Thursday, December 05, 2013

No Easy Answers to Encouraged Suicides and Attempts - can we jail users for shouting "jump?"

I am often asked if there is a cyberlaw covering some new form of cyberabuse. Everyone is seeking a law specifically crafted around every new cyber problem. But, that’s not how criminal laws work. If we needed a specific law governing every little difference in how a crime occurs, we would have billions of new laws every year, and growing!

I will post a more extensive article I wrote on the elements of cyberbullying cases soon. But for now, think of every crime (offline, cyber and mixed) as a series of acts. Sometimes each of these individual acts are crimes in themselves. Sometimes they are when combined with other acts. Good prosecutors and law enforcement officers take the time to analyze the cases and unravel the threads to isolate all of the elements and find the right laws, or combination of laws, to fit the crime.

Creative lawyers, prosecutors and law enforcement investigators can “take it offline” looking at the criminal behavior through a “real life” lens. Look at each piece of the activity. Would these actions constitute a crime if they had occurred offline entirely? If so, do they also apply online? If not, is there a cyber-specific law that applies? Are there pieces that violate the law?

I was recently asked if trolls and griefers encouraging someone in their channels to take their own life is a prosecutable offense.

Let’s use my suggestion to take it offline. In real life, when crowds watch someone standing on a ledge about to jump, they often shout “jump!” If the person does, can we or should we charge them with contributing to his death? In the US, the answer is “no.”

There are exceptions when there is a special relationship between the person encouraging the suicide and the suicide victim. Parents and children, legal guardians and their charges, perhaps siblings who are responsible for each other, professionals and their patients/clients may face greater responsibilities because of a “fiduciary” relationship, where people are expected to look out for one another. 

But in the US we have no legal responsibility to protect others without a special fiduciary relationship or special legal obligation. We can watch someone drown, even if we are good swimmers. We don’t have to pull someone from a fire or a car crash. Ethics and morals and humanism give us the obligation to help others, not the law.

So, how far can we go to encourage someone to hurt themselves? Pretty far. Shouting “jump” to a stranger on a ledge or typing or shouting the equivalent in cyberspace does not change the law. The law assumes that even with people shouting at you to jump, or set fire to your dorm room, as reasonable people, we won’t. We expect that common sense will prevail. Anything else in the US may infringe on free speech or freedom of expression in many other countries.

As tempting as it may be to want to bring charges against those online (or on the street) who shout “jump,” to do so, we would have to create the legal obligation to step in when someone needs help: an obligation to report it, help, take action – to do something. And if we do this to online communications, it will also have to apply to offline ones. It is unlikely that any law would withstand scrutiny if it didn’t.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Just finalized - the International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit Program 1000 participants, 800 students 4-12th grade to create a action plan wish list to address cyberbullying from a youth perspective

RE                         REVISED DRAFT AGENDA (October 31, 2013 revisions)
                              Subject to Change
                              November 9, 2013, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Location: Confederation Centre (Homburg Theatre) 
                              Sold Out - waiting list registrations accepted.

The International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit Agenda:

7:15am - 8:20am            Check-In
8:30am – 8:40am           Welcome/Introductions
8:40am – 8:50am           Plenary Presentation – Cyberbullying Hurts!
8:50am – 9:15 am          Plenary Panel - What is Cyberbullying? How Does It Work? Defining the Issues and Stakeholders: Jacqueline Beauchere (Microsoft), Laurel Broten (Educational Consulting, Fmr Minister of Education and Women), Wayne MacKay, Student, Doug Currie (Minister of Health and Wellness, PEI, from a parents’ perspective).
9:15am – 9:40am           Plenary Panel - International Cyberbullying Perspectives – PEI Newcomer’s Student Panel, Bonnie Bracey Sutton (UN advisor), Kim Sanchez (Microsoft)
9:40am – 10:10am         Barbara Coloroso – The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander and the Digital World
10:10am – 10:20am       Plenary Session – Good Parent/Bad Parent (Student Presentation)/Kensington Presentation (What We Want)
10:20am – 10:35am       Break and Track 2 Transitions to Upper Foyer (Track 1 remains in theatre)
10:35am – 11:15am       Facilitated Breakout Session One (same for both Tracks) – Getting Answers – What is “cyberbullying”?:
What did you learn this morning that you didn’t know before?
Did you agree with what you heard? If not, what didn’t you agree with and why?
Do people realize how much cyberbullying hurts?
What do you want to know about cyberbullying that you don’t already know? What don’t parents understand about cyberbullying?
How serious is the problem of cyberbullying?
How important is it to stop cyberbullying? Why?
How do you define cyberbullying?
11:15am – 12:15pm       Track 2 Remains in Upper Foyer for Special Breakout Session About How Much Cyberbullying Hurts and Ways Kids Can Get Help [picking up box lunch early at 12:15pm]). How To Create Awareness and Show How Much You Care. (artistic activities)
11:15am – 11:45pm       Plenary Session – What Have We Learned?: A Discussion with Glen Canning and Leah Parsons, Parry and Student
11:45pm – 12:00pm       Plenary Session - Minister Gail Shea and Students – Making Your Voice Heard in Ottawa            
12:00pm – 12:30pm       Plenary Session – From the Trenches – Insight Into Victims’ Rights and Services: Sharon Rosenfeldt (Victims’ of Violence, Canadian Centre for Missing Children), Susan O’Sullivan (Canada’s Victims’ Ombudsman), Susan Maynard (Director, PEI Victims’ Services), student and Allan McCullough
12:30pm – 1:30pm         Lunch and Entertainment Program - Raising  Student Voices: Anne of Green Gables Meets Cyberbullying, Mustafa Ahmed (word performance artist), PEI student poet, Friends skit role playing, M&Ms “pass the word!” activity, Cups Kids student performance.
1:30pm – 2:30pm          Plenary Panel – How to Get and Provide Support – Spotting the Signs, the Role of Trusted Adults, Elders and Friends, Peer-Counseling, Student Advocacy, Restorative and Criminal Justice, Reporting Abuse: Dave Finnegan (Build-A-Bear Workshop), Meg Sinclair (Facebook), Chief Roger Augustine, Lori St Onge, [9th grade student], [cyberbullying target], Kevin Harrison, Juniper (Google)
2:30pm – 3:30pm          Younger Students in Upper Foyer for Facilitated Breakout Session (Ice Cream Break for them begins at 3:15pm – 3:30pm).
2:30pm – 3:30pm          Older Students Remain in Theatre for Facilitated Session – What do you think about what you have heard? How important are trusted adults, parents and elders to helping stop cyberbullying? How important are your friends? What makes someone trustworthy? Can we teach people to be more trustworthy? What do parents/trusted adults/elders need to know? What works? Why? What doesn’t work and why? List the top five things you think will help prevent cyberbullying. List the five top things you think will stop a cyberbullying campaign once it starts? List the three ways victims can be helped the most. What should we do with the cyberbullies?
3:30pm – 4:00pm          Ice Cream Break and Student Activities
4:00pm – 4:25pm          Student Questions for the Experts – Allen Roach (Minister of Innovation), Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Build-A-Bear Workshop.
4:25pm – 5:25pm           Plenary Facilitated Discussion – Pulling It All Together –What Have We Learned from Each Other? What Don’t We Know Yet? What Should We Do Next? Creating a Strategy and an Action Plan Wish List, Identifying the Partners, Identifying What Works and What Doesn’t and Getting Out the Word. The Action Plan Wish List is Agreed Upon.
5:25pm – 5:30pm          Closing Ceremony

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trustworthiness Comes in All Shapes, Sizes, Sexual Preferences and Colors

A nationally-recognized educator in Canada, Kevin Harrison, dedicated his attention to figuring out what makes someone trustworthy to their peers. 

While Principal at the Timberline High School in Timberline, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC, Kevin realized that the student peer counseling program had tremendous promise. But peer counselors selected by the guidance counselors or school administrators tended to look alike, act alike and have the same friends. 

