Some people take on a different persona when they are online. Perhaps because they can hide behind the anonymity afforded to them by their usernames, people are somehow emboldened to act more aggressively in an online environment.
Are you one of those people? For example, have you ever:
- commented harshly on a post using foul language or curse words?
- posted someone else’s embarrassing photo or video as a joke?
- forwarded a private email conversation without the permission of the other person?
- posted threats on a forum or sent a menacing email to someone?
- made fun of a certain person or a group and encouraged others to do so online, via soial media?
What actually constitutes cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying means “any form of electronic communication, including social media, text messaging, instant messaging, websites, and e-mail, typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way” (The Cyberbullying Prevention Act).
The examples above, especially when done repeatedly and with malice are considered cyberbullying. Perhaps if you have posted a negative comment once or twice, or maybe ranted against a person or company for bad service, you can argue that you are not a cyber bully, just practicing your right to express your opinions. You may be right, especially if you used respectful language and/or are justified in your anger. However, for some, it can be a slippery slope and lead to developing a nasty habit.
The legal consequences of cyberbullying
A person proven to be a cyber bully can face legal consequences. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, it can range from a protection order (e.g. restriction from using electronic devices, or communicating with certain individuals or groups, etc.) to fines and even imprisonment.
For example, Canada’s criminal code considers it an offense to share intimate images of a person without the consent of the person in the image. Often, this is done as a form of revenge (revenge porn), which usually happens when a couple has a bad break-up. This damages a person’s reputation, self-esteem and mental health. A person convicted of distributing revenge porn may be imprisoned for up to five years, ordered to pay the victim damages, and have their computer, cell phone or other devices seized.
Aside from distributing intimate images, the criminal code considers the following offences punishable:
- Criminal harassment
- Uttering threats
- Mischief in relation to data
- Unauthorized use of computer
- Identity fraud
- False messages; indecent or harassing telephone calls
- Counselling suicide
- Incitement of hatred
- Defamatory libel
Don’t be a cyberbully!
Instead, be a responsible cyber citizen. Follow the tips:
- Be respectful. Practise good manners in all forms of communication. Use respectful and thoughtful language and treat people as you would like to be treated in real life. Be a good example and teach your kids to practise good netiquette as well. Did you know that you could be charged with cyberbullying if your child engages in it? Based on Manitoba’s Cyberbullying Prevention Act, a parent of a minor is deemed to be cyberbullying if they know that their child is engaging in the activity and fails to take steps in preventing it from continuing.
- Don’t be a troll. Don’t disrupt, attack, or post inflammatory messages in the hopes of inciting online fights. You have better things to do with your time than being a troll.
- Don’t share mean-spirited material. Don’t encourage cyberbullying by liking and sharing posts that could cause humiliation or hurt someone’s reputation. Some people forward these kinds of photos or videos to their friends, thinking they may find them funny. Place yourself in the shoes of that person in the photo or video. How would you feel if they published your embarrassing photos for the world to see?
- Don’t steal. Don’t post materials (photos, videos) that include other people without asking for permission. Respect other people’s work. Don’t use copyrighted materials unless you plan on paying for the use and citing the source. Inform the owner first before using the material.
- Ignore cyber bullies. If someone is being impolite to you online, don’t retaliate. It will only make things worse. Some people turn into cyber bullies because they are in need of attention. Comments, whether positive or negative, as well as likes or dislikes, encourage their behaviour. Usually, ignoring trolls will make them go away. But if you receive a particularly grave insult or threat, save the post or email as evidence. If the bullying persists, you can report the perpetrator and have solid proof.
- Have them blocked. If you are being bullied on a social media site, report the person. The site can block the user, especially when you show proof. You can check the following pages for regulations on cyberbullying:
Remember, many jobs have been lost and many relationships have been broken because of a thoughtless post.
Sources: Cyberbullying Prevention Act; What are the legal consequences of cyberbullying? and Are you a good Cyber citizen? Get Cyber Safe, Government of Canada; Bullying and cyberbullying, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Accessed August 10 and August 14, 2017.
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