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Partners against crime: How to report cyber bullying


October 31, 2019
By Kenrick Bagnall

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Back in the Sept./Oct. 2016 issue of Canadian Security, I wrote about standing up to cyber bullies.

Three years later, cyber bullying continues to evolve as both the number of victims and the ways in which they are victimized increase.

As children approach adolescence, they begin to seek validation outside the social circle of their immediate family. The internet and social media have exponentially expanded the landscape of potential social interaction. This has created a vast space for cyber criminals to operate with impunity and have access to literally billions of potential victims.

Cyber bullying is still at its core about the strong preying on the weak. It is critically important for parents, family members, loved ones and friends to be hyper vigilant in spotting the signs of cyber bullying. This can often be difficult to do since the bullying itself takes place in the virtual world. Sometimes even signs of sudden and disruptive changes in eating and sleeping patterns, changes in mood and general temperament could all indicate that someone is being affected by a cyber bully.

If your child is at the elementary school level, it is always a good idea to limit his or her use of internet devices and social media accounts. Make sure that you “follow” all of your child’s accounts; be aware of who they are following and who is following them. A total of 20 to 30 friends between school, play or sports groups and family may be a reasonable number. A child in elementary school having a friends list of several hundred or several thousand followers is a glaring red flag and lays the foundation for a cyber bully or predator to hide anonymously.

Parents should also be aware of the terms and conditions of social media providers. Most of them require a minimum age of 13 to use their services. This includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and several others. Recently in Europe, WhatsApp announced an age minimum of 16 to use their service. This is in response to recent guidelines in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

If your child’s school has a dedicated school resource officer or there are community officers dedicated to the neighbourhood around your child’s school area, it would be a good idea to get to know who they are and the best ways to contact them. If you are unaware on either count, just call the non-emergency number for your local municipal law enforcement agency and request guidance.

Colleges and universities have security personnel and some may have their own special constables. Matters involving cyber-bullying should be reported to them as soon as possible. They will take an initial report and then escalate to local law enforcement as deemed necessary.

Cyber bullying, like any other cybercrime, will require the collection, preservation and presentation of digital evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal court. Collect screen shots of everything you can and make notes of the corresponding dates and times of everything being captured. Contact law enforcement as quickly as possible to provide a statement and hand over all of the evidence you’ve collected (be sure to keep copies for your own records).

Contacting law enforcement is critical in the reporting process but it’s also very important to contact the social media provider as well. You can do this through their “report abuse” options. Let them know what’s happened and ask them to remove the abusive content. The mainstream social media providers are empathetic and will quickly investigate and remove content where deemed inappropriate and in violation of their terms of use. As important as this step is, don’t forget to capture everything before content is removed by the provider.

As with all cybercrime related matters, I strongly recommend proactive dialogue. It’s important to take these things out of the shadows and shine an informative light on them. Taking advantage of resources like childnet.com, stopbullying.gov and prevent.ca is a great way to stay informed and share valuable information and resources on how to protect some of the most vulnerable amongst us. 

Kenrick Bagnall is a Detective Constable with the Toronto Police Service Computer Cybercrime Unit (C3) – Twitter: @KenrickBagnall.

This story was featured in the Fall 2019 edition of Canadian Security magazine.