They were trusted by some students, mostly the ones who looked and acted like them and had the same friends. But the rest of the students, the Goths, geeks, jocks, poets, drama kids, band members, special needs students and others who didn’t precisely fit the “teachers’ pet” model couldn’t relate.

So, together with his team at the school, Kevin created a survey for the students designed to find students that other students trusted. The 85 students nominated were reviewed by the school administrators for the factors they felt were important to being an effective a peer counselor, and the 50+ students resulting were brought into the fold.

Pearcings and tattoos were as common as hockey jerseys in the group. They came in all colors, shapes and sizes. Their language, walk, talk and mannerisms were vastly different from each other. But they all had some things important in common. They were trusted, were trustworthy and they cared about making a difference.
Thanks to Kevin’s thinking outside of the box, everyone had someone to trust when things went wrong and they needed someone to talk with. They are called "student advocates." It’s a model we are using with’s programs as we go from school to school to teach cyberbullying prevention.

See it in action at the International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit November 9, 2013 in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Google, Microsoft and Facebook are joining us. So is Dave Finnegan from Build-A-Bear Workshop, and Kevin Harrison himself.  And even more importantly, 750 students from 4th – 12th grade are joining us too, to help lead the discussions.

Alert: The @youthsummitpei is sold out (at 1000 participants). But you can watch the event for free live online at

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Promise to Islanders (Prince Edward Island) and Apologies

We are getting amazing traction for our @youthstummipei event. We expanded it from 600 to 1000 seats to handle the demand.

Wanted to make a few promises and one apology:

1. I promise that your kids will knock the socks off of everyone who comes. They are passionate, caring and truly leaders in helping others.

2. I promise that this will allow the island to shine. When Google, Microsoft and Facebook leave on Nov 10th, they will know how empowered and empowering Islanders are to help lead the charge against cyberbullying.

3. I promise that your values will be valued. That the integrity, compassion and community approach will be seen as a major benefit to the fight against cyberbullying.

4. I promise that this is only the beginning, and that as long as I have a say in it, PEI will be the leader in responsible and effective use of digital technologies for all ages. We will become the first Cybersafety Province, tapping the talents of so many Islanders already dedicated to this important issue.

5. I promise that I will continue to share what I know, who I know and my passion to make the Internet a safer place for our children everywhere with Island stakeholders.

Now, one apology. I know more of you wanted to join us for the @youthsummitpei. I expanded it to almost double, budget be "damned." I am sorry that we haven't been able to accommodate everyone with a seat at the event. But, we are hosting a free webcast all day for those of you from off Island and those of you on the Island who can't be there in person. You can tweet your questions and comments to our social media team. You can post on our FB page and we'll be able to help share your voice with the plenary.

This is the first of many events, I promise. And the voice of our Island children will help guide solutions to a growing and worldwide problem, using what Island parents and community leaders have taught them - self-respect, respect for others, honesty, kindness and empathy.

thank you for allowing me to be involved with the rest of the island in pulling off the largest event of its kind in the world, bringing together world leaders and local experts to understand cyberbullying from the lens of our children.

I promise not to let you down!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Across silos - forging multi-stakeholder solutions and breaking through barriers to #stopcyberbullying

 So many people are doing good work to address cyberbullying. And, they rarely talk to each other. Each solution works from that stakeholder's perspective. Law enforcement approaches work for law enforcement. Alternative justice programs work for social workers. Educational programs work for schools, etc. The list goes on and on.

But for solutions to cyberbullying to be effective, they must work across all digital technologies, they must address at least one of the types of cyberbullying and motivations behind cyberbullying and they have to include the feedback of kids and teens.

There are two big problems we have seen - no one thinks about other perspectives and no one includes the voices of youth. Unless this changes, all solutions will fail.

In Prince Edward Island, people know their neighbors. They know people from across the Island. They have strong, but similar opinions about cyberbullying, kindness and self-respect. They are creating wonderful initiatives within their industry/silo, as well.

At @youthsummitpei on Nov 9th, we will be bringing all stakeholders together to explore cross-perspective solutions. And the young students (from 4th - 12th grade) will help us do that.

Not all experts can talk to kids. Some "dumb it down" too much and the kids tune them out.Others talk to them exactly the same way they talk to adult professionals in the field, and put them to sleep. These experts will be opening kids' eyes to new approaches and viewpoints. They will empower, inspire and inform them. They will see connections and help youth see them too. And they will be able to answer hard questions posed by the students in clear ways. No easy. Not for the faint of heart. But crucial if we are going to forge solutions to an ever-changing cyberbullying climate.

I have included the leaders in this issue, worldwide. I have included law enforcement officers who "get it" and are comfortable working with youth. We have educational experts, local and international, who understand about engaging youth and project learning. We have industry leaders and policymakers, who understand the scope of the issue and what hasn't worked in the past and what shows promise. We have health and wellness professionals who understand the emotional and physical costs of cyberbullying. I have brought them to the table to help them cross-boundaries.Their ideas need cross-fertilization. They need a shot of those most familiar with the problem - kids themselves.

Cross your fingers. Fasten your seatbelts. We are in for a rocky but thrilling ride. To learn more about the international stopcyberbullying youth summit in Prince Edward Island, Canada on Nov 9th, visit

Sunday, October 13, 2013

You asked for more blogs, so here you are. Competitive Edge on Safety Online - Google, Microsoft and Facebook

The International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit is modeled after youth summits I host at the US Senate annually  since 1999.

Over the years everyone from Disney, to Nickelodeon, to MTV, to Webkinz, to Facebook, to Microsoft, to Google and Sesame Street have joined us at our Wired Kids Senate Summits. The best thinkers, policymakers and NGOs join us as well.

One year Google's sr rep was sitting on the same panel as Microsoft's, Facebook's and Yahoo's sr reps. We were discussing cyberbullying and safety best practices. I asked them if "safety is a competitive issue." I meant, do they try to one-up each other by keeping their safety expertise to themselves, as trade secrets, instead of sharing ways to make all kids safer. But Google's rep heard it differently.

"Safety is a very competitive issue," he shared. "If your competitors are adopting safer practices, you can't not adopt them too. Those who don't take safety into consideration are left behind."

I was so happy to hear that there is a rush to safety when others become safer. This will only make things better. Many of the big guys come to the same handful of experts to help them. Most come to me and to wiredsafety and for help and advice. While announcements are carefully guarded and the first out of the box is kept confidential until launch, they all want to know if they are doing a good job and if there are ways to help them do a better job.

I, for one, am thrilled to have the top brains at Google, Microsoft and Facebook work on ways to connect us more safely. I bet you are too.

Got ideas for questions we can ask them at @youthsummitpei International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit in Nov? They are coming to PEI to help young people build an action plan for all stakeholders, including industry leaders, to address cyberbullying.

Small schools vs big ones, small towns vs big cities and cyberbullying insights

I recently visited one of the smallest schools in Prince Edward Island in our Island tour to recruit students to help host the International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit, Nov 9th, on the Island. The 4th - 10th graders combined were fewer than 40 kids.

I first talked with them about their thoughts on cyberbullying. One of the students asked me to tell everyone that "the same things happen in a tiny school as a big school."

I then asked why they thought that, coming form such a tiny school, they thought they had important things to share about cyberbullying that kids from bigger towns would list to.

One brave and articulate 9th grader shared her opinion in a confident way (that got her selected as one of my summit leaders!) "In a small school like ours in Belfast, everyone knows everything about everyone. When cyberbullying occurs, they all take sides. You can't hide. You have no privacy, no place to get away from it."

Very interesting perspective. I hadn't thought about that before.

That's why students run my international summits. They have things to say that none of the experts had thought about before.

We are almost fully subscribed and I expanded the summit to 800 participants, from 600. If you are interested in attending, visit If you want to join us by webcast, you can login to on Nov 9, from 7:30am ET to 4:30pm ET. No charge for either.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"We're Canadians and We Are the Nicest Country in the World. And Prince Edward Islanders are the nicest people in Canada!" So there!

