In collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Security Matters team, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) Information & Instructional Technology Services (I&ITS) hosted a panel discussion last Monday to discuss digital safety.

The panelists for “Cyberbullying: What to do if it happens to you” were moderated by Director of I&ITS Luke Barber. The panelists included Director of the Campus Police Services Robert Messacar; Equity & Diversity Officer and Office of the Vice President & Principal Nythalah Baker; and Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Coordinator, Tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre Henna Khawja.

Unfortunately, Assistant Dean for Student wellness, Support & Success, Student Affairs Andrea Carter was unable to join the discussion.

The panelists discussed the basics of cyberbullying. Messacar explained there is no legal definition of cyberbullying, but there is a court jurisdiction definition.

“[Cyberbullying is] any cyber communication or publication posted or sent online in one or a variety of ways, or the use of any interactive device that is intended to frighten, embarrass, harass, hurt, cause harm to, extort, or in other ways target another,” said Messacar.

The panelists were then asked about the difference between banter and cyberbullying. Baker said as long as you feel unsafe, that is enough grounds to report the behaviour. She added that if you are unsure about whether to report to officials, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

On what steps to follow when you are being cyberbullied, Messacar stressed the importance of not deleting any messages. He recommends screenshotting the messages to preserve them as evidence. Saved messages will also help locate the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the bully.

Messacar further added that cyberbullies lack power and suggests blocking the bully in social media accounts instead of giving them the response they seek.

“This is not about you, this is about the person who’s perpetrating that to try to get something out of you,” said Messacar.

Khawja stated that victims think there is nothing that can be done, which is false. She stressed Campus Police as the first place you should go. Khawja clarified the university will only contact your family if you are in danger. The incident will not show up on your transcript.

When asked on what one should do if it’s a friend or someone they know that is being cyberbullied and not themselves, Messacar suggested reassuring the friend that they are on the right path.

“Ask them to show you the content and go through with the steps we mentioned earlier about saving the evidence,” said Messacar.

Baker added that “it’s important to not rush to a solution […] and to not victim blame.”

Messacar ended the panel with warning about cybersecurity in our increasingly cyber world.

“Treat cybersecurity like your toothbrush: don’t share it with anybody,” said Messacar. 

Khawja recommends turning off your location and microphone in every app on your phone, including the Snapchat location function.

Cyberbullying has been on the rise in 2019. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 95 per cent of youth in the United States are on the internet and 85 per cent are social media users. This increases the chances of cyberbullying at a critical growing period of a person’s life. 

The panelists wrapped up the discussion with a list of steps to take to prevent cyberbullying and cyber safety, including setting all of your online accounts private, not allowing strange accounts to follow you on social media, blocking suspicious accounts, and reporting anyone who makes you feel unsafe. They also warned about monitoring what personal things you post online and said it is possible to have an online presence without showing the world your personal life.

The university has on-campus services available to ensure student safety like Campus Police, Security Matters, and I&ITS. Various hotlines to contact for emotional support like Kids Help Phone and Crisis Services Canada are also available.

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