Thursday July 24, 2014




Cyberbullying causing concern in Humboldt

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It's an increasingly serious issue that no city is safe from. Cyberbullying has reached Humboldt and education seems to be the only defence against it.


Essentially, cyberbullying is just like any other form of bullying. However, it's more insidious due to the ability of perpetrators to hide behind anonymous usernames and use a wider variety of mediums. For example, "sexting" entails sending sexually explicit messages or photographs via mobile phones.


"Sexting has become an increasing problem in Humboldt," said Constable Shayne Olsen from the RCMP. "We've been to Humboldt Collegiate Institute four or five times in the last year."


Although inappropriate, consensual sexting between individuals in a relationship isn't much of a problem. However, this can sometimes result in those explicit photographs being sent to others after a breakup occurs.


"It's not just boyfriend-girlfriend situations either," said Olsen. "Sometimes it's one friend sending it to another. Then that friend sends it one of his buddies and he sends it to someone else who opens their mouth."


Suddenly, everyone is talking about a nude photograph that was only supposed to be seen by an intimate partner.


Traditional bullying had already been a problem parents and teachers struggled with, but now the Internet is adding an entirely new dimension of difficulty, mainly because it's so hard to track. To compound the problem, most incidences of bullying go unreported.


"Often when an adult gets a hold of it or a student gets the courage to report it, it's gone to a level where it might be getting out of control," said Cory Popoff, principal of HCI. "So we need to act fast when provided with information just because of the speed this information can be shared and sent out there."


It's not just the high schools that are dealing with this either. Any time a child uses social media, they are vulnerable to online bullying. To address this, St. Dominic's principal has also been trying to educate the students and parents.


"More kids are putting other kids down for whatever reason, but they're doing it on social media," said Spence. "The problem is there's no connection. You think you've gotten away with something, but suddenly there's hurt feelings."


Spence says the only way they can really catch bullying when it's unreported is by observation. They watch for the looks on kids' faces, the tone of their voices, and their body language. They try to listen to conversations between kids in the hallways and in the playgrounds. Outside of school, they rely on parents to report any issues or concerns occurring between kids.


To assist parents with the issue, the Humboldt Reid-Thompson Public Library held a presentation last Wednesday, which covered the dangers, causes, and best ways to protect against cyberbullying.


Although it was only an hour long, it was packed with information. The first half consisted of Rebecca Lafleur, a research intern, presenting compiled data on behalf of the library. The second half was a brief talk by Olsen.


"It's been in the news a lot lately so we thought it would be a good idea to inform parents," said Lafleur. "It's efficient to have your child as a friend on Facebook, but it's getting to the stage where the kids can block you from seeing things, so that doesn't always work."


Lafleur also devoted some time to illustrating why cyberbullying is an increasing concern. One of the reasons she attributes it to is the belief that online bullying is anonymous. Moreover, despite what many people believe, it's not something victims can just turn off and walk away from.


"It has a lot to do with fitting in," said Lafleur. "It encompasses society so much that's it's hard not to get involved. People can still talk about you even if you're not online. It's hard to control their behaviour."


According to Lafleur's research, there are different reasons for bullying, but girls remain the most prevalent target in terms of gender.


"Both boys and girls are more likely to corner in on girls, based on sex appeal and boys are more likely to bully boys based on any feminine traits they may have," wrote Lafleur in an article on cyberbullying.


The invisible nature of the issue also bars the RCMP from acting legally. Technically, there is nothing about cyberbullying or sexting that is against the law when it's between underage individuals. The only exception is if explicit photos were taken without the consent of the subject.


Therefore, if a teenager voluntarily sends his or her partner nude photos and then they break up, that person can't be punished for sending that photo to other people. Even if the RCMP try and investigate an incident, there are barriers that still make the situation challenging.


"When it comes to the Internet, it's difficult to trace things sent by email or through Facebook," said Staff Sergeant Phil Wilson of the Humboldt RCMP. "We have to prove that the individual sent it. Just because it was sent from that account, doesn't mean an owner of that email is using it, especially if they're giving out passwords."


That being said, should the RCMP get as far as obtaining evidence, there still isn't much the legal system can do.


"We do send evidence to Crowns for their opinion, but usually they send it back because there's nothing they can do," said Olsen. "They'll say it was between consenting underage individuals."


Overall, this means that the RCMP are getting calls to try and deal with an increasing issue without any legal tools at their disposal.


There is, however, some hope. The government has drafted a new bill that could address some of the red tape police officers have to go through. While there are still many public concerns regarding Bill C-13, it does provide a start to addressing the gaps in the legal system when it comes to cyberbullying.


"(The bill) combines a proposed new offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images to address cyberbullying … [and] other existing offences that are committed via the Internet or that involve electronic evidence," said Canada's Department of Justice website.


In other words, they would be making the sharing of explicit photographs a crime unless the person in question has given consent. They would also be making it easier for the RCMP to obtain search warrants and court orders.


"It'll give us the ability to deal with things that maybe we can't right now," said Wilson. "We deal with threats predominantly because that's about the only thing that's verbal."


Until the law is modified, the RCMP can do nothing more than warn youths and try to educate them. Even then, they're only called in when the situation is serious enough to warrant their presence. Otherwise, the school staff deals with it.


"When bullying occurs, everyone is interviewed," said Popoff. "Should the behaviour repeat itself and it's evident the student isn't learning, then the consequences get more serious."


Additionally, HCI retains a personal counselor who is sometimes called in to help deal with perpetrators and victims of bullying. They might occasionally assist in helping perpetrators by finding different ways for them to interact with their peers.


"Digital citizenship is huge," said Popoff. "We need to make sure they understand the consequences of not only bullying, but also the consequences of using technology as a way of bullying other people."


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