The second chapter of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights’ recent report, Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age, paints a picture of cyberbullying, citing witness testimony on the definition of the phenomenon and the context in which it occurs.

(To read the report or the companion guides for youth and parents, please visit the Committee’s website.)

Some key points from the chapter:

  • There isn’t a universal definition for cyberbullying, which is also sometimes called electronic bullying or online bullying. Students, teachers, and researchers highlighted four principal elements of cyberbullying, including

    • The use of electronic devices
    • A form of bullying
    • Behaviour intended to harm
    • High likelihood or fear of repetition
  • Many witnesses “discussed the importance of supporting the development of a definition of cyberbullying and a uniform, consistent vocabulary in order to make interventions with young people more effective” (9).
  • “Cyberbullying is a kind of violence that takes many forms and occurs in many environments, including the Internet, networking sites, test messages, “sexting,” and instant messaging” (12).
  • There’s considerable overlap between cyberbullying and ‘traditional’ bullying. They’re both an “expression of aggressive behaviours whose purpose is generally to assert power” (15).
  • Intervention by peers is hugely important. One study suggests “that bullying ceases within 10 seconds in nearly 60 percent of all cases when peers intervene” (16).
  • Witnesses described to the committee how cyberbullying:

    • Is distinctively more intrusive and harder to escape
    • Has an almost unlimited audience
    • Stems from a false impression that anyone can say anything online or over text messages
    • Allows young people who bully to make comments anonymously
    • Is highly conducive to ‘role-switching’
      • A teacher, Bill Belsey, “compared bullying and cyberbullying to ‘a play on a stage’” (23).
    •  Produces a unique and harmful ‘repetition effect’
  • There are “some major gaps in the research as to what ‘precursory risk factors indicate that a child may bully someone or be bullied’” (28).
  • Young people “who belong to minority groups or who are perceived as different are generally more vulnerable to bullying” (28).
    • “Homophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of marginalization are apparent in cyberbullying,” said Professor Faye Mishna.
  • It’s difficult to measure the magnitude of the problem because of gaps in research and a tendency among young people to not report incidents of cyberbullying.
  • Young Canadians “are avid consumers of new technology…99 percent have Internet access at home, in school, or on their cell phone…more than half use the Internet for more than an hour a day, mainly to make contacts and communicate with their peers…young people send 50 to 60 test messages every day…some young people send and receive more than 100 text messages per day” (37).
  • Technology is a tool: it can be used to learn and to help, or to hurt and to harm.
  • Many young people “are skilled at manipulating technology.” But that doesn’t necessarily “mean that they have all the knowledge or judgement they need to navigate safely through cyberspace” (39).