In this digital age, our thumbs are growing stronger by the day. With the world at our fingertips, arduous tasks are accomplished in seconds, information is disseminated instantly, and communication and interconnectedness are constant. Everything is just a few keystrokes or a simple point and click away.
The advent of a shining, technological era has meant enhancing
our capabilities as individuals, while shrinking our perceptions of both the world and the impossible.
Today, feats of science and engineering unimaginable to our ancestors are a reality by and large taken for granted. Certain undreamed-of innovations, like our modern ability for instantaneous, endless contact with anyone, anytime, anywhere on the planet, are not only now possible, but impossible to avoid, almost impossible to live without.
Still, while we’ve tailored our gizmos and gadgets to improve and enrich our lives in thousands of ways, new technologies designed with good intentions in mind have inevitably been adapted to serve much less desirable purposes, such as bullying.
Nowadays, through the use of phones, computers and the like, we yield the potential to inflict enormous emotional and personal damage on others.
Thanks to a hastily written status posted to Facebook, a drunk or reactionary text sent into cyberspace without thinking, a fight on Twitter over a passive/aggressive tweet, or a humiliating photo seen by 500 of your closest friends, we can inspire huge regret, embarrassment, anger or upset, both remotely and at a moment’s notice.
This ability to readily cause visible emotional harm while remaining physically detached from the situation by acting from behind a computer screen, combined with young people’s penchant for social media, bordering on obsession, have allowed bullying to transfer exceedingly well to the ever-changing technological landscape.
That being said, cyberbullying is, believe it or not, very much like its emotional, physical and verbal counterparts — traditional bullying superimposed on a digital medium. The same circumstances are still intact — a predator (or predators), their prey, and a whole lot of bystanders. The only difference is that this time, the boundaries are different.
Emotional, verbal or physical abuse almost invariably remain at school, the only place the bullied victim cannot hide.
Cyberbullying, however, extends well past the dismissal bell, and can reach someone no matter where they are while maintaining the same peer audience.
Free of the confines of school and more or less unrestricted in what they can say or do, bullies can thrive online, where there is little to no consequence for their actions. Meanwhile, their victims can begin to feel smothered.
It’s a nightmare, broadcast live to everyone they know, that never seems to end.
And as the nightmares keep going on, the victims keep piling up.
Despite all this, in much of Canada, there still don’t seem to be any real measures in place to deal with cyberbullying ,and thus no concrete deterrents for its perpetrators. Though anti-bullying campaigns have been promoted in schools for years here at home, Eastern School District’s policy is more or less non-existent when it comes to cyberbullying specifically and there is, likewise, no legislation on this province’s books regarding cyberbullying or its legal consequences.
Across the Gulf, Nova Scotia has recently brought in cyberbullying legislation — the first of its kind in Canada — in the wake of the tragic suicide of 17-year-old cyberbullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons.
Obviously, this legislation won’t be an outright solution for cyberbullying, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction, not only because it will hopefully serve as a catalyst for other provinces to act, but because it finally acknowledges an important issue that has remained unaddressed for far too long.
Whether through legislation, newer, tougher school policies or some other form of protection, Newfoundland and Labrador cannot afford to avoid taking action on cyberbullying any longer.
It may be too late for Rehtaeh Parsons, but it isn’t too late for others from this province currently going through situations similar to hers.
With their lives hanging in the balance, now is the time to act.
Patrick Butler plans to begin the journalism program at Carleton University in Ontario in the fall. He lives in Conception Bay South,
and can be reached by email