A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a girl’s right to keep her identity concealed while she seeks the identity of a cyberbully and pursues a defamation claim against that individual.
The court characterized her request as follows: “It is not merely a question of her privacy, but of her privacy from the relentlessly intrusive humiliation of sexualized online bullying.”
The case is important because it recognizes that children and youth have a greater need for privacy than adults based on their inherent vulnerability, which is the result of their age and not the personal factors of the particular child or youth. The case also confirms that, in some circumstances when a child or youth is seeking to have their identity remain anonymous, it is not necessary that s/he provide subjective evidence of the harm that would occur if their identity were released. Rather, a court can rely on objective evidence and “the court can find harm by applying reason and logic” [par 16].
The decision also comments on the harm that cyberbullying causes. The Supreme Court of Canada identified cyberbullying as having a psychologically toxic impact on its victims and accepted that, without the protection from revictimization that anonymity provides children and youth, the victim will not seek protection from the aggressor.
The issues of privacy, revictimization and seeking protection, are significant barriers to identifying and disciplining cyberbullies in the school context. Maintaining the privacy of the victim can be very difficult when the bullying occurs in a small, closed community like a school. Therefore, it becomes that much more important that policies and procedures addressing bullying recognize the need for the victim’s privacy and provide methods to report bullying in confidential ways.
Coming forward to report cyberbullying should not be the most difficult part of the bullying to endure. Confidential phone lines, private spaces and ways to speak to administrators as well as assistance to address the toxic impact of cyberbullying are a few of the measures that can be taken to help victims to come forward.