intimate sexual photos and videos of themselves.
Denigration: Denigration is spreading gossip or making up rumors, posting or sending materials that are untrue or cruel. The intention is to disrupt friendships and 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 and disrupt friendships.
Outing and Trickery: Outing is sharing 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 and 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 assault.
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) purpose is 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.
Ghosting: When friends cut off online contact and stop responding, they are ghosting. Refusing to answer someone’s texts or snaps is a common way of communicating during a shift or upheaval among a group of friends. Often, instead of ever addressing the issue head-on, people will just ignore the targeted person. It amounts to a form of shunning and it is unfair and damaging to the person who is excluded.
Lesbian, gay, and transgendered students are twice as likely to experience cyberbullying as any other group of students.
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 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).
Some victims of cyberbullying in Canada:
In Nova Scotia – Rehtaeh Parsons
In British Columbia – Amanda Todd
In Saskatchewan – Todd Loik
When is cyberbullying criminal?
In addition to civil liability, there are cases where cyberbullying may be criminal. Depending on the nature and frequency of the communications, the person responsible for the bullying may be charged with one or more of the following Criminal Code offences:
- Defamatory libel
- Criminal harassment
- Uttering threats
- Unauthorized use of a computer
- Identity fraud
- False messages
- Counselling suicide
- Incitement of hatred
- Child pornography
Some of these offences are strictly indictable offences, and as such, carry serious penalties for those found guilty.
The Prevalence of Cyberbullying
- In Canada, 34% of students in grades 7-11 have been cyberbullied
- 89% of teachers in Canada say that cyberbullying is the number one safety issue in schools
- Only 5% of middle school students reported cyberbullying to an adult or teacher.
- 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)
- More males report being cyberbullied than females but more females are likely to inform adults about their online harassment experiences. Females are the primary victims of online sexual harassment.
- Young people from different ethnic backgrounds report taking part in cyberbullying at comparable rates (Hinduja and Patchin, 2008)
Why do some young people participate in cyberbullying?
- Revenge is the most common reported reason
- Anger, frustration and trying to right a wrong
- Young people who have been targets of various forms of traditional bullying or cyberbullying by the “mean girls” or “tough guys” use cyberbullying to can stand up for themselves or others while remaining anonymous.
- To maintain powerful social standing
- For entertainment and amusement without considering the hurtful consequences
- To enhance social status: a degrading video clip may be considered cool by others and increase popularity
- Young people involved in cyberbullying may believe their actions are a common behaviour and socially acceptable.
- The main effects of cyberbullying are: decreased interest in school activities; absenteeism; bad academic performance and lower grades; skipping classes, dropping out, and truancy
- Negative emotional and psychological effects; feeling angry, sad, frustrated, depressed, and experiencing heightened social anxiety
- Lower self-esteem and suicidal thoughts (offenders and victims).
- Higher rates of school absences, substance abuse, aggressive behavior, and physical ailments such as headaches or stomach aches (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.
|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 young people to feel cut off from the world|
|The attack can be physical: hitting, kicking, pushing, wrestling; and/or verbal: name calling, insults, put-downs; and/or psychological: spreading rumours, 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
Should I report cyberbullying?
Victims of bullying are often reluctant to talk about their experiences because they fear that the bullying might become worse if it is reported. It is critical to learn about and understand the consequences of cyberbullying and especially the local and federal laws against it.
Create an anonymous 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 do not include any student names. Compare your findings with the other reports. How would you account for any significant differences?
Responsibility and 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.
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 proactive 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 email 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. Don’t share personal information online.
Work with a partner as 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 and rights that exist in virtual environments. There is a developing body of work 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 and province or territory addresses cyberbullying. Shariff (2008) suggests that together they can develop 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 defamation defined under the Criminal Code of Canada?
- How is the freedom of expression balanced with an individual’s right to be free from irresponsible, hurtful speech, the disclosure of personal information, and psychological and emotional distress brought on by the intentional harmful actions of others?
Just saying “I didn’t know” is not good enough 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.
Learn about the laws and regulations regarding cyberbullying in your school district and province or territory. 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
- 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 by these social guidelines respect other people’s rights and well-being.
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 in a particular area. Ron 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 very long period of time. They can ruin reputations and adversely affect one’s personal and professional life.
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 and painful experience.
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.
Think long-term about what you post or say online. Some online images and videos can become a source of shame and embarrassment, particularly when they cannot be removed. Girls, especially, are targeted online and should not share personal images or videos of themselves online.
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.
– Online safety for young people
– Watch the film Let’s Fight It Together
C. MediaSmarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital Literacy
– Strategies for fighting cyberbullying
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