Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 15 - Evidence (10 a.m. meeting)
OTTAWA, Monday, June 11, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 10 a.m. to
study upon the issue of cyberbullying in Canada with regard to Canada's
international human rights obligations under Article 19 of the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, this is the seventh meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights of the 41st Parliament. We have a
mandate from the Senate to study issues related to human rights in Canada
and elsewhere in the world.
My name is Mobina Jaffer, and as the chair of this committee, I am happy
to welcome you this morning.
I want to welcome you here. We are very excited to hear from you. We have
started our meetings very early this morning for the sole reason that we can
hear from you, so we welcome your giving us the time. Before I proceed, I
will ask the members to introduce themselves. I am Mobina Jaffer, and I am
Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.
Senator Ataullahjan: Salma Ataullahjan, and I represent Toronto,
Senator Meredith: Senator Don Meredith, also from Ontario.
Senator Boisvenu: Senator Pierre Hugues Boisvenu from Quebec.
Senator White: Senator Vern White, Ontario.
Senator Harb: Mac Harb, Ontario.
The Chair: On November 30, 2011, the Standing Senate Committee on
Human Rights was authorized to examine and report upon the issue of
cyberbullying in Canada, with regard to Canada's international human rights
obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child.
You know the cyberbullying definition from the UN, but I will repeat it
because we have people watching:
Psychological bullying and hazing by adults or other children,
including via information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as
mobile phones and the Internet (known as "cyberbullying ").
Over the past decade, we have watched bullying move from our classrooms
and playgrounds into our homes by way of the Internet. With the popularity
of handheld devices and smart phones today, it has become very difficult, if
not impossible, to escape cyberbullies. We can even make the argument that
handheld device like BlackBerrys and iPhones have become a part of many
young people's anatomy as they are rarely separated from these devices.
We started off thinking that cyberbullying affects young people from the
age of, say, 12 to 17 years. Last week, some young people told us that
iPhones and cellphones are used by six-year-olds. Given that age difference,
we believe that even more children are affected.
We welcome you here today. I want to tell my colleagues a little about
you, and I am sure you will also say it. We have three organizations with us
this morning. One is an anti-bullying organization that will be giving an
international perspective. We also have the Anti-Bullying Alliance and
Can you please introduce yourself and say a little bit about your
organization? Then, please make your presentation.
Lauren Seager-Smith, Coordinator, Anti-Bullying Alliance Thank you
for having us. I am Lauren Seager-Smith from the Anti-Bullying Alliance,
based in England. We were formed in 2002 by the National Children's Bureau
and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It was
very clear that there was a need for a coordinated approach to tackling
bullying in our schools within England. We are a membership body of
organizations, schools and colleges committed to tackling all forms of
bullying between children and young people.
I thought it would be helpful to begin with a brief overview of law and
guidance related to bullying, including cyberbullying, in England as you may
not be aware of it, then to give some headlines around current activities
that are taking place in schools and to conclude with the challenges that we
are facing in England, in relation to cyberbullying, at this time.
It is important to state, first of all, that bullying is not a specific
crime in England, though there are laws and legislation that relate to
bullying. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that every school
must have measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. These must
be published in the school's behaviour policy that should be communicated
once a year to all pupils, school staff and parents.
The Education and Inspections Act also gave head teachers the ability to
discipline pupils for poor behaviour not on school premises. This has been
particularly key in relation to cyberbullying. Our secretary of state for
education has made it very clear that he would expect head teachers to take
direct action in relation to cyberbullying that takes place outside of
school hours at home.
In addition, wider search powers included in the Education Act 2011 gave
teachers stronger powers to tackle cyberbullying by providing a specific
power to search for and, if necessary, delete inappropriate images or files
on electronic devices, including mobile phones. This, of course, is of
particular interest in this country in relation to children's rights. Some
children's rights organizations are concerned about teachers searching
through pupils' mobile phones, and I think you need to be aware of that.
Harassing or threatening behaviour in communications can be a criminal
offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious
Communications Act 1988, the Communications Act 2003 and the Public Order
Act 1986. For example, if a school thinks a crime may have been committed,
they are advised to contact the police. Under the Malicious Communications
Act 1988, it is an offence to send electronic communication to another
person with the intent to cause distress or anxiety, that is indecent or
grossly offensive, a threat, or information that is false and known or
believed to be false by the sender. Importantly, although there is not a
specific law against bullying, there are laws that can be used in relation
to cyberbullying, and organizations in England, such as the Child
Exploitation Online Protection Centre, do state this to children and young
people and make it very clear that there can be a criminal offence related
In August 2009, the first teenage girl was jailed for bullying on
Facebook. Keeley Houghton, age 18, pleaded guilty to harassment and was
sentenced to three months in a young offenders' institute after she posted a
message on Facebook saying that she would kill Emily Moore.
