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Cyberbullying can be much more severe in its effects than offline bullying because the targets feel they have no escape. Also, because of the wide scope of the Web, there can be many more witnesses to the bullying.
Perpetrators may be more likely to engage in bullying behaviour online because they can’t see or hear the effects of their actions, and because it’s possible to be anonymous online.
Insulting: Posting or spreading false information about a person that will cause harm to that person or that person’s reputation.
Targeting: Singling someone out and inviting others to attack or make fun of her or him.
Identity theft: Pretending to be someone else to make it look like that other person said things he or she doesn’t believe or that aren’t true about him or her.
Uploading: Sharing images of a person, particularly in an embarrassing situation, without her or his permission, or sharing emails without the writer’s permission.
Excluding: Pressuring others to exclude someone from a community (either online or offline).
Harassment: Repeatedly sending someone nasty, mean and insulting messages.
Cyberbullying can be addressed under civil law or criminal law, based on the situation.
Civil law: This is the branch of law that deals with property rights, personal dignity and freedom from injury. Under civil law, there are three approaches to cyberbullying:
To be libellous a statement must: do harm to someone’s reputation, have a clear and obvious target, and be seen by people other than the person making the statement and the target.
In libel cases, the target can lay a suit against the person making the statement. If the suit is successful, the person making the statement will have to pay damages (money) to the target.
A person accused of libel may defend himself or herself by saying that the statement was true, that it was a fair comment (a genuine criticism, not a personal attack), or that he or she innocently reproduced the statement without knowing what it was.
A school or workplace that does not do everything it can to provide a safe environment can be sued by the target(s). Even if a statement is not libellous, spreading it around might still create an unsafe environment.
Criminal law: This branch of law determines which actions are crimes against the state. In criminal law, there are two approaches to cyberbullying:
Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression. However, this right is guaranteed “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” and, in the case of cyberbullying, must be weighed against Section 7. The latter section guarantees “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” In general, Section 2 of the Charter has not been accepted as a defence in civil or criminal bullying cases.
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