Legal Responses to Cyberbullying: the 'unsupervised public playground'.

Author:Haykowski, Teresa
Position:Special Report: Legal Responses to Bullying

Should a student be suspended or expelled for posting a video on the Internet that mercilessly humiliates another student? Should a school principal be able to search a student's cellphone much like a school locker? What should happen to those students who intentionally post information about a fellow student that causes them to contemplate suicide?

Such questions arise following the tragic recent death of Rahtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who died in April 2013, after hanging herself. The suicide was in response to a picture, shared around Rahtaeh Parsons's school, of an alleged sexual assault involving her.

This deeply sad incident occurred on the heels of the suicide of 15-year-old B.C. teenager Amanda Todd, who experienced months of cyberbullying which started after pictures were posted of her on the Internet. Shortly before Amanda took her young life, she posted a YouTube video documenting her suffering.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is generally known as electronic communication intended to, or that could reasonably be expected to, cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person's health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation. It often manifests itself by students, the effects of which are experienced at school. Cyberbullying can include:

* creating a web page or a blog in which a student assumes the identity of another student;

* impersonating another student as the author of content or messages posted on the Internet; and

* communicating material electronically to more than one student or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more students.

It goes without saying that children can suffer harm through cyberbullying, including loss of self-esteem, anxiety, fear and school drop-outs. Moreover, victims of cyberbullying are almost twice as likely to report that they attempted suicide compared to young people who have not been bullied. For more information about this, we recommend Nova Scotia's Task Force Report on Bullying called Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That.

As this Report notes, the anonymity available to cyberbullies makes it easier to bully because it removes the traditional power imbalance between the bully and victim, and makes it difficult to prove the identity of the perpetrator. Anonymity allows young people, who might not otherwise engage in bullying, the opportunity to do so with less chance of...

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