With regard to current activity in schools related to cyberbullying, it
is worth mentioning that for, the past seven years, England has held
Anti-bullying Week each November. Anti-Bullying Week is now very much
established in the school calendar, and it is a time for all schools and
colleges to take up activities in relation to tackling bullying. We have
focused on cyberbullying within that week, about three years ago. It was an
extremely popular subject area and raised a lot of discussion around
There has been some recent research done by Goldsmith College, University
of London, into cyberbullying in adolescence. The research is still to be
published, but they have agreed that we can share some of the findings with
In this research, they found that the majority of schools have an
acceptable-use policy for Internet use within the school, and it is within
that acceptable-use policy that you would expect to see particular reference
around cyberbullying. The majority of schools record incidents of bullying.
Half of the schools do this on paper, and half do this online, through
instant recording systems. There is no legal obligation for schools in this
country to record incidents of bullying, although it is very much seen as
Half of the schools in the study had completely banned mobile phones from
the school. There is ongoing debate within England as to best practice with
regard to phones in schools. Some schools want to support phones as they see
this as very much where children are at now with regard to technology, but
other schools feel it is better not to have phones at all.
Sixty per cent of schools reported the cyberbullying incidents to a
service provider to remove content, but they found that removal could take
up to three months. Time and time again, we have had reports that it is very
difficult to remove content from websites such as Youtube and Facebook and
that, even if you do remove it, it does tend to pop up again somewhere else
Schools reportedly dealt with cases both inside and outside schools; so
they are making use of legislation, which makes that allowed. The sorts of
actions that schools are currently taking to prevent cyberbullying include
the training of all staff, providing e-safety information for parents, and
using classroom resources provided by the Child Exploitation and Online
Protection Centre; and these include a series of short films relating to
The Anti-Bullying Alliance has identified challenges in relation to
cyberbullying and our work with our member organizations in the schools.
There is an ongoing problem in terms of the relation with service providers.
It is very difficult for offensive content to be removed from sites. Time
and again we hear that this takes a lot of time. Again, even if it is
removed, it can appear somewhere else quickly; so it is not necessarily an
In England, we are having reports that children are using social
networking sites and have access to mobile phones at a younger and younger
age. Your comment around children of six to seven years of age would not be
unusual in England. It poses a problem when children do not necessarily have
the maturity to handle the pitfalls of peer relationships within cyberspace.
There are particular concerns around sexual content and how children manage
that and also how they manage bullying on line. Sexting, the use of digital
technology to send explicit images or messages, is becoming an ongoing
problem, not only at secondary age but also primary age children. Recent
research by the NFPCC suggests that sexting is often coercive; girls are the
most adversely affected; sexting between children and young people reveals
wider sexual pressures; and ever younger children are affected.
It is particularly difficult within schools to manage incidents of
sexting because it brings in other concerns around sex relationships,
education and child protection issues around very young children. There are
also concerns that children who are involved in sexting can end up on the
sex offenders register or be prosecuted for crimes related to sexual
offences. Therefore, this is an area of real ongoing concern for us.
ABA believes that cyberbullying in all of its various forms will not be
tackled unless you provide children and young people with education and
support for healthy peer relationships, including sexual relationships. We
very much believe that what you see in cyberspace is just a wider
manifestation of all relationships between children and young people,
whether online or off-line, and that the children and young people today do
not see those two lives as separate. Rather, they see their lives on social
networking sites as their everyday lived reality. Sometimes for the older
generation it is difficult to comprehend what that means.
We believe that technical solutions in this area have a place, but they
very quickly become outdated. Young people need to be taught principles of
respect and safety within relationships, whether that is off-line or online.
Stan Davis, Co-researcher, Youth Voice Project, Stop Bullying Now:
My name is Stan Davis, and I am a school counsellor and child therapist and
researcher in the United States. I have written a couple of books. I
maintain a website, and I train educators in bullying prevention strategies.
I have contributed to a book about cyberbullying as well. I want to echo
what you have said. I cannot give the legal perspective, not being a lawyer,
but I will talk about what I see as the best practices in this field from a
First, many of us believe that it is key for young people to be actively
involved in creating their own codes for digital citizenship — the scenario
where leadership has to come from youth with adult support because the lives
and the types of relationships and communication that young people have are
in some ways outside our understanding. It is very difficult for adults to
get it right as we tell young people they should do this and should not do
that. We found that as we shift the frame conceptually sometimes from
cyberbullying to digital citizenship and to what it means to be a positive
citizen of this new world that young people are moving into, we get a lot of
creative thinking and a lot of potential for teenagers teaching other
teenagers and teaching younger people, which leads to much improved
behaviour in the digital world.