I have been touring Prince Edward Island from up West to down East, north shore to south shore, red sands to white...meeting Island kids from 4th to 12th grade. We have laughed alot, cried some, prayed and shouted. I have found some of the most talented, creative and caring kids in the world.

Last week, a fifth grader from Stratford called me out.

I am spending three weeks doing three presentations to students a day to find talent for our @youthsummitpei International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit being held in Prince Edward Island, Canada. It is less about them understanding the different names for the five cyberbullying methods and privacy settings but more about how they think, approach problems and communicate their ideas. The ones I select will be helping me run the summit, not just attend.

I was presenting to a few hundred 5th and 6th graders in Stratford (a connected and more affluent community near Charlottetown that mirrors US communities more than others I have discovered on the Island). I was provoking them to see how they stand up for their opinions.

"Take out your paper and pens," I instructed them. "This is the most important thing I will teach you. If you only learn one thing from me, this is it. AND, it will be on the test!" All eyes turned to me, ready to capture the utlimate truth about cyberbullying.

"If you are ever cyberbullied," I began, waiting for them to capture these golden words. "The first thing you must do..." giving them time to catch up. They looked up expectantly, and I continued. "is to cyberbully them back worse than they cyberbullied you!" I folded my arms and looked smug and confident.

The students had been briefed on my bio, how often I am on Dr. Phil, CNN and the like. They learned that I was a NY lawyer and one of five members of Facebook's International Safety Advisory Board. Everything they were told by their principal and school told them to trust me and learn from me. That created a problem for them. How could someone with my credentials be so wrong? They began looking at their classmates and sneaking glances at me to see if I was serious.

I waited them out. I was looking for some of them confident enough to challenge me. To stand up for what they knew was right.

A little girl, with Anne of Green Gables coloring lost it first. She balled her hands into tight fists, and slammed them down twice on her notebook balanced on her lap. "No! No!" she shouted as she leapt to her feet. "That's wrong, it's just wrong!" she said.

I looked at my Islander husband, trying not to grin. He had to look away to avoid breaking into laughter.

"What do you mean 'no'," I asked her. "Why is it wrong?"

She looked be straight in the eyes, her little hands balled on her hips, glaring and purple with rage. "It's wrong to cyberbully someone back. If it's wrong for them to do it to you, it's just as wrong for you to do it back!" Her friends nodded in support. The rest of the kids looked at me in terror, not sure what I would do.

"Well, it;s how we do it in NY!" I responded, holding my breath.

She stood up taller, jutted out her fifth grade chest, planted her feet firmly on the gym floor and shouted, "Well, this - isn't - NY!" (She punctuated every syllable.) "This is Canada! And Canada is the nicest country in the world!" She turned to make sure the crowd of 5th and 6th graders were with her. They all nodded in a worried way.

"And Prince Edward Island is the nicest province in Canada!" She gave me a "so-there" glare and sat down. The students burst into applause.

That's why I am on the Island. To live among people who appreciate niceness and take pride in being the nicest community in the nicest country in the world. Now you know why I am hosting a massive international summit on cyberbullying in Prince Edward Island.

To my friends and family in the NY metropolitan area, I think you are very nice too. :-)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Interesting Early Findings on Parents and Cyberbullying from Canada

We are hosting a huge international stopcyberbullying youth summit in Canada, Nov 9, 2013 @youthsummitpei. ( In advance of the summit we sent out a parents/grandparents/caregivers survey. The respondents were asked if their child had been cyberbullied. While the responses are still coming in, we have seen some early results that are very interesting.

Those who indicated that they child had been cyberbullied (about 17% of respondents so far) thought that adopting more laws was the most important step we can take to stop cyberbullying.

Those who indicated that their children had not been cyberbullied (or that they weren't sure if their children were cyberbullied) said that giving students empathy training was the most important step we can take to stop cyberbullying.

The results may not be as surprising as first thought. Parents who are frustrated with the system or trying to handle a cyberbullying situation when their own children are involved look for help. They look for law enforcement and criminal justice help.

Parents not yet caught in the cyberbullying drama whirlwind see long-term solutions as the best ones. Empathy training takes time to change attitudes. For every student taught empathy, the world around them is constantly teaching them to be reactive, hold grudges, be judgmental and act out.

So, what's the answer? Why do we have to choose? We don't. The good thing about a multi-stakeholder and multi-dimensional problem is that there are many levels of solutions, from prevention to remediation.

We need empathy training. Parents need it as much as students, the students tell us. Parents need to be more empathetic when their children come to them to report cyberbullying and bullying.

We need laws too. Not necessarily more of them, but better ones that are consistent across jurisdictions. And we need to enforce the laws we already have, improve law enforcement training and cooperation between the industry and investigators.

And, we need much more.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's not about the screen.

At the same Microsoft Safer Online event last week, Jack McArtney said something that grabbed my attention. he was explaining that Verizon originally focused on mobile technology, thinking it was about managing inappropriate content. We all approached cybersafety from the perspective of a particular website, network or app. It was IM safety, Text safety, Cellphone safety, email safety, gaming safety.

Then some of us came up with the 3Cs (and later the 4Cs). Content, Contact and, depending on which expert you followed, "Commerce," "Commercial Risks" or "Cost." It took the analysis and shifted it away from the device, feature or network and examined the risks instead. Verizon quickly understood that it wasn't about the screen at all.

"It's not about the screen."

It doesn't matter if you access Facebook on your cellphone, XBox, laptop or any other connected device. It doesn't matter how you YouTube, Farmville or Pintrest. The issues are the same.

This concept takes cybersafety another leap ahead. Allowing us to work with the category of risks, instead of one-by-one app review makes our lives easier. We don't need a new cybersafety program every time someone launches a new app or builds a new feature.

One of the things I love most about Jack is that he makes it simple. He was the original Verizon "can you hear me now?" tester in the early days of mobile when he would use his mom as his connection. Only a mom wouldn't mind dropped communications as he found the end of the reception call by call. :-)

When I speak to parents or do a TV show, I get emails and messages from parents wanting to know how to be safe on, or youtube, or Facebook, or...(you get the idea). Being able to tell them that "it's not about the screen" will make it much easier for them and for me.

Thanks, Jack!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

While Adult Experts in Cyberbullying are Important - the answer has to come from the students themselves

This past week I was one of the panelists for a Safer Online Microsoft event in Washington DC. Jacqueline Beauchere (Microsoft's new Chief Internet Safety Officer) was on the panel, as was Jack McArtney from Verizon and Amanda Lenhart from Pew Internet Life.

We have all spoken together on panels and all have been participants at one of my events. I consider them all friends, an in many cases, close friends. Yet, I learned something new.

Amanda has done some amazing research. I was fortunate enough to help her frame the issues for one of her more recent studies about young people and social media and cyberbullying. I was surprised with the results, though, as a much smaller percentage of teens polled admitted to having been cyberbullied than in our less scholarly surveys.

When addressing a question from our moderator, Amanda explained that most of the respondents to her survey admitted that harassment and meanness was going on. They just didn't call it "cyberbullying." They called it "drama" or, as I have often said, "life." Those who admitted to having been cyberbullied, defined the "drama" differently.

When we conduct our presentations or do surveys, we have learned not to define "cyberbullying." As Jacqueline said, "you know it when you see it." But it is less important that we know it, as adults, and more important that the young people know it. Too often, desensitized by the digital drama frequency, young people think they have to put up with it. And they don't know when to reach out for help, or step up and help others.

Perhaps the word "cyberbullying" is so misused and overused that it has now lost its meaning. But a rose by any other name smells just as sweet and cyberbullying by any other name hurts just as much.

On Nov 9th in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada (Anne of Green Gables country), we are hosting the first International StopCyberbullying Youth Summit. We hosted the world's first StopCyberbullying Summit in 2008 in NY. Now, five years later, young people will run the show with the assistance of invited experts and adult stakeholders. They will examine the laws and legal principles. They will study victims' rights and sexual violence involving digital media and actions. They will learn about bias, hate and radicalization groups and find ways to promote respect for themselves and others.

