A new Cyber safety act has been implemented in Canada, following a string of suicides by teenagers having been victims of extreme and malignant cyberbullying. As a result, several Canadian regions have implemented specific laws against cyberbullying. This means that if alleged cyberbullies are minors, the new legislation allows victims to hold the bully’s parents responsible and victims of cyberbullying can now apply for protection orders to place restrictions on, or identify, the cyberbully.
One of the cases that has sparked the decision to create laws against cyberbullying – and bullying in general, was the death of 17 year old Rehtaeh Parsons. According to her mother, four boys sexually assaulted Rehtaeh when she was 15 and after that she became a victim of extreme and brutal cyberbullying by class mates after images from the sexual assault emerged.
Her father Glen Canning explained how the bullying eventually pushed Rehtaeh to the point of finally taking her own life, nearly two years after the sexual assault had taken place:
“I think for the first two weeks after the incident happened with my daughter, there was a photo being passed around her school to dozens of people. It’s hard to believe that that could happen unopposed, it could happen without any consequences whatsoever and we really had no recourse at all.
“It was just constant and there was no consequences for anybody to something that just completely destroyed her, just completely destroyed her whole life. She never recovered from that. And the thing is, at the time, we did everything right. We went to the police, we went to the school, and it was just like everyone just shrugged it off.”
In the above mentioned case, two boys have been charged and thus held accountable – however this is only the first case of it’s kind and in most countries there are little to no regulation when it comes to cyberbullying. The problem with cyberbullying on the Internet is obvious – there is absolutely no accountability or responsibility, both because there (until now) haven’t been any laws to protect people from online abuse, but more specifically also because abusers legally hide behind the convenience of anonymity.
Obviously parents are responsible for the safety of their children, but without proper education and support from the legal system, there is little they can do to help their children. Research therefore also show that 90 per cent of parents know about cyber bullying, but 83 per cent would not know what to do if their child was a victim (Sunrise Foundation, 2009). Similarly teachers are also not educated in how to handle bullying and it is clear that without accountability within the legal system, we will continue to see the results of bullying escalate.
The internet has become a safe haven and a playground for people who takes pleasure in abusing others – or watching others being abused (such as in porn) and the fact that Canada has finally decided to place a point of legal accountability is commendable, yet it is also something that should have been in the first place, showing how we as humans force consequences to manifest in the extreme before we open our eyes to what we are accepting and allowing – and take action. As Canning said: “It took for someone to die for this to be taken seriously.”
A question that needs to be asked to bring this point to further clarity and definitive accountability is whether or not bullying in some instances should be considered a criminal offense equal to attempted murder or manslaughter. Because the bullies deliberately torment and humiliate the victim for example telling them to go kill themselves, often over long periods of time, with constant threats and harassment, leaving the victim distraught and vulnerable – to the point of actually committing suicide because they see no other way out of the virtual hell they are in. This is obviously even more serious when it involves children or teenagers who already are vulnerable and for whom social relationships are fragile and filled with conflict, internally as well as externally. This happened for example in the recent case from Britain where 14 year old Hannah Smith killed herself after having been taunted on the infamous website ask.fm. She was sent messages such as ”Why don’t you just get cancer” and ”die already” and even after her death the abusers continued by saying that it was her own fault that she died. Now – these bullies weren’t even Hannah’s peers, in fact some of the bullies have been exposed as adults and Hannah’s case is just one among four recent suicides connected to the ask.fm website.
The question is – who is responsible for these deaths? If a child is being emotionally abused by their parents or if a partner is being abused by their spouse and kill themselves, the abuser can be held accountable. The government can even be held accountable for negligence and not intervening in cases where the abuse has been obvious and reported to the police. But in the case of cyberbullying, no one has stood accountable – even though the abuse is deliberate, brutal and vicious and even though the websites where the abuse was carried out, virtually enticed people to continue abusing. Here we are not only talking about small websites such as ask.fm. The extreme abuse and cyberbullying is also being allowed on global social networks such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.
Cyberbullying can thus be defined as “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others” (Bill Belsey).
In the Desteni group, we have been exposed to an extensive amount of online abuse since the launch of Desteni Productions youtube channel in 2007. This abuse includes direct death threats similar to the ones described in the examples above, stalking, trolling and obscene verbal sexual abuse. Instead of taking down the abusers channels, Youtube shut down all Desteni channels. This is not uncommon in the case of bullying. When people start speaking up against the ways we live on this earth that are unacceptable, they easily fall victim to massive abuse and bullying. Such was the case for the British whistleblower, Gillian Austin, who as a nurse exposed the unacceptable practices carried out by her colleges only to be bullied by them over a six month period.
The Desteni group has for years been harassed by a group of people on a website called the cult education forum whose own activities has been linked to a bullying related suicide. We have attempted to take legal action against this website without success because the hosting service hosting the website is located in Sweden where the laws are lenient towards internet content, explicitly boasting itself on providing ‘freedom of speech’ for it’s users.
On the hosting service website prq.se, the company markets itself as follows:
“We proudly respect our customers integrity, privacy and confidentiality. No surveillance takes place beyond what is required to secure the Internet’s functions and performance. We are big friends of the freedom of speech and the freedom to act and we let our customers enjoy this fully within the boundaries of the law, no matter how odd, unpopular, sensational or controversial the operation is. As a consequence of this, our contracts have no clauses that prohibits offensive, abusive or pornographic material.” (Translated from Swedish)
So as can be see within all clarity, this company deliberately markets itself as a safe haven for abusers and are able to do so within the boundaries of the Swedish laws where freedom of speech is given absolute precedence over any form of dignity. Ironically the company claim to protect their customers integrity, but what kind of integrity does a cyberbully have? What kind of integrity does an adult have that deliberately taunts and harasses a child to commit suicide? What kind of integrity does a porn producer that lures young women to have humiliating sex on camera have? How is it that this is accepted and endorsed by our governments? Is the lack of integrity then not an overall societal issues? And if that is so – have our legal system not failed us in and absolute sense? Have we not then essentially failed ourselves?
“Free Choice is Not the Freedom to Abuse – Free Choice is the Ability to Make a Choice to Experienceyourself in Different Ways Without AbusingAnother, Without Generating Fear in the Lifeof another. This situation is Not going to Get Better until We actually get to a point where the Internet Becomes a Zone of Accountability. And therefore Join Us, as We will be Pushing for such Accountability because as long as the ‘Big Boys’ like Google and YouTube Allow Trolls and Cyberbullying, and They Do Not Stand Accountable = We will Have a Problem. There are Double Standards and it’s all about The Profit and the Money, there is No Consideration and No Actual Free Choice Unless there is Profit it seems. “ – Bernard Poolman
Sweden, the country I live in, boasts itself on being one of the safest and most equal countries in the world. But behind the scenes of this idyllic Northern country a rotten core is revealed, a cowardice hiding behind the law. And it is obvious that it is the law that is then protecting the abusers – leaving the victims and their families defenseless and without any form of protection. As such, it is not only the bullies or the webhosts that are deliberately enticing abuse that should go on trial – the Swedish government, all government that protects abusers behind the law must be held accountable. And Canada has now as the first country taken a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t change the fact that many children and teenagers have already committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying – and that we as citizens have their blood on our hands.
The Bully project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiiozTED9nU