Second, we need to continue the work we have done in helping young people
to be resilient and to not crumble in the face of small difficulties. As
with flesh and blood bullying, cyberbullying includes events that are fairly
small and events that are fairly large. Many of us feel that it is important
to remember that we are not only trying to suppress mean behaviour but also
we are trying to help children to survive and thrive when they are dealing
with mean behaviour, since we will not ever be able to lower the rate of
mean behaviour to zero. It is important to keep both those perspectives in
mind. They are not opposites. We are not saying that we are not trying to
stop cyberbullying; we just want kids to be more resilient. At the same
time, if the only focus is stopping cyberbullying, then we may not be
helping kids optimally to understand that if someone else does not like you,
it does not mean there is something wrong with you. Both those perspectives
are important. The media environment that young people are growing up in
these days is often one in which, as on reality shows, someone else judges
you and then you cry, whether it is a music show or model show or something
else. The idea that we have a resilient sense of self is also important.
One of the issues that we have to think about as well as the
technological solutions that would stop cyberbullying are the organizational
and profit-making situations that involve the violation of young people's
privacy. To give one example of something that bothers many of us very much,
we know that young people sign up for Facebook accounts at a much younger
age than Facebook allows. They lie. Even if they follow the Facebook
guidelines, it can be a problem — and a number of us have had an ongoing
struggle with Facebook about this — because their default privacy settings
when someone sets up an account are wide open. The default privacy settings
involve potentially a great deal of abrogation of privacy. One has to go in
and choose the settings that say other people cannot see personal
information, information cannot be shared with the world, and information
cannot be accessible to everyone without my consent. I think this should be
addressed. It should be a great deal more difficult for young people, who
may not have the best judgment about the future and their situation, to set
up an environment in which everyone can have access to all kinds of
information about them, but by default. That whole issue of privacy, if that
word has any meaning any more, has an importance as well.
It is important to have consequences in law. I agree completely with you,
and we have seen this most clearly in the area of sexting, that the law can
have tremendous unintended negative consequences if we are looking at large
or long- range consequences for behaviour that may be coerced or behaviour
that may happen between friends. It can really discourage reporting and
traumatize people in ways that do not help if we equate un-coerced sexting
between same-age peers with a long-term sex offender.
We have had some excesses in this country. Our law tends not to be
national but local. We have had some real excesses in this country in terms
of too-great consequences and criminalization of behaviour that could be
dealt with at a lower level of intervention. Certainly, we need laws
specifically around the exploitation of youth by adults and about intensely
Along with that, we need technology, which will always be bypassed. There
is a place specifically for technology that will help us to identify who
posted something or where something is coming from. We are behind on that. I
know from being a therapist that phone harassment behaviour changed very
much with the advent of caller ID, where people saw the potential that
someone might figure out who you were. One of the things that drive
cyberbullying is what my friend Ms. Nancy Willard calls the "you-don't-know-who-I-am effect.
" When people say, "I am anonymous; I
have a screen name; and no one knows who I am, " it becomes much easier to
do mean behaviour. We know through all the research on lying and aggression
that if you are known to be who you are, mean behaviour is less likely. The
technological solutions that I hope would be developed are ones that would
make it clear who has posted or who has originated something, as well as
efforts to remove materials quickly and permanently. It is difficult because
people can pick up material and post it somewhere else.
There are three other points I want to make. First, in a very large
national study that Charisse Nixon from Penn State and I have done, we found
that bullied youth most wanted peer support and encouragement. There are
some encouraging trends in terms of identifying young people who, on online
forums or others ways, will provide encouragement and support.
There was a series of communications that culminated in a book called
Letters to a Bullied Girl, also sometimes called Olivia's Letters.
It shows the potential for anonymous notes of support or even by name. I
heard from a young woman the other day who put up a Facebook page at her
school devoted to compliments from people at the school to other people at
school. These efforts to create meaningful peer support can make a big
difference in reducing the negative impact of cyberbullying. There is an
extent to which, if I am involved in a support activity, I am going to be
less likely to post mean or critical statements.
Two more things: This is an area where there is a need for tremendous
support and guidance for parents, many who do not understand the world the
kids are in or the extent to which their kids are on technology. My friend
Elizabeth Englander at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts finds
that many kids in high school are going to sleep when their parents put them
to bed, waiting until their parents fall asleep, getting up in the middle of
the night and spending four or five hours on electronic communication. They
get back in bed, are either asleep or pretending to be when their parents
come to wake them up, and then falling asleep during the school day. Parents
have no idea of the amount of time their children are spending on devices
and are providing these devices to children at this younger age. There is a
lot of parenting education to be done, balancing that against kids' needs
and feeling that they must be part of this electronic communication
On the other side, the reason that children often do not go to their
parents for help is out of their fear that they will have their cell phone
taken way, their Facebook account cancelled or something else. To them, it
means they are out of touch with the world and it feels almost like a death
to lose that. Parents have this extraordinarily difficult pathway to
negotiate now and do anything we can to help them. I have one last plea
We invented the term "bullying " because we thought it would help us
understand the phenomenon. The difficulty is that along with the verb come
all these nouns which are not helpful. We start labelling children as
bullies, cyberbullies or victims, and I would like to plea that we avoid
these words. One child may be mean towards someone at one point, have
someone else be mean or be a witness at another point. However, I found if
we start using the nouns to label — in other words, cyberbullies do this,
bullies do this or victims do this — kids become either stigmatized or let
themselves off the hook. When I asked kids who was a bully, the answer that
is behind their thinking is, "someone who is not me. " I think we should
always be looking at actions rather than some kind of judgment of character.