Through four tracks: criminal justice, health and wellness, industry and educational best practices and youth empowerment and leadership, the participants will use social media to help frame the issues, refine them and create a framework in advance of the summit and from early morning to evening, work together to create an action plan to bring their strategies to life.

The speakers are stellar for an international event anywhere, but the fact that they are willing to fly to little PEI to learn from and share with Canadian students, as well as video-conferenced students form around the world, is applaudable.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Barbara Coloroso, Sharon Rosenfedlt, First Nation students from across Canada, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, Teenangels from NY, WiredSafety's Deputy Executive Director and it's Chief Communications Officer, the RCMP, the Canadian Victims Ombudsman, Rehtaeh Parsons parents, Ministers of Health and Wellness, Finance, Innovation and Advanced Learning, Education and Justice have been invited and, subject to scheduling, will be joining us. There are more amazing speakers joining the students, but until confirmed we'll keep everyone guessing.

Hopefully, we will spot what is working and what isn't. Hopefully, young people (10 - 18) will help define the issues, the terms and the solutions. Because until solutions and strategies are adopted with their guidance, approval and support, we're wasting our time.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The International StopCyberbullying Youth Summit - Prince Edward Island Nov 9th (working draft)

Charlottetown, Saturday November 9th  8:30am – 5:30 pm, with VIP reception dinner the night before and Island entertainment and activities following the event. 600+ attendees

Run by youth leaders from ten to 18, with invited experts, industry and policymakers. Using UN-expert summit format, with the goal of creating an action plan to address cyberbullying problems by the end of the day. There are three plenary sessions, a luncheon speaker and one keynote. Sponsors and governmental representatives will provide welcome remarks, along with a selected student.

There are three breakout sessions, mixing tracks to address cyberbullying issues from a diverse perspective. These breakout sessions will address questions raised in the plenary and, through a facilitator, report back their findings to help frame the following plenary session.

An exhibit area showcasing student projects and Stop Cyberbullying partners will be set up to demonstrate student approaches to solving the issue. Student musicians, poets, artists and performing artists will be showcased as well.

The plenary sessions will be video conference with schools from within and outside of PEI and Canada to allow remote participation of students worldwide. And a video kiosk will be set up to allow participants to share their thoughts, ideas and recommendations with others. Research conducted by students will be presented and a StopCyberbullying Task Force of volunteers will be created to take the next steps.
Venues:  Confederation Center for plenary, breakout sessions and exhibits/Murphy Center for lunch/additional breakouts.

Participants: digital industry leaders (Facebook, Microsoft and Build-A-Bear Workshop already confirmed). Barbara Coloroso (confirmed), Disney, Webkinz, Google pending. Educators, RCMP, criminal justice experts, wellness professionals, parents, First Nation, digital industry on Island, students (hosting the event and constituting 350-400 of the 600 participant audience). Minister of Ed NS, former Minister of Ed and of Women Ontario confirmed. Inviting big international names in bullying, new Minister of Justice Canada, Sharon Rosenfeldt (founder of Victims of Violence), Rehtaeh Parson's parents (confirmed), Bonnie Bracey Sutton (confirmed). More to come.

Follows in footsteps of NS conference, where Parry Aftab keynoted. This will add youth voices, criminal justice and victimization issues, diversity groups and industry. First of its kind in Canada.
Want Newcomers to cater the lunch with an international buffet, showcasing our diversity.
Evening following the event want Island music, food and experiences (carriage rides, etc.). Island giveaways.

[1] Water and Prince Street Corner Shop has agreed to reopen, after season, to cater the event on their premises.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If you do nothing else, teach your kids and teens password hygiene!

Password theft or abuse are often the root of cyberbullying and digital abuses. Passwords are frequently too easy to guess, hard to remember, stored on a device or shared with others.’s studies have shown that most teens share their password with at least one other person (typically their boyfriend/girlfriend or best friend). And they rarely use different passwords for different sites or purposes, which means once someone has it for one network, they have it for all networks. 

They need to be reminded that giving your password out is like locking your door, but giving someone the key and burglar alarm code. It’s not very smart.  Teach the teens you work with to make it a hard and fast rule never to share their passwords. 

Too many computer and account intrusions arise just because the password was easy to guess (such as the word “password,” or “12345”) or because it was one of the “20 questions” used to come up with most passwords (such as our pet’s name, our middle name, the street we live on, birthdate or anniversary, the year we graduated or will graduate high school, favorite sports team or rock star).

There are usually three different levels of passwords. Easy (or low risk of loss), medium (a higher level of risk of loss) and very hard (for financial accounts, health information and other very sensitive accounts or data). Think of them as Goldilock’s passwords, you want them not too easy, not too hard but just right. 

Simple passwords that are easy to remember, but not one of the easy to guess choices, are fine for free accounts, such as your local news site or networks that give you free accounts and don’t contain anything that you couldn’t recreate easily. 

Medium levels are for your social networking accounts and other accounts that are important but that could be retrieved if accessed. (Facebook offers a device authentication security feature, where you can verify your devices to prevent others from accessing your account for other devices. This is an easy way to help secure your Facebook accounts.) 

Hard passwords have to be the most secure, and often have to include upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers. These are hard to remember, though, and often stored in text files or on PostIt notes stuck to the computer monitor. That makes them very vulnerable to being accessed by others. 

Suggest that your teens come up with a special sentence for each instance of high security password customized for each network or account. A sentence starts with a capital letter, contains lower case letters and ends with punctuation (a symbol). As long as the sentence also includes a number, it meets the high security requirements. If you include something that you use to describe the network of account (i.e. “FB” for your Facebook account), these are also customized for each account and even harder to guess.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Depression and Cyberbullying - Evidenced Based Research from US NIH

Parry Aftab, WiredSafety’s founder and privacy and security lawyer, hates when she is asked during an interview to contrast the risks of cyberbullying with those of offline bullying. “Both are hurtful and unacceptable,” she responds whenever asked.

While physical bullying involves physical pain and fear, often the protracted nature of a cyberbullying campaign and its persistence long after the cyberbullies have ceased their attacks leads to higher rates of depression for victims. Over the eighteen years since WiredSafety’s volunteers began their work assisting victims of cyberbullying and cyberharassment, the charity had substantial anecdotal evidence of this fact. But until recently, no credible research existed to support this premise.

Reprinted below, with permission from the US Department of Health and Human Services, are  the results of research conducted at the National Institute of Health demonstrating higher depression rates among victims of cyberbullying than with victims of traditional offline bullying.

The research was conducted using survey responses received in 2005/2006. It is important to note that this predated the explosion of social networking use by teens and Facebook’s opening its use to more than university students. Parry Aftab suspects that if this research were conducted with fresher data, the differences between cyberbullying and traditional bullying victims’ depression rates would be even more marked.

Why? There are many reasons why cyberbullying can lead to more depression than offline bullying. And when a campaign involves both offline and cyberbullying, it represents the worst of both worlds. Anonymity is probably the worst culprit, when students feel that they can do things and hide behind the cyber-mask and rarely risk being identified. Another big problem is the lack of digital literacy and digital hygiene skills.

Passwords are easily guessed and frequently shared. Privacy settings are not used effectively or at all. They don’t screen for malware or use firewalls and often share devices. They share too much, don’t think before they click and misinterpret others’ communications. There is no escape. No changing neighborhoods, schools or cliques can avoid it. It follows the victim to grandma’s house and back again, to the mall, the gym, school, home and camp. But there’s more.

