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Allows for perceived anonymity, permanence, infinite audience and participants.
Inter alia: Text messaging and social networking sites, bulletin boards, blogs, chat rooms, avatars, Xangas, e-mail, camera cellular phone with recording capacity, sexting nude or semi-nude photos to friends.
Anti-authority on-line expression results in more urgent calls for bans on technology and legislative amendments in Canada than peer cyber-bullying.
Girl culture studies coined the term “Bedroom Culture” in 1976 (McRobbie & Garber, 1976):
Girls’ bedrooms although physically private, are highly social spaces (chat on telephone with friends, pin up posters, have pajama parties, write in diaries, listen to music).
Evolved into the “Digital Bedroom” (Sefton-Green and Buckingham **).
Location of children’s/adolescent’s cyber play: gaming, webs-surfing, social networking, and particularly, as a descriptor of girls’ websites.
Weber & Mitchell (2008) studied 50 eleven and twelve-year-old middle-class girls in South Africa who participated in a “digital bedroom” project as part of a second language course using digital cameras and power-point. The researchers observed the following:
This South African project offered a “glimpse into the world of girls that links the construction of identity, space, and digital technology.” (Weber & Mitchell, **:35).
What they have chosen to photograph [in a private space] and project in a public space also represents a social act, not just in relation to what they initially chose to photograph but also in relation to what they chose to project to their peers and teacher. In this respect, their work is not that different from the photo-sharing associated with their cell phone use or within social networking sites…The girls’ choices of image raise fascinating questions about their personal-public identities. (Emphasis added, Weber & Mitchell, **:36).
Plausible that the American girls charged with pornography in the Philadelphia case were simply engaging in “digital bedroom” activities that included on-line social networking with their friends through photographs of their private space.
Few cases have been considered in Canadian courts:
Alberta teen charged in 2007 with distribution and possession of porn after distributing naked pictures sent by a 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of “corrupting morals.”
In the Quebec case of Aubry v. Editions Vice Versa the circulation of private photographs were considered to be a civil law breach of the Quebec Charter’s protections of “private life . ” (Slane, **).
The court ruled in favor of a 17-year-old girl, taking into consideration her social circle and precisely a “teenager’s sensitivity to teasing by her friends” as foreseeable harm. In other words a person’s reputation can trump free expression.
TEST: If an “ordinary person” is likely to believe the on-line comments this constitutes unfair comment, ruining reputation:
A good reputation is closely related to the innate worthiness and dignity of the individual. It is an attribute that must, just as much as freedom of expression, be protected by society’s law . . . Democracy has always recognized and cherished the fundamental importance of an individual . . . The reputation tarnished by libel can seldom regain its former lustre. A democratic society therefore, has an interest in ensuring that its members can enjoy and protect their good reputation so long as it is merited. [Emphasis added]
SCC: Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto (1995)
Questions: Can the “ordinary person’s” test be applied equally to children, adolescents, teens and adults? Would this apply to distribution of photographs rather than spoken or written expression?
On September, 2009 – Harvard University Law Professor, John Palfrey testified before the U.S. Congress:
Urged lawmakers to consider problems of cyber-bullying and related Internet concerns more broadly and not to put sole blame on new technologies.
First, overwhelmingly, most of the ways in which young people use digital technologies are positive . . . Most young people, at least in the United States, do not distinguish between their ‘online’ and ‘offline’ lives. As a result, many of the good things that have gone on offline also happen, in one form or another, online: so, too, do many of the bad things that happen in everyday life play out also online.
The law needs to provide incentives for technology companies to support and work to protect young users – and harness their innovations.
Rethink existing laws by re-examining legal frameworks towards reasonable enforceability.
AWARE US legislation is a great idea because it supports grants for youth at risk and partnerships between private and public sectors and close connection between research community and school community .
American libel cases such as Zeran (see Shariff, 2008-09)define on-line intermediaries as “distributors” and not “publishers”
Difficult to hold them responsible for failure to monitor defamatory or offensive expression.
Develop capacity (among adult stakeholders and kids) to understand the impact of their expressions, AND when they cross the line to break the law.
Bring kids, police, technology corporations and media together to dialogue.
Involve students, teachers, librarians and parents directly in developing and delivering (as well as receiving) information, skills and approaches on rules of technology use, conduct and respect for privacy (QUESBA Task Force Report).
Empower young people to become active agents in raising awareness among peers and stand up to bullying e.g. empowering girls program, pink shirt, Virginia and facebook support in recent rave case.
CYBER-CATS CLUB and E-Q-KIDS Website Project - McGill
We will provide weekly Video-blogs to discuss the research we have found and breaking news.
On-line Moderated Interactive Sessions:For age groups 5-9; 9-12; 13-16; 16-20 – monitored dialogues that students would register for, with various stakeholders including:
Corporate Intermediaries (marketing reps);
Government officials and policy-makers;
School administrators, teachers, librarians;
Qualitative Research: - 16 Vignettes to help children and teens think through moral dilemmas involving the Internet , privacy, joking, harm, sexting, discrimination, bullying, etc. – Vignettes would also be used in on-line sessions.
Help children and teens think through moral situations and assess their impact to an infinite audience on-line, as well as short and long term impact on their lives (criminal record, reputations, grades, health).
Recognize discriminatory roots – sexism, homophobia, special needs, etc.).
Kids, teens and young adults are bored – need empowerment, ownership and relevance of learning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o
Dialogue with kids and raise awareness of impact of their words.
Address adult mindsets on use of technologies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007).
Shariff, S. and Churchill, A. (2009). Truths and Myths of Cyberbullying . New York: Peter Lang.
Shariff, S. (2009). Confronting Cyber-bullying: Issues and solutions for the school, the classroom, and the home. Abington, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge (Taylor & Frances Group)
Shariff, S. (2008). Cyber-bullying: What schools need to know to control Cyber-bullying and avoid legal consequences. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shariff, S. and Johnny, L. (2007). Cyber-Libel and Cyber-Bullying: Can Schools Protect Student Reputations and Free-Expression in Virtual Environments? Education & Law Journal . 16 (3) 307-342.
Shariff, S. and Gouin, R. (2006). Cyber-Hierarchies: A New Arsenal of Weapons for Gendered Violence in Schools. In (Leach, F. and Mitchell, C. Eds., 2006). Combating gender violence in and around schools. Stoke on Trent. Trentham. 33-41.
Shariff, S. (2005) Cyber-Dilemmas in the New Millennium: Balancing Free Expression and Student Safety in Cyber-Space. Special Issue: Schools and Courts: Competing Rights in the New Millennium. McGill Journal of Education. 40(3) 467-487.
QESBA Task Force on the Internet and Related Technologies (June 28, 2008). Towards Empowerment,
Respect and Accountability.
Thank you to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding this important research on international and national cyber-bullying.