Academic journal article University of New Brunswick Law Journal

The Incessant Image: How Dominant News Coverage Shaped Canadian Cyberbullying Law

Academic journal article University of New Brunswick Law Journal

The Incessant Image: How Dominant News Coverage Shaped Canadian Cyberbullying Law

Article excerpt

Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, (1) reflects a uniquely Canadian construction of cyberbullying as a social problem. Although the legislation does not specifically make use of the term "cyberbullying", the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, connect the term to Bill C-13. (2) It is written in response to public outrage generated by high profile teen suicides such as Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons.

Most cyberbullying literature examines it as an emerging but extant problem. Few, however, examine the phenomenon as a social construction, or the implications thereof. First, this paper reviews how cyberbullying was constructed internationally, specifically analysing how United States law in response to cyberbullying mirrors concerns conveyed through the framing of high profile cases in that country. This paper then continues by highlighting some of the high profile cases that have made cyberbullying an issue in Canada. Next, this article considers some of the public responses to Bill C-13. I then share the results of a mixed method content analysis of Canadian print news frames of the deaths of four teens identified as victims of cyberbullying: Jamie Hubley, from Ontario, who died at age 15; Amanda Todd, from British Columbia, who died at age 15; Rehtaeh Parsons, from Nova Scotia, who died at age 17; and Todd Loik, from Saskatchewan, who died at age 15. Analysis shows that the mediated public discourse of cyberbullying as a social problem closely aligns with the image of cyberbullying as defined in the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.

Having examined the public discourse used to construct the Canadian iteration of cyberbullying, I then discuss what the academic literature reveals on the topic. While the federal response to this issue mirrors public discourse generated from news coverage, these cases ultimately misrepresent the majority of cyberbullying in Canada. I argue that social reform on this issue will need proactive responses, pairing education with law enforcement. It will take parents, schools, RCMP officials, and community members advocating for respectful online communication to reduce electronic peer harassment, rather than the current legislative response.

Global Movement of Cyberbullying

Peer harassment is not a new phenomenon. While the term "bullying" goes back at least to the 18th century according to the Oxford English Dictionary, (3) the establishment of it as a social problem originates in Norway during the 1980s. In 1982, three Norwegian boys, aged 10 to 14, died by suicide attributed to bullying. In response, trait psychologist Dan Olweus took on a government commission to study the issue. (4) Since that time, Olweus has grown into the world's foremost bullying expert. In response to his work, many European nations began to look critically at schoolyard peer aggression. Bullying research and governmental responses followed internationally. In fact, by 2002, the World Health Organization conducted one of the most comprehensive bullying studies in the world, involving 35 countries and more than 162,000 youths. (5) They found that, on average, 11% of children bullied others at least twice a month during the survey window, and the same percentage claimed to be victimized at least twice a month. These rates differed greatly by country, however. Victimization rates were as low as 4% for females in Malta and Sweden, and as high as 36% for males in Lithuania. (6) Studies like this cemented bullying as an international social problem.

Japan framed bullying as a social problem beginning in 1984-1985, when media outlets reported on the suicides of 16 students attributed to "ijime" (bullying). What Westerners might call bullycide the Japanese called "ijime-jisatsu", or suicide linked to bullying. (7) Because suicide was once viewed as a responsible method for handling a no-win situation, it does not have the same taboo present in most Western societies. …

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