That is the overview of what can be done and what the best practices are:
try to set standards for behaviour with lots of peer involvement and
teaching; do everything we can as adults to protect kids from mean
behaviours, including from exploitation by businesses that provide services
to youth in the digital world; and do everything we can to get support
coming from peers, parents and other adults.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your presentation.
Will Gardner, Chief Executive Officer, Childnet International:
Thank you for the invitation. Childnet is a children's charity based in the
U.K., and our mission is to help make the Internet a great and safe place
Since January 2011, Childnet also formed a part of the U.K. Safer
Internet Centre. There is a Safer Internet Centre in every EU country. One
of the roles we fulfill is to organize Safer Internet Day in our country, to
try to mobilize as many organizations as we can to raise awareness about the
safe and responsible use of technology.
In our work we go out to schools, and I am interested in what you were
saying about younger users. We talk to children in schools, parents and
school staff, but we are getting requests to get younger and younger in our
presentations and conversations with children. At the beginning, we always
believed we needed to talk to children when their relationship with
technology is in formation to influence the behaviours that they then adopt.
That led us to start with primary school age children, but more and more we
get requests from the very first year of primary school, which are children
aged four and five. Sometimes we even speak to children at the ages of three
and four about very simple messages of using technology and talking to
someone if you get into difficulty.
In this presentation, I wanted to share some works that we have done in
the U.K. as well as some other initiatives that are going on. In recent
studies, we found that about 20 per cent of 9- to 16-year-olds said they had
been bullied and 8 per cent of children and young people said they had been
cyberbullied. You can see the cyberbullying is a subset of this bullying
I wanted to share some guidance that we wrote for schools in the U.K. We
did this with the idea of trying to educate the school community about how
children are using technology, what the law says in relation to this issue,
what cyberbullying actually is and to give — and there are two main chapters
— steps that you can take to prevent and respond to cyberbullying.
In broad terms, the message is that cyberbullying is bullying. There are
some features about the technology that make it different, but in its
essence it is bullying. It is about the behaviours between two different
We produced a document about 35 pages long and knew that it was likely to
sit on the bookshelves of the head teachers throughout the country.
Therefore, we also produced an eight-page summary document to try to give
this information legs and get it out through the school community, so it
would sit on the staff coffee table, for example. After we produced this
work, we also had the teaching unions in the country come to us and say,
"We need guidance to protect our teachers and school staff from
If you look at research, about 35 per cent of teachers say they have
witnessed the cyberbullying of a colleague. This is a really interesting and
important area. It is something that affects children and school staff, but
we also know that it can involve parents, too. The response we advocate in
terms of cyberbullying for schools is something we call the
whole-of-school-community approach. This reiterates some of what the
previous witnesses were saying about the school reaching beyond the school
gate. It needs to reach out and inform parents, children, young people,
teachers, but also all school staff and leadership. Everyone needs to be
aware of what cyberbullying is and the fact that it has an impact. There is
a role for everyone within this community in preventing and responding to
cyberbullying, and we want to engender that approach when we talk about
cyberbullying in schools.
Ms. Seager-Smith spoke about the reach of the school, where the head
teacher has powers to go beyond the school gate in regulating the behaviour
of pupils. That is a very significant power for head teachers in relation to
cyberbullying when it can often take place on services like Facebook,
BlackBerry Messenger or Windows Live Messenger, which children in the U.K.
are often not able to access within the school community. However, we know
it has a direct impact on the school life of those children who have been
involved. We want to encourage schools to take on that role.
We also know that it is not just the pupils; we know that sometimes
school teachers have gone back and made comments on social networking sites
about their class, parents and teachers at the school. We know that
sometimes parents have posted cyberbullying comments about teachers at the
school, for example.
We really see that there is a role to reach out beyond the school and
educate children, young people and the whole school community.
Another thing I wanted to raise was the inspections regime in the U.K. We
have an organization called Ofsted that goes to inspect the schools across
the country. There are key criteria it considers. One is the quality of
teaching and the effectiveness of school leadership, but one category is the
behaviour and safety of the children. It is a really powerful tool to
leverage with school leadership and the head teacher, because they are in a
position where they have to evidence what they have done in order to assure
and maintain the safety of the children in their care. It is an important
lever that we have.
