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Reflecting on #Cyberbullying: A Pink Shirt Day Event

Sticks and stones may break our bones but the Internet has changed the game entirely.

With increased awareness around women’s issues, online harassment is evolving. From angry posts on Twitter, to targeted attacks on social media towards social justice advocates, we’re seeing more cases of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a form of online harassment and violence that happens through social media and the Internet. Cyber-racism and cyber-misogyny are two terms coined to describe the ways that certain groups have been harassed online.

This year on Pink Shirt Day, we partnered with Hootsuite to host an interactive dialogue featuring a diverse panel of experts:

  • Noor Fadel: Poet, Activist
  • Dr. Wanda Cassidy: Associate Professor, Faculty of Education Director of the Centre for Education, Law and Society, SFU
  • Cecilia Pang: Youth Advisory Council Member, YWCA Metro Vancouver
  • Ryan Avola: Program Manager, iGuy Youth Outreach Worker, Kiwassa Neighbourhood House

The event, #Cyberbullying: Understanding its Connection to Race and Gender, focused on how online behaviour is tied to larger contexts of social inequalities.

We often talk about bullying in a very individualized way – it’s seen as an isolated incident involving the victim and the bully. However, as we’ve heard from last night’s panel, bullying is essentially another form of discrimination. People are often targeted if they don’t fit into societal norms, whether that’s in relation to their gender identity, sexuality or race.

The more that I engage in work that is critical of hypermasculinity...I get a lot of attacks by men who think I'm playing for the wrong team, or confused. 

– Ryan Avola, how the issue of gender plays a role in his experience online.

Cyberbullying is on a day to day basis for me. Every single day I open my phone... you have someone sending me an email, commenting on my photos, sending me threats.

– Noor Fadel on how her experience online is often shaped by comments about her hijab and her race.

It is clear from the discussion that bullying is more than just an interpersonal conflict. It is a symptom of our society’s stigma and fear of those that are perceived as different. To combat this, we need to model positive, meaningful relationships and deconstruct our own personal biases towards others.

The onus is on adults to reach out to kids. We know bullying is happening. What are we modelling in our own homes, families, schools, relationships? Start a dialogue; don't wait for the child to come to you.

 Dr. Wanda Cassidy

So what can we do?

Following the panel discussion, the attendees had the opportunity to engage with each other and the speakers in an activity led by the YWCA Youth Advisory Council to come up with solutions for change. The two questions of concern they focused on were,

  • How do we build a more respectful and compassionate online culture?
  • What are some things that we can do when we witness someone being targeted online?

Here’s what the groups came up with:

  • Building healthy relationships offline leads to compassionate relationships online.
  • Empower bystanders to speak up, if they feel comfortable and safe, and not be silent.
  • Respond with positivity. Bullying often comes from a place of fear and pain, when you respond to negativity with negativity nothing gets improved.
  • Find creative, safe and productive tools to express frustrations in a way that isn't hurtful and is an alternative venue to bullying or cyberbullying.

YWCA initiatives combating cyberbullying

At the YWCA, we believe that ending bullying means educating youth on positive, healthy relationships and facilitating meaningful dialogue between young people and adults. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • YWCA Youth Education Programs teach young people about healthy relationships, combatting hypermasculinity and developing positive connections.
  • The Youth Advisory Council empowers youth to practice active digital citizenship and become advocates for social change.
  • The YWCA Mentorship Programs offer opportunities for girls and young women to connect with positive role models.

If you want to get involved with the Youth Advisory Council, please contact Miley Leong at mleong@ywcavan.org.

This event would not have been possible without the generous support of Canada 150, Heritage Canada and Methanex.


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