Cyberbullying, the act of harming or harassing via information technology networks in a repeated and deliberate manner, has become a growing problem, especially among teenagers. The A-Frame Church in Port McNeill’s Speaker’s Corner Program welcomed Brett Holfeld, PhD Dept. of Psychology University of Victoria, to give a seminar on the subject on Friday, April 22.
Holfeld started studying cyberbullying nearly ten years ago, and has developed and taught his own course on the subject. According to Holfeld, there was no “good story” about why he chose to pursue the subject. “When I started Grad School and was thinking about my Thesis, I was actually interested in cyberstalking because my Masters was in Forensic Psychology, but when I started to look at the literature, there really wasn’t that much there. There was some overlap with cyberbullying, I started reading that literature, and from there I got more interested in that topic,” said Holfeld.
The seminar officially started with Holfeld listing eight statements about cyberbullying. He then asked the audience if the eight statements were actually ‘fact’ or ‘fiction’. Holfeld then went on to explain what is generally constituted as cyberbullying, outlining it as online behaviour that can range from sending or posting gossip, rumours, or secrets; pretending to be someone else and sending negative messages; posting material to tease or make fun of someone; posting real or digitally altered pictures or videos of others without their permission; or rating peers’ popularity or appearance online. A few Youtube videos were then shown, documenting real life cyberbullying cases that had catastrophic outcomes (Megan Meier, Amanda Todd).
When asked about the causation behind cyberbullying, Holfeld stated that “With cyberbullying there’s been some theories explored, but there’s not really a clear theory that’s superior to others in terms of explaining the cause, because there really is just a lot of variability. Anyone with access to a computer can be involved. For example, a victim of traditional bullying may try to get back at their bully online without direct fear of something happening. It’s not specific to certain kids,” said Holfeld. “Parents have the initial role of when they introduce technology to teach their kids how to use it properly. The goal of communication in general is to treat others with respect, whether it’s online or offline, and I think that’s the message we want to instil in children at a very young age.” Holfeld added that if you “teach them how to use these devices properly and how to behave online appropriately, it will definitely help.”
Near the end of the seminar, Holfeld went over what the best methods are for dealing with being cyberbullied. “Cyberbullying can be very powerful and very devastating,” said Holfeld, adding that if you’ve been a victim of it, the best thing you can do is to “collect evidence first and foremost, because then you have tangible proof you can take to parents and schools, police if necessary, and show them exactly what happened and help figure out what is the best path from there.”