Cyberbullying is specifically mentioned in the Ofsted framework.
You have heard about policies, and Ms. Seager-Smith has mentioned about
the acceptable-use policies. It is important that cyberbullying features in
behavioural, anti-bullying policies that schools have. Also, in the way that
Mr. Davis was mentioning, it is important that these policies are owned by
the school community. If you can have the input of children and young people
in policy formation, that is fantastic. It is the role of the school
leadership to make these policies living, breathing entities, so that they
are not documents on a shelf; they are the rules of the road in relation to
technology, both in and out of school, and both children and staff at the
school must know where the rules are.
We set up in the U.K. a helpline called POSH, the Professionals Online
Safety Helpline. Forgive the acronym. It is open to teachers, head teachers
and social workers. When they have issues with technology, they can call or
email this helpline. This is about a year old, and it is starting to grow in
the number of responses it is getting. We are getting calls from head
teachers raising issues — like those Mr. Davis mentioned — about a lot of
under-13s using Facebook at school, or issues revolving around sexting at
their school — "What can I do? " There are also things like,
"Parents have been bullying a teacher in my school. What can I do to
It is throwing up a number of tricky policy areas that school leadership
has to tackle. We are pleased to have something like this to support schools
in this way.
Education is a key part of the work that we do. Over the last five years,
we have seen a range of different materials made available for schools. It
is important that when we are providing this to schools, we make it
available as accessibly as we can and encourage teachers to use this within
There has been a reticence because of technology. Teachers need to have
resources that they can feel comfortable with to be able to address these
particular issues within the classroom. A range of resources have been
developed here in the U.K., but also across the world, that are really
useful and internationally applicable that people can use in the classroom.
That training needs to go to teachers, too; education is important to
school staff. The fact that school staff are on the receiving end of
cyberbullying is an opportunity to make a connection to say, "Listen, this
is something that is affecting you. You need to be informed about social
networking and know how you can use this safely and professionally, and you
need to share this knowledge with your pupils. " Therefore, staff education
and training is something we focus on.
Policy is catching up in this area. We needed policies to ensure school
staff knew it is not good practice to make friends with their pupils on
Facebook, for example. When they were receiving a request, quite often
school staff were having to make up their minds on the cuff, as they went
along. It is important they are given the support they need to be able to
navigate these environments safely.
I will restrict my remarks to one or two more comments in that we want to
give confidence to schools that they are able to have systems in place for
dealing with bullying and so that these systems are relevant for
cyberbullying. They are not completely different things. It is an important
thing to give confidence to schools that the best start for resolving issues
is probably found off-line. Even if, for example, content is posted online,
the quickest and fastest way to get it taken down is to ask whoever posted
it to remove it for themselves.
The fact that there is evidence of cyberbullying is also a very
significant addition into this whole discussion. It is important that people
are aware of how to save and preserve evidence.
Cyberbullying is not new. There is a range of support out there for the
school communities: We have policy tools available for schools to help
support their policies; there are educational materials to help schools and
others with the educational side; there are helplines able to help school
staff; and children's helplines to help children.
We also have an online peer mentoring service called CyberMentors, which
I wanted to specifically mention. Children can go online and talk to other
children who have been trained as peer mentors. They can share their stories
and get advice and hear directly from their peers. It uses the anonymity of
the Internet in a positive way. We know that children very often do not talk
about bullying, but it uses technology that enables children to come forward
and share their experiences.
There is guidance for schools out there that has been developed.
Cyberbullying is a challenge that we need to face up to, but we also need to
recognize there are tools available.
My final point is in relation to the sexting remark. In the U.K., there
has been guidance for the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO. They
have given guidance to all their police forces to say, essentially, that
common sense applies in relation to cases where self-taken images of
children are involved. The safeguarding of the child involved is the number
one priority in relation to that, and they recognize that criminalization is
not necessarily the best way forward. I thought I would share that as my
final remark. Thank you.
The Chair: We will now go to questions. I have a question for Mr.
Davis. This is our last day of studying this issue and hearing from
witnesses. One thing that has come up quite a bit is the definition of
bullying. Several witnesses have discussed various ways to define
cyberbullying. In your remarks, you also touched on a definition. Do you
think that we need to have to look at having one particular kind of
definition for cyberbullying?
Mr. Davis: That is a wonderful question. The research definitions
for bullying, which is where we began before we started talking about
cyberbullying, and the definitions in many laws are much less workable than
we need. The three ways that we have defined bullying, and cyberbullying as
a subset of that, are quite different. In one set of definitions, there
needs to be intention to harm in order to call something bullying. I think
that is extraordinarily troublesome because there is no way to really
determine someone's intention, so there is always some subjective decision
making there that will lead to unfair behaviours.
