Federal legislation on cyberbullying is not a solution: SFU professor

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Darren Laur, police expert on social media, said, “If you’re a good digital citizen, then [the Internet] will work for you.”
Photo illustration by Kayla Isomura.
The current legislation the federal government is bringing to the table, which addresses the distribution of intimate images, only addresses a small aspect of the cyberbullying issue, says one SFU professor.

“The issue is deeper than intimate images,” said Wanda Cassidy, education professor and expert on cyberbullying.

The ways that people cyberbully is far more than posting intimate pictures. She said: “Most cyberbullying is using word in some capacity. On social media sites. It can be text messages.”

“Our criminal code does have provisions that can be applied to cyberbullying,” Cassidy said. “There’s harassment; there’s stalking; there’s defamatory libel. There’s some other aspect to the code that currently does cover cyberbullying but not explicitly.

“Maybe there could be tweaking of the criminal code a little bit to add words around online harassment, for example. But it’s not part of this legislation that is being put through.”

She said legislation plays a role and it creates overarching policies and moral guidelines about what we should and shouldn’t do. “Yes, it’s needed, but it’s not a solution.”

Education is more important

Wanda Cassidy, SFU education professor and expert on social media, said technology is just another tool and like other tools, it can be used for good or bad.
Photo courtesy of SFU.

A strong advocate for good discussion and modelling, Cassidy said: “What’s more important is that those who are cyberbullying or those who are victims in society at large begin to talk about solutions and begin to educate why it’s happening.”

Cassidy did some research with both students and their parents. “What we found was that one third of the students said that they had been victims and about one third actually said they were bullies – cyberbullies.

“Only 11 per cent of them were able to say their child was a victim and one parent out of 350 parents was able to say their child had been a bully.”

Children don’t tell their parents when they’ve been bullied and because parents don’t need to address the situation, it doesn’t seem real to them. “Parents don’t see cyberbullying as their child’s problem,” Cassidy said. “It’s somebody else’s kid.”

“They don’t think their child is participating or is a victim. They think it’s somebody else’s child.”

“In reality, it’s one out of every 3 kids in a school that is either a victim and/or a bully,” said Cassidy.

Darren Laur, police expert on social media, said in an interview last week: “Parents are models. They’re the foundation of our kids.”

He believes both parents and youths need to be attentive to their online conduct. “Here we are, giving our kids all this technology, giving them the keys to the digital highway, giving them these smartphones, yet we’re not providing with any parental oversight or rules in how to engage in these places with this technology.”

Cyberbullying is never done unintentional

In Cassidy’s study, she asked the kids why they cyberbullied.

“Some said it was peer pressure,” she said. “Some said it was because they were cyberbullied themselves. Unbelievably, 10 per cent said it was fun. That’s quite scary.

“And some just admitted they wanted to hurt somebody,” said Cassidy. “They were angry at them and just wanted to hurt them.”

She said this cannot be addressed by legislation. “Kids that want to bully will find different ways to bully.”

Cassidy advocates that parents, teachers and kids can address the situation better with education.

“It’s all about learning to respect each other, empathizing with others,” she said. “Teaching young people going into adolescence ‘how do you relate to one another’, ‘how do you maintain friendships’.”

“If you are frustrated, how do you communicate your frustration in a way that doesn’t hurt somebody,” said Cassidy. “These are conversations parents can have with kids, teachers have kids, and kids have with one another.”

Reported by Deanna Cheng

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