Cyberbullying only one part of a bigger picture

  • November 28, 2013

A wide-ranging cyberbullying bill introduced in Parliament on Nov. 20 covers far more than the distribution of sexually explicit images without the person’s consent. It also gives police new tools to investigate the use of the Internet for terrorism, organized crime and hate propaganda. Justice Minister Peter McKay acknowledged that Bill C-13 (Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act) goes beyond cyberbullying and will modernize parts of the Criminal Code that were written before text messaging and e-mail existed.

But the aspects directed at cyberbullying have attracted the most attention. They are a response to the high-profile suicides of several Canadian teenagers, including Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, whose alleged rape was circulated over the Internet, and B.C. teen Amanda Todd, who faced continual online harassment. The new Criminal Code offence, if Bill C-13 is enacted, will make illegal the online posting of “intimate images” featuring nudity or explicit sexual activity without the consent of those depicted. The offence would apply to adults as well as young people and would be punishable by up to five years in prison.

Few would question the worthiness of protecting people, especially the young, from the embarrassment and humiliation of having personal photographs transmitted across the cyber sphere, where they can be sent on pretty much anywhere without the victim’s knowledge or consent. While this form of bullying is a relatively recent phenomenon, studies suggest that virtual abuse inflicts more lasting damage than its real-world counterpart.

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