When asked to identify the main reasons cyberbullying results in higher incidents and levels of depression, Parry and WiredSafety’s “KidDoc”, pediatrician and Vanderbilt University faculty member, Dr. Deanna Guy agreed:

1. It is persistent. Once posted or shared, digital communications and content have a life of their own. Parry’s most frequently repeated quote, “what you post online stays online – forever” underscores the caching, publication, and viral nature of digital information.
2. Victims tend to revisit the scene of the cybercrime, re-reading text messages, logging in to view hijacked accounts, viewing hurtful images and seeing the latest postings. Each time they do, they are being revictimized. Each time is a renewed hurt.
3. The written or multimedia message has tremendous power. It enables a single post to spread to thousands of students.
4. It brings groups together. Messages among students at the victim’s old school come to the attention of students at the new school. Teens from camp connect with teens from church. What was private to a few becomes public and never-ending.
5. It is credible. After having read and re-read the messages and view and reviewed the images, the victim starts to believe that the cyberbullies have merit.
6. This is especially the case when a “mean girls” cyberbullying campaign gains traction with active posses, bystanders and rumor-mongers joining in. These campaigns persist long after the original cyberbullies have lost interest.
7. Cyberbullying is a renewable resource. New groups or individuals pick up the campaign when the victim comes to their attention, and old cyberbullying campaign members renew it when bored or the victim does something noteworthy.
8. The anonymity of cyberbullying (more than 2/3s of cyberbullying occurs anonymously or through the use of fake accounts or accounts that have been taken over by the cyberbullies) contributes to the problem in two ways – more students cyberbully knowing that there is a limited risk of being exposed and the victims don’t know if the cyberbully is their best friend or worst enemy. They become paranoid about not knowing whom can be trusted. This isolates them further.
9. There is no safe place to escape to; no place to hide from cyberbullies. Offline bullies need offline environments to do their damage - playgrounds, the walks to school, school buses, locker rooms or hallways. The devices and technologies used by teens to cyberbully others are designed to provide access to users 24/7/365. It can come at victims in the middle of the night, on vacation or in the security of their bedroom.
10. Cyberbullies often pose as a trustworthy friend, causing conflict and further isolating the victim from those who could help them address the attacks. Students have told Parry that they don’t know if the cyberbully is their best friend or worst enemy – they become paranoid.
11. Parents are rarely effective in helping students handle offline bullying, largely because it is hidden from them. But even those parents who learn of the cyberbullying are rarely prepared to address cyberbullying.
One student told Parry that she wouldn’t bother telling her parents since they would be “clueless” about the issue and “worthless” in providing help or support.

Sadly, the same digital communication tools and devices that allow the students to stay in touch and receive support from their friends are now seen as a source of pain.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are more cyberbullies than bullies.

Cyberbullying attracts equal opportunity offenders. Everyone can be a cyberbully, no matter how small, shy or physically-challenged they are. They can act out their fantasies. They can act on impulse with technologies designed to be used impulsively. They aren’t really mean and nasty students, just playing one online. They can masquerade as others harassing friends of that student, providing two victims for the price of one. It is entertainment. It’s fun. It’s empowering. And it rarely involves serious risk of exposure.

With all of this, the NIH findings are not surprising at all. (the report is copied below)

Depression high among youth victims of school cyber bullying, NIH researchers report
Finding underscores need to monitor, obtain treatment for recipients of cyberbullying
Unlike traditional forms of bullying, youth who are the targets of cyber bullying at school are at greater risk for depression than are the youth who bully them, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
The new finding is in contrast to earlier studies of traditional bullying, which found that the highest depression scores were reported by another category of youth involved in bullying-bully victims. Past studies on traditional bullying show that bully-victims — those who both bully others and are bullied themselves — are more likely to report feelings of depression than are other groups.
Traditional forms of bullying involve physical violence, verbal taunts, or social exclusion. Cyber bullying, or electronic aggression, involves aggressive behaviors communicated over a computer or a cell phone.
"Notably, cyber victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying," the study authors wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "…unlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser; as such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack."
The analysis, of 6th through 10th grade students, was conducted by Jing Wang, Ph.D., Tonja R. Nansel, Ph.D., and Ronald J. Iannotti, Ph.D., all of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Dr. Iannotti noted that, although bullies are less likely to report feelings of depression than are bully-victims or victims, they are more likely to report depression than are youth not involved with any bullying behaviors — either traditional bullying or cyber bullying.
Being bullied interferes with scholastic achievement, development of social skills, and general feelings of well being, explained Dr. Iannotti, the study's senior author. In a study published last year, he and study coauthors reported that the prevalence of bullying is high, with 20.8 percent of U.S. adolescents in school having been bullied physically at least once in the last two months, 53.6 percent having been bullied verbally, and 51.4 percent bullied socially (excluded or ostracized), and 13.6 percent having been bullied electronically (
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration advises parents to encourage children to tell them immediately if they are victims of cyberbullying or other troublesome online behaviors. The agency also lists a number of steps that parents can take to help prevent cyber bullying and how to respond to it, at The site also includes extensive information on preventing and dealing with traditional forms of bullying. The Center for Disease Control also provides information on electronic aggression for parents, educators, and researchers at
In the current study, the research team sought to examine the association between depression and cyber bullying, which has not been studied extensively.
To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed data on American students collected in the 2005/2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children Study, an international study of adolescents in 43 countries ( The researchers measured depression by gauging responses to six survey items. Students were asked to indicate, if, within the past 30 days, they felt very sad; grouchy or irritable, or in a bad mood; hopeless about the future; felt like not eating or eating more than usual; slept a lot more or a lot less than usual; and had difficulty concentrating on their school work. Students ranked their response according to a five item scale ranging from "never" to "always."
They were also asked to indicate whether they were involved with bullying behaviors, whether as perpetrators or victims. Survey questions were designed to measure the following forms of bullying: physical (hitting), verbal (such as name calling), relational (social isolation and spreading false rumors), and cyber (using computers or cell phones). The researchers classified bullying others or being bullied "two or three times a month" as frequent, and "only once or twice" as occasional. Respondents were further classified as either not involved with bullying (either as bullies or victims), bullies, victims, or bully-victims (who had bullied others and also been bullied themselves).
Compared to students who were not involved with bullying, adolescents who were bullies, bully victims, or victims tended to score higher on the measures of depression. Those frequently involved with physical, verbal, and relational bullying, whether victims or perpetrators, reported higher levels of depression than did students only occasionally involved in these behaviors.

The researchers found that youth who were frequently involved with bullying behaviors, regardless of the type of bullying involved, reported higher depression scores than did youth only occasionally involved with such behaviors.
For physical violence, no differences were found in depression scores among bullies, victims, or bully-victims. For verbal and relational bullying, victims and bully-victims reported higher levels of depression than bullies.
For cyber bullying, however, frequent victims reported significantly higher levels of depression than frequent bullies and marginally higher depression than frequent bully-victims. The finding that victims of cyber bullying reported higher depression scores than bully victims was distinct from traditional forms of bullying and merited further study.

Victims of cyber bullying scored higher for feelings of depression than did bully-victims, a finding not seen with any other category of bullying.
Because of the association between bullying and depression, bullies, bully-victims, and victims are candidates for evaluation by a mental health professional, Dr. Wang said.
Information about depression and its treatment is available from the National Institute of Mental Health, at
Dr. Wang noted that in their earlier study, she and her coworkers had found that students were less likely to bully or to be victimized if they felt they had strong parental support—feeling that their parents helped them as much as they needed, were loving, understood their problems and worries, and helped them to feel better when they were upset.
The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute’s Web site at
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Losing Control of Your Mobile Phone

At least 1/3 of the ways a cell phone can be used to cyberbully someone involve taking control of someone’s cell phone. They do it by grabbing it when the owner isn’t looking. They reprogram contacts, change speed-dial settings, erase music, photos, videos and games, swap SIM cards, send nasty messages that appear to be from the victim, forwarding private stored images to themselves, buying expensive downloads, prank calling someone or calling China.

Keep an eye on your phone! Keeping your cell phone secure is crucial. Leaving it on your lunch tray when you go back for another drink, or  in your jacket pocket draped over your chair make it an easy target for cyberbullies who want to have some fun at your expense. Know where it is at all times. And don’t trust your friends to do it for you. While your friends may be very trustworthy, sometimes the temptation of a “practical joke” or secret resentment may be more than they can handle. And you have made it easy for them to make you this afternoon’s entertainment. Seventy percent of the students polled by Teenangels reported that cyberbullying came from “friends.”