The second way to define these things in face-to-face bullying has to do
with some documentation of a different level of power or authority, and that
is even less applicable online or digitally than it is in person. That is
I think that the best way to look at these behaviours is to use the
standard that says "behaviours that a reasonable person would think would
have a likelihood of causing harm. " I have been reviewing laws about
criminal threatening, and though it may be an old law, I found the "uttering threat standard
" from Canada, which seems just right to me, as
well as our own state standard in the District of Columbia: behaviours that
a reasonable person would think would be likely to put someone else in fear.
I think if we define our behaviours legally in those terms, we are much
less subject to unfairness, inequality or odd decisions than if we feel we
can read someone's mind in terms of what they intended when they did
Having said that, then, it is important to pair that with the use of the
smallest consequences that will make a difference and the possibility of
escalating those consequences based on the extreme nature of the behaviours.
As for laws about bullying around our country, which is mostly what I
have looked at, we have 42 different laws about bullying in our country.
They are workable or not based on whether they define action and potential
harm in parallel to, say, the drinking and driving law or whether or not
they require findings of intent to do harm, which becomes extraordinarily
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Davis. That certainly helps us a lot.
I have a question for Ms. Seager-Smith and for Mr. Gardner. I imagine you
are providing programs. How do you gauge the success of your programs, and
what indicators do you look for that you are getting positive results?
Mr. Davis and both of you also referred to education. Should we look at
warning parents when they buy a telephone for a child, as we do with
tobacco? Should we have the providers provide a warning to the parents?
Should we have that education piece?
Ms. Seager-Smith: With regard to judging how successful
interventions are, in this country, we used to have an annual government
tele-survey, which covered a whole range of subject areas in relation to
children and young people's well-being. One area it looked at in quite a lot
of detail was bullying, and they asked questions around the prevalence of
bullying. Also, importantly, they asked children and young people how well
they felt their school dealt with bullying. For us, that was a useful way of
seeing a huge amount of anti-bullying work done in the last 10 years in
England, and it was a good way of measuring the impact. What we saw through
the tele-survey was that the incidence of bullying remained fairly stable,
but the survey seemed to suggest that while 30 per cent of children
experienced some form of bullying in the last 12 months and 6 per cent
reporting severe bullying, the number of children reporting bullying to
teachers and feeling confident to report bullying rose substantially over
the years. While bullying behaviour continued, children and young people
were much more prepared to talk about it and were clearly much more educated
about bullying. For us, that was a positive outcome.
Sadly, the government no long supports an annual survey, which we are
particularly concerned about, and we will be doing work to try to bring that
back into place. At the moment, in England it is difficult to measure
prevalence rates around bullying and have a grasp as to what is happening
within our schools and communities.
Can you remind me of the second question?
The Chair: Should there be a warning on the devices?
Ms. Seager-Smith: My view on a warning on devices is that it is a
probably a little too late for that. The majority of children and young
people have devices now at this stage, and I am not sure how much difference
that would necessarily make at this time or how much notice people would pay
to it. It is important to educate parents and caregivers about safe mobile
phone use, but I am not sure that that is necessarily the way to do it.
Mr. Gardner: If I can start with the last point first, with
warnings on devices, one of the things with mobile phones particularly is
you get it in a box, and it is wrapped up. The first person who interacts
with the handset itself is the child on whatever celebration, and straight
away they have the phone.
The opportunity for giving the advice that we are looking at it is
looking at the retail space. If you talk about the advice we would want to
be giving out, it is not just around cyberbullying; it is also about
protection from inappropriate content, parental controls and a range of
It is good practice for the industry in the U.K. to provide advice to
their customers, whether it is mobile phone operators or social networking
sites. The challenge is to ensure that people actually get to see it. We do
see a bit of a blockage in terms of the information and advice that is
available and the take-up of that information and advice. That relates also
to the tools available for parents and caregivers of children and young
people. We have to work through encouraging schools to promote the tools
that are available to help parents, such as reporting devices and blocking
mechanisms on particular services. The mobile operators in the U.K. all have
a call centre or a nuisance call bureau that you can contact if you are
being bullied or harassed by your mobile phones. There are steps that have
Ms. Seager-Smith talked about the ineffectiveness of the reporting
through social networking sites, for example. We are starting to see some
improvements. Facebook is piloting something called a "reporting
dashboard, " where you make a report, there is an acknowledgement and you
can almost track the report like a parcel. You can see if they have received
the report, if they have reviewed the report and the outcome of that review.
We are really pushing to get greater transparency through these different
reporting processes to give users confidence that these services will work.
I wanted to address the success thing. Measuring success is a challenge.
