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.

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.


One Response to “Bullying”
  1. Margaret Osmond says:

    Re: The Amanda Todd Story and Bullying

    I wish the “bullying” issue was a computer communications problem. That might be easier to address than what I think the problem really is.

    When we talk about the electronic communicaiton tool and its power, we are often relatively unaware of the predominant population using it – “youth culture” . In the 2010s, it is a very tough culture. Some call it “masculinized”. Aggression, sexualization, competitiveness, physical intervention, and quickness to form opinions and speak them, is expected and rewarded. The gentler traits such as being able to listen, to contribute to community, to stand up for the under dog, are not celebrated in nearly the same way.

    I’m not sure there is a single reason for this development. Some of it will have to do with media and the continuous flow of violent and exploitive imagry being sent our way… vampires and zombies kind of epitomize the un-gentle nature of youth culture, in some ways.

    Some of it has to do with the electronic medium itself; much of the internet is occupied by youth and their style of “being and relating”. In the current leading generation we tend to talk about the power of social media without really knowing all that much about it. If you spend any time watching it unfold, you can’t help but be struck by the over arching negative, antisocial and provocative dialogue that is going on. Want proof? Spend an hour looking at the comments sections in You Tube, or Sympatico, or watch tweets to see what young people are thinking and saying. Its not encouraging.

    I’m becoming ever more certain that a lot of it comes with having an entire generation under or unemployed, with a future that is in grave doubt, and with little to work towards or feel passionate about. And so, they end up being passionate about silliness in a horribly uncivilized way. One only becomes civilized when there is a true benefit in being so. We, the leading generation, have not yet been convincing.

    If we in Barrie think we’re in a good place as far as youth culture goes, I may have some unpleasant news for you. Barrie is often described among youth as a nasty place to go, where the worst of masculine youth culture comes together with various legal and illegal substances and the vestiges of “red neck” thinking. We’re at significant risk of developing more, not fewer, youth issues.

    But we ARE on the cusp. It IS still possible to bring together those who have some expertise in youth and their culture to discuss ways of developing our community in a way that would support positive youth development. It requires appetite for the work, leadership to do it, a little bit of seed money, and an investment in a different way of doing things. It will not be fast work. The solutions won’t be the usual old tired ones. This effort will need to go at culture, and beliefs, and hopefulness, and future. But it can be done. It is not too late.

    If you ever decide to move in that direction, give me a shout.

    Margaret Osmond, MSW

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking about this article...


Got a question or comment for City of Barrie staff?

If you have a question or would like to provide feedback to a City of Barrie department please use the online contact form located on the City of Barrie's website: http://www.barrie.ca/info/Pages/ContactUs.aspx