(Photo: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post/file)
BY KELLY ROCHE
An autistic student at John Fraser Secondary School was recently being mocked on Twitter — someone had created an account replying to each of his posts with mean tweets.
“Only after a few days this account was created, however, people reported it, which is a really good thing,”said Grade 12 student Meghana Munipalle. A classmate noticed the interactions and told a peer coach, she said, who took it up the line to school staff.
“We were able to find these people and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Munipalle.
The 16-year-old is a peer coach at the high school, where police launched their annual cyberbullying campaign Monday as part of the province-wide bullying prevention week.
Students from the public and Catholic boards are competing to create an educational video or poster.
Winning submissions will be on display at mall kiosks and city bus shelters in Mississauga and Brampton next summer.
Oppressive behaviour, though, isn’t quite so obvious nowadays.
It’s “changing in the same way that technology and social media are evolving and it’s becoming, I feel like, an even bigger problem because so many more kids are using devices,” said Munipalle.
The anonymity of the Internet certainly helps, regardless of the degree of harassment.
“They may not be tragic,” said Munipalle, but there are plenty of incidents in which “saying hurtful things on social media platforms has almost become a norm.”
An estimated 35 per cent of youth say they’ve been bullied online, said police, noting statistics are underreported due to children worrying about parents confiscating their devices.
Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons died after attempting suicide in 2013 following months of torture by peers. Her parents said she was sexually assaulted by four boys at a party in November 2011 and a explicit photo of the incident was shared at school.
Megan McKenzie, 17, is another Fraser peer coach who said the most common form of bullying nowadays is via the web.
“People aren’t really direct,” McKenzie said, adding they’re more likely to spread gossip or talk behind each other’s backs.
An excuse typically heard?
People will brush it off, “saying ‘it was a joke’ …. but the person being cyberbullied may not think it’s a joke,” Munipalle said.
The impact of intimidation is felt beyond a victim, even extending across an entire school board and community, said Peel Regional Police Staff Supt. Roman Boychuk.
Bullies today, with the Internet “are able to reach new levels of cruelty, which at times surpasses our comprehension, and their weapon of choice is the Internet and social media,” said Boychuk.
The lesson isn’t complete without addressing sexting: One in six teens have received a sext, said Const. Courtney Carver-Smith.
Sharing a graphic image – not receiving it – is a criminal offence, she told students, while Const. Sandro Strangio urged them to “do something about it.”
The presentation was followed by an assembly for Grade 9 students, with senior students leading the way.
Principal Mary Nanavati said students are doing an excellent job addressing issues within the halls.
“I think it’s powerful when students educate other students,” she said.
Nanavati singled out guidance counselor Joan Timmings for developing the peer coaching program and said Timmings is now training other schools within the Peel board.
“We’re teaching them how to be positive digital citizens,” said Nanavati.