Longer post to come on city affairs but I felt the need to say something about this huge and growing problem we’ve got with online bullying, brought into painful focus once again this week with the death of Amanda Todd in BC. 

This has got to stop.  We have created a society that values free speech, and with the internet, has created incredible new tools to make it possible.  But what good is free speech if no one is listening, and what good are tools to bring people together if we allow those same tools to be used to attack and isolate people, hatefully, and painfully, to the point where they feel they no longer want to live?

We have to start listening.  We have the ability, through the same tools that are being used to attack some of these poor kids, to see what is happening and do something about it.  I’m far from being the person who has all the answers on this, but to me it’s as straightforward as what used to happen in the schoolyard when I was a kid – if somebody was being bullied, especially if they were being hurt, some kid would talk to a teacher, or a parent, or an older kid – someone – who would intervene before things got out of hand.   Well, when we see people being attacked like this on Facebook or YouTube comments or other online spaces, maybe it’s time we got organized to do something about it.

One of the worst parts of this problem is the anonymity that the web allows.  You can send a hateful text, DM, BBM, email to someone and never have to look them in the face.  And online, you can adopt an anonymous username, linked to another anonymous email account…and say anything with little fear of getting caught.  Trust me, I know, with my job, some of that seems to come with the territory.  But no teenager and no child should ever, ever, ever have to have their self-esteem destroyed by online bullies of any age.

I think the social media sites could play a huge part in addressing this problem.  Twitter and Facebook can step up and expand their anti-bullying efforts.  Maybe there are apps to find bullying online – if there aren’t, how hard could it be to detect a post or profile that has attracted hateful or violent comments time and again?  Maybe there’s a code writer out there with a white hat on who can make this happen, to help find people who need that help before it’s too late.

On Saturday night here in Barrie, the Barrie Film Festival held their short film competition.  The winner was a film called Sunday Vlog done by a Barrie North student, Mike Dopsa, about a teen who is bullied.  He tells the story through a series of video blog entries.  It’s brilliant, depressing, and real.  It won the People’s Choice award, and two other awards, for how simply and clearly it tells a difficult story.

If nothing else, at least a lot more people are talking about this issue now.  I hope as a society we’re able to come together and address this problem we have helped to create, and maybe use the same technology that’s enabling the problem to help find solutions.