Lock it up! Passwords and auto-locks are a pain sometimes. They slow things down. But if you use them, the extra few seconds will pay off if your phone is lost, stolen or in the hands of a cyberbully trying to use it against you. Most lock codes are limited to numerals (although iPhone will allow numbers and letters now). It’s hard to be secure with four numbers. But if you are careful and don’t use four numbers that are easy to guess or a code everyone knows you use, you can make it much harder to break into your phone. And that little extra bother might make a big difference. Set it to auto-lock if not in use for 1 minute and if your smartphone allows for additional password protections, use them.

Back it up! If your cell phone is lost, stolen or reprogrammed, it can be a disaster. Sometimes cyberbullies will exchange your SIM card with that of another student they are also cyberbullying. Or they reset the defaults and take your phone back to its original settings, erasing all data, content and contacts. Having a backup makes it easy to take back your cell phone life easily. It also works when you leave your cell phone in your soon-to-be-laundered jean’s pocket or lose it at the mall. Many cell phone service providers offer a free backup service. There are some free and low-cost apps for that too. Make it a weekly practice if you do it manually, or an auto-middle of the night setting otherwise. (While you are at it, suggest your parents and other family members back up their phones too.)

Sharing isn’t good! Many students share their cell phones with friends. This is becoming even more common with so many students on unlimited texting, data and calling plans. If you are going to share your cell phone with someone, unlock it yourself and try and keep your code private. Then check the text and call log afterwards. If something goes wrong, you will have to answer to your parents or the authorities. You’re entitled to know what others are doing with your phone. And set rules and let your friends know, in advance, what those rules are. It’s your phone. You’re allowed.

The 4 Ps – Don’t store anything that you don’t want your Parents, Principal, a Predator or the Police to see, read or find on your cell phone. If you have a photo you don’t want others to see, delete it from your phone, or password protect it. If someone sends you a photo you don’t want, delete it (or report it before you do).

we are seeing a growth in offline attacks tied to online threats and provocation in inner cities

I have been working more with inner city schools than ever to address the fiction that cyber risks were not real risks in the urban areas. Years ago this was true. We could all ignore the cyber safety risks in inner city urban and poor schools. Why? Kids were not connected in those homes or even in those schools.
But inner city, urban, ethnic kids use the Internet as often as their more affluent white suburban counterparts, just through their cell phones and gaming devices, not home computers. And we are seeing a trending of physical violence and gang provocation with these kids that will result in murders, not suicides. Don't discount the issue, just understand it.

Sexting and US Legal Approaches (for lawyers, policymakers and child protection professionals)

Sexting is a difficult issue. (Sexting involves images, both still and video. Sexual communications  sent in textual form,  are called “cybering.”)  It is problematic for three special reasons, beyond the obvious of images of nude minors or those engaged in sexual activities:

1. Sexting images are often used to attack those featured in those images by cyberbullies. Those in them are more vulnerable to bullying and cyberbullying.

2. Given the nature of the images and the desire to keep parents from learning about them, many minors are “sextorted” into engaging in sexual acts or sending more images to keep their blackmailer quiet.

3. The minors taking, sending or possessing the sexting images of other minors can be charged with child pornography and sexual exploitation crimes, such as the production, distribution and possession of child pornography, or endangerment of a minor.

Although “sexting” is a more recent trend, given the enhanced ability of cell phones and mobile devices to take and share images, the practice of taking nude or sexually provocative digital images and sharing them with others has been going on for more than 11 years. Parry Aftab worked on her first case of a teen voluntarily sharing a sexual video in 1998.

A young teen, to get the attention of a teen boy she liked, took and shared a digital video with him. It showed her performing mock oral sex and touching herself while nude. The boy received the video, and while he was not interested in seeing her, shared the video with his friends. The video eventually made its way to the Internet and peer-to-peer video sharing sites. Taking a sexual video and sharing it with someone was harder then. Now anyone armed with a video-capable cell phone can take and share the video with the click of a few keys. It can be hosted for free and shared with everyone or a select few or individual. And it is becoming commonplace enough that the shock value no longer exists.

To date, the typical approach to preventing and addressing sexting has been lectures about morals and warnings of the legal risks involved. But when pitched against raging hormones and love, these approaches are not very effective.

While we have to continue to create awareness and improved understanding of the risks involved, Parry Aftab believes we have to consider and adopt new laws or revisions to existing ones to deal with the reality that our young people are taking, sharing and possessing sexual images of their partners, their friends and others they know in the same way they may engage in sexual activities. The registered sex offender laws were never designed to include minors who are engaging, voluntarily, in taking and sharing sexual images of themselves as sex offenders. The child pornography laws were not designed to charge minors engaged in voluntary sexting activities.

Years ago, when the statutory rape laws were amended to reflect the reality of minors engaging in voluntary sexual relations with other minors, we addressed a similar issue. Until then, boyfriend and girlfriend could not legally engage in consensual sexual relations if they were underage. We relied on prosecutorial discretion and law enforcement common sense to prevent injustices before the laws were changed. Now, it is especially ironic that because of the updating of those laws and the existence of older child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors laws, a minor can be charged with taking a picture of a legal sex act, even if it is fully-voluntary. There is one inescapable solution -the child pornography laws should be updated to mirror the statutory rape laws.

Some states have done that, or sought to address it in similar ways. Some states decriminalized voluntary sexting of minors or reduced the severity of charges when the acts are voluntary. Illinois changed their juvenile adjudication laws to include juveniles charged with voluntary sexting offenses, effective January 1, 2011. While the law does not preempt child pornography or other more serious changes, it provides authority for those determining the dispositional orders to mandate counseling or community service. (705 ILCS 405/3-40,, accessed January 13, 2011.)

Others provide a defense if the minor can prove that they did not solicit a sexting image and were intending to delete it or report it. Arizona’s law, adopted in May 2010 does a good job of that. In its early legislative history, it mentions Philip’s case. He was an 18 year old in Florida who broadcast his ex-girlfriend’s nude image to all of her friends and family after a bad breakup. She was still under 18, and he was prosecuted as distributing child pornography. (See the MTV Sexting special When Privates Go Public [insert link].) While the law makes taking the image or sharing it a class 2 misdemeanor, those receiving an image who intend to get rid of it or report it are exempt from the law. (Title 8, Chapter 3, Article 1, Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 8-309,, accessed January 13, 2011.)

Vermont’s law, adopted in 2009, expressly exempts minors taking sexting images of themselves from being charged under the child pornography state laws or required to register as a sex offender. It also  prevents those possessing sexting images transmitted to them from the minor who took them of themselves from being charged under those laws or required to register as a sex offender if they took “reasonable steps” to destroy or delete them (whether or not successful). Prosecutions of minors are reserved for the Family Court system and juvenile proceedings. Those convicted will have their records expunged when they reach the age of 18.
Ironically, and probably in reaction to reports of consensual sexting and one of the couple having turned 18 when the actions occurred, adults who have received an image from the minor taking a sext and who have taken reasonable steps to delete or destroy them only face a maximum $300 fine and up to 6 months imprisonment and are exempt from sex offender registry laws. (Note that first offenders are exempt from prosecution under the more serious child pornography laws, but even multiple offenders are exempt from the laws requiring sex offender registration for these acts, unless charged under other sexual exploitation laws.)  Parry Aftab believes that while some of these changes are good, others may have gone too far, especially when adults are involved.

Some states didn’t change the existing laws, but clarified that prosecutors have more discretion when minors are involved with consensual sexting.  Ohio took that tact, and with the assistance and support of Cynthia Logan and Parry Aftab a bill was written and adopted.