It is a kind of a finger in the air approach where we have provided
educational resources for schools, and we can see how popular they have
been, whether they have been downloaded by schools across the country, so we
can see people are looking for and taking away resources they can use in the
There have been isolated academic studies to review the effectiveness of
particular resources. I can show one that is relatively recent, but it is a
positive story in terms of the impact that these things are having.
The challenge with doing these things is they are expensive to do and
take a long time to come to fruition.
I will make a comment on the definition issue. The definition is a big
challenge. I agree with Mr. Davis on the challenge around intention,
particularly around technology. I might send a message to Ms. Seager-Smith,
which can be mean to somebody, but I did not expect her to share that with
everybody else. The intention for the outcome was not there, and the
repetition, which is often the feature of a bullying definition, is also
challenging because I can post something up online once, but the repetition
comes by people who are viewing it rather than by repeated action, although
you could ascertain there would be intent for the repetitiveness. My feeling
around definition is that simplicity is often the best, and I do not want to
discourage schools from dealing with this particular issue, so I think
bullying via technology is a strong, useful and practical definition for
people to use.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentations. I have a
question for you, Mr. Davis. You talked about the importance of responsible
digital citizenship. How do we teach our children responsible digital
If I have learned anything from all the hearings we have had on
cyberbullying, it is that most children and experts agree that parents need
to be involved. How do we start this dialogue with the parents? We can pass
laws, we can have experts come talk about us but nothing will change until
the parents of children who do bullying and children who are being bullied
know what is happening online.
Mr. Davis: On the first question, I found that we begin to define
responsible digital citizenship by asking instead of by telling. A number of
us around the United States, in Canada and I know some folks in New
Brunswick have found that when you ask young people what kind of world
should this digital world be and what kinds of actions by individuals will
get it there, there is active response. That response is more positive, in
my experience, than if adults create a set of schemas that say what you
should or should not do. We have to help children see that what they post
now could be used in deciding whether they get a job later and that they can
have a negative effect on others. There is an awareness-raising piece, but
there is much more involvement, it seems to me, when we ask young people to
create the code of citizenship and work with us on it than when we try to
define something for them.
I am leaning towards a continuous creation of these ideas rather than the
creation of a code or set of standards that we then communicate to young
people. The principles are the same: Before anything else, do no harm, and
then protect yourself and others, care for others and support others. How
that plays out within the technology will be more used if young people are
actively involved in creating the steps.
We have talked about younger kids. At my school, I found out that a lot
of our 9- and 10-year-olds had Facebook accounts and that a surprising
number of them had been encouraged by their parents to lie about their age
to get those accounts. I was going to say, "Here are all the things you
have to do to keep your information from getting out to the world, " and a
friend of mine reminded me that I had been talking about having young people
create this. I said, "Here is a survey; what have you done to protect your
personal information on your Facebook account? " These are young kids
averaging 10 years old, and I was stunned by the depth of their comments. It
turned out that all we really had to do was have them teach each other. One
kid said, "I do this and this, " and someone else said, "Oh, I
can do that. "
The good thing about young people's familiarity with technology is that
when we open the question of how to behave digitally, we get many answers.
We can use teens to teach younger kids and 10-year-olds to teach
6-year-olds, of course with adult involvement. The second question was about
parenting, and there are three primary areas. I do not know if this is true
in Canada, but I have a feeling it might be. Every area I know of, there
last been a decrease in parents' sense that they have authority or power
over their kids' lives. To a certain extent, even in our country, there is a
decrease in parents' belief that they should have authority their children's
lives. We need to do everything we can to encourage that legitimate
authority and to help parents see they have a role.
Second, we need to help parents cope with much more difficult things that
come up. There was a wonderful column in the New York Times a few
weeks ago addressing a question that I think is unique to modern parenting,
which is how to discuss with your 9-year-old their first experience with
online pornography. This is one thing that has changed a great deal, the
extent to which quite young kids wander into pornography online or digitally
on their devices, sometimes even without seeking it, and then having to
figure out whether they can raise that issue with their parents without
losing electronic access. There are a lot of questions that arise.
The third aspect comes back to the warning label piece. I would agree in
general that warning labels may not be the most effective thing. What has
been more effective, if we look at research on behaviour change, are
defaults. In the world that I would like to see, any young person who signs
up for a Facebook account would be set at the highest default privacy level.
Further than that, parents would be asked whether a cell phone, smart
phone, iPad or digital device is being sold for a child. Of course, parents
could lie and we cannot do much about that. However, if they say yes, then
the device would be set at lower access settings by default. They might even
have filtering of sites, and parents would have to choose to change that.
