Friday, 28 September 2012

Court support anon challenge to cyberbullying

A 15-year-old girl from Nova Scotia brought a defamation case against someone who created a fake Facebook profile that sexualized her image. She wanted to bring the case anonymously to protect herself from further damage.
The lower courts rejected her claim, but the Supreme Court of Canada upheld her right to pursue it anonymously.

This case gets to the heart of a dilemma of social media. What protections exist--in reality, as well as in theory?
In this case, the Court said that children should have a layer of protection that would likely not be there for adults. Justice Abella said that it was "logical to infer that children can suffer harm through cyberbullying, given the psychological toxicity of the phenomenon."

 The decision drew on reports of a quarter million cases of cyberbullying a month in Canadian schools, indicating, presumably, that this scope of problem makes it a legitimate topic of the attention of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Justice Abella said that “Studies have confirmed that allowing the names of child victims and other identifying information to appear in the media can exacerbate trauma, complicate recovery, discourage future disclosures and inhibit co-operation with authorities."

Not included in this case was a factor that complicates these issues for school officials. If the alleged defamatory content has been posted by another student in the same school, but from a home computer, what is the responsibility of the school to act, and what might such actions be.

 However, defamatory words aimed at another student are not necessarily the most damaging on Facebook. Often it is what the individual says about himself/herself, directly or indirectly, that causes the most blowback. And what is the ability of the school to make students aware of the dangers, when some teachers themselves seem unaware of the dangers of stepping over student/teacher boundaries.

Read a report on the decision at


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