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Will the Law Listen to Amanda Todd's Story?

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When Amanda was in the 7th grade, she was with her friends playing around with a webcam, in an effort to meet new people, and she agreed to flash someone. A year later, the photo was posted to Facebook, consequently sending Amanda into a depression. Despite changing schools twice, the anxiety and depression were too much for her, resulting in her suicide.

Social media is still reeling from her story, as society digests the fact that a 15-year-old girl was driven to take her own life after a sociopathic Internet movement against her. The public outcry against her untimely and unnecessary death is the infinitesimal silver lining to come out of all this, but as one of her friends posted on her Facebook profile, "Why is it that no one ever listens or cares until it's too late?"

This sentiment of too little, too late, is exactly what society needs in order to perform the much needed and overdue introspection we owe to the notion of bullying in general and cyber-bullying in particular.

Ontario's Accepting Schools Act, (commonly referred to as the anti-bullying law), defines cyber-bullying as:

• Creating a web page or a blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;
• Impersonating another person as the author of content or messages posted on the Internet; and
• Communicating material electronically to more than one individual or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more individuals.

Which lends credence to the statement that Amanda's story is not uncommon, considering the widespread use of the Internet and social media platforms among teens. Indeed, it would seem that the newest trend among the sociopathic peri-pubescent is to bully frequently and consistently through cyber-space.

Roughly 10 per cent of all teens in grades 7 though 9 are victims of cyber-bullying, the relentless torment of an individual through the thin protective veil of the Internet. Professor Frisén of the University of Gothenburg notes that this particular form of bullying is often more serious than "conventional" bullying.

In an article published in Science Daily, Prof. Frisén stated:

"This type of bullying can be more serious than conventional bullying. At least with conventional bullying the victim is left alone on evenings and weekends". Moreover, in cyber-bullying, the perpetrators often post things to the Internet that they would never dare say in person, highlighting their cowardice, as Prof. Frisén notes, "In these contexts, people take liberties they normally wouldn't."

And yet a large faction of the public, is reticent to the notion of legislating on this issue. This was demonstrated by the opposition to the anti-bullying law in Ontario this past summer, and more recently with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. In an interview with CBC, Clark made it clear that her preferred avenue to combat bullying is through education and not legislation.

"We do need to be careful about creating laws that are going to impinge on people's privacy and freedom of speech. I think that's an important principle we need to preserve as well."

Yes, privacy and freedom of speech are both fundamental rights recognized by the Charter, but are we really to believe that legislation aimed at protecting children from the potentially lethal effects of cyber-bullying would turn Canada into an Orwellian state?

The Supreme Court of Canada, in recognizing the psychological trauma inflicted on sufferers of cyber-bullying, made its position very clear in A.B. v. Bragg Communications Inc.: a young girl who had been mercilessly bullied had a right to know the identity of the people who were hiding behind the refuge of the Internet. Writing for the majority, Justice Rosalie Abella stated, "It is logical to infer that children can suffer harm through cyber-bullying, given the psychological toxicity of the phenomenon."

I am unable to comprehend why education and legislation have to be mutually exclusive, but perhaps when the next teen commits suicide, I can have Christy explain it to me. We have attempted to educate children on the detrimental effects of bullying, and yet, they do not seem to be learning. Perhaps it is time we change the lesson plan.

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