We see this the widely disparate field of eating. The default restaurant
meal is very high in calories, and you have to say, "I will take the
smaller sugary drink or french fries package. " People will consume many
more calories than if the default meal size is one at a reasonable caloric
level, and people would have to make an informed decision to increase their
If the devices sold to children by default were a bit more limited in
what they could do and parents had to either choose or pay for devices that
would involve children having unlimited access to the Internet in the middle
of the night in their bedrooms, this would socially engineer in a positive
way some parents to make the affirmative decision, "No, at 7 years of
age I do not want my child having unfiltered Internet access. "
However, if the default state of the device is open and unfiltered, like
smart phones are, then parents have to make an affirmative decision to limit
access, and that is much less likely to happen.
Rather than warning labels, anything we can do to make the default
positions for these devices for children be limited will help. That might
even include that the default settings for young people's accounts on a
social networking site might involve parental consent for posting a picture.
There are a lot of ways to go. To think about that in terms of making it
more difficult to do these things might be something worth doing.
Another example in terms of a function that might be disabled is texting.
Cyberbullying involves being able to text to a group, and that might be
disabled. Those are some ideas.
Senator White: Thank you both for your comments. I think there is
recognition that traditional bullies versus cyberbullies are different
people. Often cyberbullies are seen as someone who might want to maintain a
level of anonymity, whereas bullies in the past would bully in front of
their friends and others. I make that statement because restorative
practices have been fairly successful when it comes to mainstream bullies.
Have either of you had involvement in restorative practices, particularly
in the school environment, when it comes to cyberbullying? I will go to the
U.K. first because you are probably further ahead on restorative practices
than the U.S.
Ms. Seager-Smith: The Restorative Justice Council in the U.K. has
begun to do much more work around the use of restorative justice with
incidents of bullying. In fact, there has been growth in the U.K.
Restorative justice has been used effectively with young offenders, but it
is very much in the early days in terms of bringing it into schools in
relation to bullying.
One of the particular issues with using restorative justice in relation
to bullying is we would uphold that bullying often involves an imbalance of
power, and to bring the parties into a room together can be quite disturbing
to the young person on the receiving end of the bullying. That can be a very
difficult thing to manage, and we would expect teachers to be highly trained
if they are going to use restorative approaches in those situations to
ensure all parties are protected.
Importantly, children and young people are the same whether they are
online or off-line. It is just about relationship, whether they are online
or off-line. I do not think there are different children and young people
bullying online than they are off-line. It is just a means.
I would agree with Mr. Davis; I am concerned about labelling children as
bullies. It is a form of behaviour rather than a characteristic.
While there might be some level of anonymity online, I do not think all
children and young people are bullying online because they can remain
anonymous. I think some children are bullying very publicly and posting very
publicly. Certainly, there is an increase in the use of BlackBerry Messenger
in this country to bully, which involves very public groups and public
shaming in fact, where people are not afraid to be identified in saying,
think this girl is a slag, and here are the pictures to prove it. " It is
not necessarily at all about anonymity. Again, it is about relationships and
respect, and I think that this applies to all children and young people.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Davis, you sort of answered my question with
respect to the engagement of parents and the involvement they need to have.
We heard from several students last week that parents are absent from their
lives and the students do not feel comfortable going to them even though
they have been bullied because they feel — Mr. Gardner, you touched on
having devices removed from them.
One of the things that intrigued me about your comments, Mr. Gardner, is
you talked about the education of teachers and how they themselves have also
been bullied. What has been the response of administrators to the education
piece around their staff, that they have also been bullied and cyberbullied?
Has there been a positive response from the administrators to training
and more education for staff in terms of their consent to saying yes to a
friendship request on Facebook? What sort of policies are around that for
Mr. Gardner: We have done quite a bit of work on that over the
last few years. If you look right back at the beginning, five or six years
ago, we found that some schools were dealing with the issue of cyberbullying
when it started to affect a member of staff; then suddenly it became a very
real issue within the school community. I think it is a touching point worth
trying to exploit. The school has a duty of care for the children at the
school, but they also have a duty of care to their staff as employees. They
have to look after their staff. It is an important facet and we have
produced a range of different materials for schools to try to put out a very
positive message about social networking and technology, because we want
schools and educators to be confident and familiar with these things.
We do not want new teachers coming into the profession to say my Facebook
is history; I have to go through a Facebook-less world now as a teacher.
There are ways teachers are able to use these tools, but they have to have
guidance. Social media helps to blur the personal and the professional, and
that is the big challenge that teachers have to face up to. They have to
really become more aware about privacy settings and how they can manage
their own online professional reputation while using these services.
A range of materials is available. I mentioned the help line so when
schools get into difficulties they are able to get further advice. We have a
very strong teaching union community here in the U.K. We have been actively
pushing this particular area also, promoting their rights to their members
and that kind of thing.
It has been a very strong addition and I think it helps to publicize the
issue of cyberbullying. It personalizes it to the school staff, to the
school leadership, and we also know about the children and young people.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We could learn from you for hours,
but we have to end today. Hopefully, we will continue this conversation at