Prof to head cyberbullying task force

Report expected by end of year

- May 26, 2011

(Nick Pearce Photo)
(Nick Pearce Photo)

A junior-high student is tormented by someone half a world away in Australia. A university student in the library is embarassed and humiliated to read sexual overtures on a "flirting" website.

And tragically, two teenaged girls in Nova Scotia took their own lives after being harassed at school and on Facebook, according to the girls’ parents.

“The media interviews with the parents in those cases were very gripping and very emotional,” says Wayne MacKay, who has been named by Education Minister Ramona Jennex to head a task force looking into bullying and cyberbullying. “I think everyone has a very visceral response to this issue and sees that something needs to be done about this very real and growing problem in our society.”

By year end

The mandate of the task force is to produce a report with a list of recommendations for the Department of Education by end of this year. That advice might include policy changes, legislation and how to shape education and consciousness-raising around the issue among young people, bystanders, bullies, parents, teachers and others.

The task force consists of five members including Mr. MacKay: Mat Whynott, Ministerial Assistant for Youth; Rola AbiHanna, Department of Education guidance consultant; Wendy MacGregor, a parent from Halifax; and Breanna Fitzgerald, a Grade 12 student from New Waterford.

It will be supported by a 20-member working group charged with researching four key areas regarding cyberbullying: intervention, education, assessment and policy. Information regarding the issue will be gathered through a series of youth focus groups and surveys.

“Instead of just wringing our hands and deploring the problem, we hope that all these initiatives will filter into concrete recommendations,” says Prof. MacKay, a constitutional and human rights expert who was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2005.

The right terminology?

Asked if cyberbullying is that much different than the browbeating and intimidation that has forever plagued schoolyards, Prof. MacKay says it is and it isn’t.

“The real power of the Internet is to make the injury caused so much bigger and permanent ... say if you’re bullied on the schoolyard — sure, other kids may see, but that’s different than accessing a diatribe against you online and knowing it’s there for everyone to see. Plus, how do you respond to someone doing this if it’s anonymous?”

Maybe “bullying” and “cyberbullying” aren’t even the right words, muses Prof. MacKay. “Are they really harsh enough terms for what’s happening?” Incorporating harassment, defamation and possibly assaults, “bullying is more serious than what the language might suggest.”

DISCUSSION: Prof. MacKay is interested in hearing from the Dalhousie community on this issue. How do you think the problem of cyberbullying can be addressed?


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