Skip to Main Content

What is cyberbullying?

Girl being cyberbullied. Photo: iStock.
Photo: iStock

Cyberbullying is bullying that is done over technological devices, such as smart phones, tablets, computers, laptops, etc, and shows up on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Unfortunately, social media is as public as you can get, allowing bullies to say mean, nasty slurs that follow kids to school, and often leads to physical bullying.

The University of Toronto did a survey on cyberbullying and found that almost one in five Canadian students have been bullied online in the last three months.

Even more troubling is that sometimes the victim becomes the doer. An Alberta study found that one-third of students that had cyberbullied other kids had also been victims of it.

What types of behaviour does cyberbullying include?

  • If you take an inappropriate or embarrassing picture or video of someone with a digital camera and send it to others or post it online without their knowledge or permission – recently this has been made a criminal act – especially for pictures that contain nudity.
  • Putting stories, pictures, jokes, or cartoons online that are meant to cause humiliation or embarrassment.
  • Sending mean or threatening messages by email, text or through comments on a social networking page.
  • Gossip and spreading embarrassing rumours, secrets about another person through social networking sites, email, or texts.
  • Hacking someone's email account and pretending to be them and sending hurtful content to others.
  • Retrieving someone’s password and using it to get into their social networking account and post material as them that would be embarrassing, humiliating, offensive or criminal.
  • Deceiving a person to get them to open up and share personal information and then sharing that information with others.
  • Creating online polls and rating people in demeaning ways.
  • In online gaming, repeatedly harming a player's character, ganging up on a player, or using personal information to make threats.

Damage caused by cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can lead to physical bulling. Even worse, cyberbullying can affect a child in terrible ways and damage their self-esteem, feelings, reputation and mental health.

In the worst-case scenarios some teenagers have been driven to commit suicide because of severe cyberbullying.

The law

Under federal law, social media use that leads to cyberbullying is covered by both civil and criminal law.

In civil law, a person can sue the school or authority figures, where they did not do all they could to stop the bullying of a student.

Criminally, the harasser is the person usually punished. Criminal Code offences which are related to cyberbullying include criminal harassment, intimidation, child pornography, extortion, etc.,

It’s important to know that a new law came into effect in Canada in 2015, Bill C-13 – the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act - which makes it a crime to publish an image of a person without their consent.

Often this kind of bullying occurs where a relationship has broken up and the person seeks revenge on the former partner by posting intimate images of him or her. This is also sometimes called “revenge porn” (because of its explicit nature) and it’s against the law.

Provincially, if the person being bullied is a child, most provinces have school guidelines or regulations that obligate schools to monitor for cyberbullying. They have to either create anti-cyberbullying programs or educate students about cyberbullying. In some provinces/territories, this obligation is written either into their education act, or a guideline created to deal with cyberbullying.

What can I do to prevent it?

Do not participate. Do not click “like” on Facebook, do not share writings or images to do with cyberbullying – that could make you an accomplice.

Cyberbullying is a terrible thing in an age where gossip can be rapidly disseminated. Don’t be a cyberbully and don’t be a part of it.

Read More:

Bullying and Cyberbullying

Get Cyber Safe – Government of Canada

Social media cyberbullying