We know what cyber bullying is, don’t we?

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Cyberbullying: What’s the Problem?

Canada’s current federal, provincial, and municipal definitions and understandings of cyberbullying are at odds with recent research. Cyberbullying is complex.In fact, the definition of cyberbullying depends on who is being asked. For example, public health, education, academic, and legal justice experts all differ in how they define the problem, measure prevalence, suggest causes, and identify the consequences of cyberbullying. Ultimately, inconsistent cyberbullying definitions make it difficult to accurately assess the problem, make decisions and measure policy performance. An uninformed and inconsistent definition can cause problems for the future of Canadian society.

Deschamps and McNutt from discuss and outline the current problems Canada faces in how it defines and combats cyberbullying at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. Cyberbullying discussions have been increasing since 2005, but it was not until 2012 that cyberbullying debate really took off following the suicide of 3 Canadian teenagers (Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons, and Todd Loik). Public discussions of cyberbullying have most often focused on criminal incidents and legislation, but other government responses to the problem have involved various definitions of the problem. Differences in the definition of cyberbullying have led to a mixed bag of policy instruments and applications. Some government approaches have involved legal institutions, while others have used education and prevention campaigns to address cyberbullying incidents. Additionally, some have relied on administrative institutions where responses to online abuse involved the use of electronic filters or restricted access to computers. Ultimately, there is a need to form a common measurement of what classifies a certain behaviour as cyberbullying. This is also needed within academia and research, as numerous studies respond and define the problem differently. Without a consistent approach to the issue, policy makers will continue to struggle to provide effective measures for cyberbullying within Canada.

Contrary to popular belief, cyberbullying is not just traditional face-to-face bullying with an added element of computer communication. Definitions implying that cyberbullying is similar to traditional face-to-face bullying will not provide decision-makers with the right information needed to implement effective policies and legislation. Policy makers must recognize that cyberbullying has unique features that are distinct from traditional face-to-face bullying. Cyberbullying is not simply a new interpretation of an old problem, but a new phenomenon entirely.

There are 3 main flaws with the current understanding of cyberbullying. The first flaw is the assumption that cyberbullying starts in school. While there are instances of cyberbullying that do originate in school, schools are not the sole site of cyberbullying. Social media and cell phone mobility allows people to stay continuously connected to their online worlds. Consequently, cyberbullying goes beyond schools and enters personal life. The second flaw of the current definition of cyberbullying is the assumption that youths are the main victims of cyberbullying. While bullying among adults is less frequent than among youth, it is still not uncommon. Studies show that 10% to 15% of adult workers experience some form of bullying. The final flaw of the current definition is that it assumes that cyberbullying behaviour is always intentional. Recent research suggests that there are developmental differences in how youths morally evaluate bullying activities. Harmful cyberbullying can be unintentional. Ultimately, having the dominant understanding of cyberbullying built on traditional approaches to bullying restricts policy makers from properly treating and responding to instances of cyberbullying.

Governmental decision-making needs a research-based, well-informed, standardized definition of cyberbullying as a basis for effective policies and legislation.