And at least one state, NJ, adopted a diversionary program for minors engaged in sexting.  (A “diversionary program” involves minor crimes (typically not felonies), first offenders not likely to reoffend and requires that the accused staying out of trouble for a certain period of time. It is sometimes called “early intervention”, “adjournments pending dismissal” or similar procedural descriptions. If there is no re-offense, the matter is dismissed with prejudice and there is no criminal record or penalty.) (Assembly, No. 4069 , State of New Jersey, 213th Legislature, introduced June 11, 2009, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, District 6 (Camden),, accessed January 13, 2011.) This approach combines education with adjudication, a powerful combination.

Parry believes that diversionary problems blend the best of both providing justice and common sense when cyberbullying or sexting laws are implicated. While everyone’s first reaction may be to rescind laws relating to minors taking, sharing or possessing sexual images of each other, we need to be cognizant of the fact that sextortion is a real risk, adults prey on minors using any vulnerability they can discover and that many young people use the sext as a weapon to destroy the reputation of other minors, driving at least three to suicide.
Others may believe that the laws are fine as written, hoping that prosecutorial discretion is a sufficient safeguard against injustice. But we have seen several cases where the prosecutors are part of the problem, not the solution. And the child pornography sentencing guidelines for federal cases are a real problem, even for those of us who believe that child pornography crimes should be strenuously prosecuted and offenders receive stiff penalties worthy of the crime committed.

The importance of state and federal law changes to either provide more discretion or prosecutors or diversionary programs and family court alternatives is highlighted by a quick review of the US federal child pornography sentencing guidelines. While under review based on criticism that the sentencing guidelines established by Congress are over-reaching and excessive, they remain in effect (although may not be binding). Individuals found guilty receive at least 5 years minimum sentence, enhanced for use of the Internet or digital devices, contact with the minor and other factors in common between voluntary sexting among minors and those of sexual predators and child sexual exploitation. (To read more about the history of these guidelines, visit

Child pornography, under the US federal laws, is:

the visual depiction of a person under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2256(1) and (8). This means that any image of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct is illegal contraband. Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. See 18 U.S.C. § 2256(2). A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. In addition, for purposes of the child pornography statutes, federal law considers a person under the age of 18 to be a child. See 18 U.S.C. § 2256(1).

It is irrelevant that the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state might be lower than 18. A visual depiction for purposes of the federal child pornography laws includes a photograph or videotape, including undeveloped film or videotape, as well as data stored electronically which can be converted into a visual image. For example, images of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct stored on a computer disk are considered visual depictions.

(Quoting the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section’s Citizen's Guide to United States Federal Child Exploitation Laws,, accessed on January 14, 2011)

Sometimes I get so tired...the Dr Phil Tweet and Getting real

Most of us agree on the basics. We don't like bullying, cyberbullying, personal attacks, hate and bigotry. Yet, we too often resort to those actions online. I have been watching the controversy with the Dr. Phil tweet. We are so quick to attack. So quick to take offense. So quick to cast blame on others or think the worst of them.

Dr. Phil has done an extraordinary amount of good. You may not watch him or be one of his fans, but millions do and are. When he covers an issue, people pay attention. And in the post-Oprah void, he is one of the few that can shine the light on important issues, devoting an entire show to a problem.

I first met Dr. Phil three years ago when testifying before Congress on the same panel on cyberbullying. The Girl Scouts, a principal from Texas, Build-A-Bear's CTO and a psychiatrist were also on the panel. The Girl Scouts testified that I had developed the GS's cyberbullying and cybersafety program. The principal testified that I had interceded and helped one of her students over Thanksgiving weekend with a myspace problem. Dave Finnegan, from BaB, created me with helping design the BaB anti-bullying campaign. Dr. Phil probably had no idea who I was before that panel. (His producers had called me several times to do the show, previously.)

But when asked during the questions and answers what people should do when cyberbullied, Dr. Phil said, "It's obvious, call Parry!" To his credit, he did. I did two of his shows back-to-back. Both, sadly, covered cyberbullying-related suicides.

What surprised me the most when working with him was how much he really cared. Before going on the first time, he cautioned me to be gentle and non-judgmental with the young girl who had gotten into trouble online. (He didn't know me well enough to know I am always on the side of kids.) He is driven to stop abuse of young people by others of all ages.

Rehtaeh Parsons is no different. A young teen took her own life after being sexually attacked by teens and having the images of the attack go viral. She lived in Nova Scotia, Canada, a kind and gentle province on the East Coast, not far from where I have my summer cottage and offices. Sadly, an almost identical case occurred in California three weeks later. Two young women, lost to our help. They faced sexual assault, people who didn't believe them and the humiliation of images of their attack circulating widely among their classmates and peers.

I was honored to be asked by the Ministry of Education and of Women and Children to keynote the Speak Up! Nova Scotia conference. It was held to begin fulfilling the action plan outlined by the Nova Scotia Cyberbullying Task Force. Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Delhousie School of Law in NS chaired the task force. He invited me to testify before it on its opening day more than two years ago.

The Task Force was formed following the tragic suicides of two young teens in Nova Scotia following separate cyberbullying campaigns against them. Two years later, Rehtaeh's suicide emphasized the importance of cyberbullying prevention and solutions. And the need to move faster.

Following on the heels of the Nova Scotia conference, we will be hosting one in November, on Prince Edward Island (Anne of Green Gables country), an adjoining province to Nova Scotia. Building on the momentum of Nova Scotia's campaign, young people from across Canada and the US will come together with adult experts, Facebook, Microsoft and Rehtaeh's family to forge a holistic action plan. In a day-long summit, government leaders, industry leaders, students leaders, educational and wellness professionals and the RCMP and victims' rights advocates will join forces to design a strategy to move the ball forward.

When I first met with Rehtaeh's father and step-mother following my keynote address, I was touched by their loss. They shared what am amazing young woman she was. She was passionate about protecting animals, and had dreams of working with the whale conservationists near Japan. She was a wonderful older sister, too.

Rehtaeh's younger sister, mourning her loss, asked their mother for a "Map to Heaven." When Leah asked her why she wanted a "Map to Heaven," she explained that she needed it to get to Rehtaeh in heaven. Glen's recounting of this story brought us all to tears. So we decided that we would remember Rehtaeh for all the things that made her special. I want her remembered for her life, not her tragic victimization or death. So, together with Rehtaeh's friends, family and caring volunteers we are building a new site in her memory. We may not be able to give her little sister a real map to heave, but at she'll be able to see a map of Rehtaeh's life and memories of those who cared for her any time she wants to with the click of the mouse.

Now, back to Dr. Phil. If anyone thinks that he posts all his own tweets, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell them at a discount. The tweets are designed to provoke a response or viral promotion. It wasn't smart. It was ill-advised. But it was a tweet, not a disaster. Let it go. If it demonstrated his opinion, or was intentionally offensive, the outrage might be warranted. But it was not.

The good Dr. Phil does and the level of passion he truly has for these issues should be more than enough to allow the mistake to become history. And the energy people are spending attacking him should instead be directed to helping address cyberbullying and sexual violence problems.

We don't have time to waste taking potshots. Let's not become the bullies we oppose.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Great Speak Up! Conference in Halifax Nova Scotia

It was wonderful seeing everyone pulling together at the NS SpeakUp! event. One of the best experiences we encountered was watching the NS Minister of Education interact with students. She was greeted by hugs and seemed to know them all  by name. Wish we had more like her!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bystanders in Cyberbullying - Defining the Roles

“Bystanders” are people who witness actions. In cyberbullying cases they may receive a copy of the cyberbullying message, be asked to vote for the “ugliest girl in school,” view a cyberbullying attack on someone’s Facebook, be a friend of the victim or cyberbullying or hear about an upcoming cyberattack.

Sometimes bystanders are active, such as when they forward a mean message, or pass along the url of a
YouTube harassing video about someone. Sometimes they are passive, such as when they know about
the cyberbullying, might have stumbled on a harassing profile or have received a copy of the message
without forwarding it on.

When cyberbullying is involved, Parry Aftab calls active bystanders “Facilitators.”Most large cyberbullying
campaigns won’t get very far without the assistance of Facilitators. They are used as the grease to speed up the wheels of the cyberbullying campaign – to drive attention to what’s going on and to keep it going.Without
Facilitators, most cyberbullying campaigns fall flat. It’s like hosting a big party when no one comes. Mean girls rely on Facilitators to help them do their dirty work. Sextbullying won’t happen without them.

