The cyber-bullying epidemic: university campuses no exception

The Nelson-Muntz-esque bully you remember seeing on Teletoon and Family Channel shows is extinct. The social media revolution and the new knowledge economy has killed more than just the family-owned business and industry-jobs, it’s killed “the bully”.

Now, this is to say, the stereotypical playground bully trope is dead, not the act of bullying itself. In fact, in the age of Snapchat, Yik Yak, Facebook and Twitter, bullying is more widespread than ever, and more disturbingly, the “bully” has been, often times, totally separated from the hurtful comments, mocking and emotional pain they create.

On Jan. 25, Brock University Communications sent out a public service announcement to all Brock University students via their brocku.ca e-mails. The statement was in regards to a high frequency of cyber-bullying and online harassment cases at Brock. The harassment at Brock was largely taking place on Facebook, Twitter and Yik Yak, but of course are not limited to these three mediums.

For some, the e-mail was likely just shrugged off, as if in the academic context of a university, it’s impossible that petty, childish bullying through the internet could possibly still exist. According to Stats Canada however, 7 per cent of adult Internet users in Canada, reported that they’ve been bullied online. These numbers increase exponentially however, when looking at adolescents, as 38 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females have experienced “occasional or frequent” bullying during their academic careers. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t get better, even after university, as 40 per cent of Canadian workers face bullying on a weekly basis.

080747_Cyber_Bullying

Of all the social media sites, Yik Yak is particularly the most frightening, as it’s a totally “anonymous” application. The app uses the smart phones’ GPS tracking ability to position them within a municipal network of other Yik-Yakkers, and allows users anonymously post, up-vote, down-vote and comment in the feed for their city. There are no user accounts, names, or profiles, just random symbols assigned to anonymous posters.

So far, I’ve seen racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic comments and bullying statements, on the Thorold Yik Yak feed alone (which is primarily made up of Brock students).

Yik Yak alone has made it to thousands of university campuses worldwide, and I’m sure the cyber-bullying is consistent across many of them.

In the United States, Yik Yak has put their GPS features to work and restricted access to the app when a user is within range of an elementary or high school as a way to restrict potential harassment among teenagers. Perhaps then, this same process should be implemented at Brock in order to ensure that the university remains free from virtual harassment.

Of course, the anonymity that Yik Yak and Facebook pages like Spotted at Brock advertise are almost superfluous, as any intelligence agency or law enforcement branch could easily find out user info, since these services are linked to personally registered devices, often that have GPS features.

For those who believe that an anonymous message has no possible repercussions, think again, according to the university’s PSA: “Anyone engaging in harassing or bullying behaviour online could be putting their academic career, or worse, at risk.”

If you or someone you know is being cyber-bullied or harassed online, call Brock Campus Security immediately at 905-688-5550 x3200.

- Steve Nadon

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