CyberBully Legislation is a Bad Idea

OK. I know that you are reading this headline and saying “What!?! Has he lost his mind!?!” I suppose I should clarify.

I think that applying consequence to those who Cyber-Bully, especially those who are relentless and unrepentant in their efforts to bully people online, is a good idea. What I don’t agree with is how governments approach the Cyber-Bullying issue. Looking at the recent Legislation put forward in Nova Scotia and the plans that the Canadian Federal Government has announced that they are moving forward with, I am concerned that they are focused on punishment being the answer, rather than addressing the need for education and better monitoring.

Nova Scotia’s Legislation

Following the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, earlier this year, the Nova Scotia government decided to dive head long into creating Cyber-Bully legislation. Rehtaeh’s father was quoted as saying that he thinks that once the ball gets rolling on enforcement, societal changes will be seen. This speaks to the one outstanding fact around Cyber-Bullying and Bullying, in general; adults do not understand kids.

Consider this. There are a huge range of rules around driving. There are hefty fines and serious consequences for speeding, dangerous driving, driving under the influence, etc. Yet, in Canada, each year over 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 die due to fatal injuries caused by car accidents. About 400,000 drivers age 16 to 20 will be seriously injured (1). Have those rules and laws stopped, or even made a difference, in reducing these deaths? Despite the consequences, many teenagers continue to drink and drive, text while driving, drive well beyond the speed limit and their abilities. Why? Because they are teenagers. They haven’t the filters or the common sense that adults have (or are supposed to have). They have a feeling of invulnerability that says “it won’t happen to me” or “I won’t get caught”. Despite all the efforts of the government and schools to educate kids on vehicle safety, the problem still exists. Will Cyber-Bully Legislation make a difference in reducing Cyber-Bullying issues?

The Issue isn’t Cyber-Bullying

Again, you are probably saying “Huh!?!”. It’s true. Cyber-Bullying is simply an extension of Bullying. To say that Cyber-Bullying is the issue is to say that the reason there are so many teenage driving deaths is because of the fast cars they are driving. Technology, whether it’s smartphones or Social Media, is simply another tool that teens use to bully. Again, regardless of the education done by the governments and schools, bullying still occurs and still has the same devastating results on kids and families. All Cyber-Bullying does is enhance a bully’s reach and allow them to torment their victims all the time, rather than just in person.

I believe that the single biggest issue, when it comes to cyber-bullying, is that adults (parents, teacher, administrators, government) all believe that things like Social Networking is the cause. What they fail to realize is that the largest Social Network in the world is not Facebook; it’s High School. I also believe that there is one group that is not being educated and is not taking more responsibility for Cyber-Bullying issues; Parents.

Education and Responsibility Begins at Home

Take a look at what is in the hands of teenagers today. Smartphones, tablets, notebook computers, game consoles. All of these devices that allow them to connect to the Internet, Social Media and other communication tools. Where do they generally get these devices from? Their parents. Their parents buy these items and hand them over to their kids, often not understanding how they work or where / how they plan to uses these devices. They often have no knowledge of where their kids are online or what they are doing there. They would NEVER allow a stranger to stand, half-naked, in their child’s bedroom, but they will allow their kids to have an unmonitored webcam in that same bedroom. Does this make ANY sense?

In the end, I think that I would much prefer to see Bullying legislation, rather than Cyber-bullying legislation. I would rather see a plan that is focused on finding solutions through education at the root of the matter, with consequence and punishments for when all other avenues fail. I would rather see parents BECOME more responsible, rather than being held responsible, for their children’s online activity. If nothing else, I would want to see kids, parents and those in the Social Media and technology industries, play an active part in the development of legislation that works, rather than politicians and lawyers creating legislation that doesn’t.

(1) Ed Brown Driver Training School – Teenage Driving Facts