They do more than merely observe the cyberbullying. They instigate further abuse and create the buzz that every good digital campaign needs. They pass along the instant messages, embarrassing photos and promote others to join in. They may pretend they aren’t involved, but their activities are essential to spreading the abuse online. Facilitators can do this intentionally or be manipulated by the abuser into believing that the victim is in the wrong and serves whatever is happening to them, another example of “cyberbullying-by-proxy. (Read about “Dupes”below.)

The more activeFacilitators are, the bigger part of the problem they become. They become the vehicle for the cyberbullying when they gladly pass along mean messages written by the original cyberbully. Sometimes the Facilitators become cyberbullies themselves. When their actions are more than just “spreading the news” and they become more active by voting for the “ugliest girl” in the mean quiz or for escalating the cyberbullying by adding additional inflammatory facts or rumors they have gone from Facilitator to active cyberbully.

Dealing with Facilitators requires someone to “step in or step up.” Like throwing water on two fighting dogs to get them to “cool down,” someone needs to throw some cold water on the Facilitators’ actions. This can be a third party (“stepping in”) to try and get people to stop the mob behavior or gain perspective. Or it can be someone “stepping up” from the group of Facilitators or passive bystanders to convince everyone to stop.

Most teens are afraid to get involved, fearing that they might become the next victim. This is especially the case when offline bullies, power hungry cyberbullies or mean girl cyberbullies are involved. Using the dog fight example, stepping into the middle of a wild dog fight will risk a serious bite or the dogs turning on you. If you step into a cyberbullying situation without being prepared, you can get hurt just as easily.

Passive bystanders need to recognize when they should do or say something. They have to be taught to identify cyberbullying when they see it , and when to report cyberbullying to the school, parents, the website or to the police. (This applies even more to digital dating abuse. You can read more about that at, the dating abuse program sponsored by Liz Claiborne.) They need to know how to report abuses on the sites they frequent and understand the report abuse process.

Often teens are unwilling to report cyberbullying when they encounter it with themselves or with others. They
have a cultural reluctance to tell adults about anything, fearing it makes them look immature or that they could
be seen as tattling. They also worry that if they are wrong and it wasn’t really cyberbullying (perhaps just an
inside joke) they might get into trouble for making a false report. They worry that the person they are reporting might be told who reported them (they aren’t) and worry about retaliation. What they need to worry about more is the hurt someone is experiencing that they may be able to help stop.

Friends, whether they are best friends or just classmates, neighbors or someone you’ve known since 2nd grade, have a higher obligation than mere bystanders. They know you and should care about you. They are supposed to be supportive and stand by you when you need it. Yet, often friend-bystanders try to avoid getting involved, fearing that the cyberbully will turn on them or that they will somehow get into trouble. So, they often opt to do nothing. They sit by and watch someone they care about get hurt.

Friends don’t always have to report the cyberbullying. They may decide, after talking with their friend who is
being targeted, that reporting it is not the best way to handle that case of cyberbullying. The best thing they cando is stand by and be supportive of their friend. They need to understand how to be supportive of someone theycare about too. (Ask the person what they would like you to do or not do. It’s a good place to start!)

Whatever they decide to do, they have to do something. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Don’t be remembered for your silence.

There are two significant additional types of digital bystanders – 1. strangers who witness the cyberbullying
online and know neither the victim nor the cyberbully and 2. “cybermobs,” ”flamers” or “trolls” and “dupes.”

Cyberbullying usually occurs among people who know each other offline. They are armed with secrets, often with passwords (or can guess them easily) and have a stake in the harassment. They may have been harassed by the victim previously, or believe that the victim “deserves it.” They may be angry, vindictive or jealous. They are often seeking an audience of people who know both them and the victim. They might be bored or looking for entertainment at the cost of another's pain. And they typically try and fuel the cyberbullying fire by getting others to join in.

But because of the nature of online social communities with hundreds of  millions users it is likely that strangers will witness cyberbullying that is posted online or send in viral messages. For example, sexting-related harassment can result in tens of thousands of strangers viewing the nude photo. As a young teen once explained, “In the beginning it’s a shocking picture of someone you know. You have a stake in protecting her or sharing it with others because of who she is. But as it continues to move outside of your school and community, it eventually just becomes a picture of some naked girl.”

Those who receive or view that picture “of some naked girl” are strangers witnessing sextbullying. They can
report it, ignore it, delete it or pass it on. And their choice can make a significant difference in the duration and scope of the sextbullying. And, to the victim trying to contain the harassment, it can make all the difference in the world. Empowering bystanders to report what they see is crucial.

The definitions of the different terms are set forth below.

“Cybermobs,” “Flamers,” and “Trolls” “Cybermobs” are large numbers of people who engage in mob behavior online by hacking, harassing, attacking and spreading nasty messages. “Flamers” tend to act alone in their attacks and are highly opinionated, attacking anyone with other opinions or their actions if they find them offensive in any way. “Trolls” like to stir up trouble online and see what happens. A juicy digital dating abuse campaign can “feed the trolls,” giving them the attention they crave, especially in virtual worlds and interactive games.

”Cybermobs” don’t know or care who the victim is, instead feeding on the vulnerability of the victim. There may be strategic positioning of the digital abuse to make the victim appear to be the bad guy. These often involve cyberbullying-by-proxy staging when someone manipulates others into doing their dirty work for them, causing those third parties to believe their actions are righteous and that they are seeking justice. The victim is revictimized as the focus of their mean comments and vicious attacks. The only way, generally, to stop a cybermob is to wait it out. The best way to address it is to prevent it from happening in the first place or stopping it very early in its evolution before it takes on a life of its own.

“Flamers” and “flaming”: nasty comments, insults and rude communications posted online for various purposes, including anyone holding opposing opinions or doing things they don’t approve. “Flamers” tend to act alone in their attacks and are highly opinionated, attacking anyone with other opinions or if they find them offensive in any way.

“Trolls”: are people who like to stir up trouble online and see what happens. A juicy rumor campaign can “feed the trolls,” allowing them to act out and giving them the attention they crave, especially in virtual worlds and interactive games.

“Dupes”: are people who engage in harassment or cyberbullying activities after being convinced that they are
doing the right thing, giving someone something they deserve or believe that the person they are targeting
started it by harassing them first. The person is being manipulated by the real cyberbully into falling for this. It’s a cyberbullying-by-proxy campaign designed to get others to do their dirty work and the dupes fall for it.

Don’t Stand By, Stand Up! Stop Cyberbullying!

When people are bullied, there are often witnesses who see, hear or share the incident. These witnesses are called “bystanders.” 

Sometimes they ignore what is going on. Other times they join in, fearing they will be next if they don’t. Maybe they just pass it on. Every time they watch a harassing video, visit a profile designed to attack someone or spread the hate, they fuel the bullying and cruelty.

Cyber-harassment stops fast when bystanders refuse to play along.
Don’t just stand there when you see cyber-harassment and cyberbullying…do something.

Stand up for the victim. Report it – Don’t Support It!

We need to stop standing by and start standing up. Stand up for others who need our help and support. Do it for those who have been hurt by cyberbullies. Do it for those you care about. Do it to make the work a better place. Do what’s right!

I, ___________________, promise not to be a bystander, but to stand up to cruelty, harassment and hate when I encounter it online.
  • 1.     I promise to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • 2.     I won’t reward cyberbullies with the attention they are seeking.
  • 3.     I will learn how to spot harassing behavior online, where to report it and how.
  • 4.     I will not sit by quietly when others are being hurt.
  • 5.     I will report what I see and not support it.

  • I am doing this because it’s right. I hope that, by making this promise, I will (share what you hope to accomplish by taking the pledge): __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am doing this for (share who you are doing this for - yourself, someone you love, the Internet, victims, etc.):_____________________________________________