Confessions of a professional cyberbully

‘I’m a cyberbully, at least according to Manitoba’s Conservatives,’ writes Jesse Brown



I guess I’m a cyberbully, at least according to Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives.

From their private member’s bill, tabled last Wednesday:

“cyberbullying” means any form of electronic
communication, including social media, text
messaging, instant messaging, websites and e-mail,
typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is
intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause
fear, intimidation, humiliation or other damage or
harm to another person’s health, emotional
well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes
assisting or encouraging such communication in any
way. (« cyberintimidation »)

I regularly set out to humiliate people and harm their reputations on the Internet. On a good week, I might damage some self-esteem to boot. I don’t set out to intimidate or terrify my targets, but sometimes those emotional responses could be reasonably expected.

It all falls under the general job description of journalist and/or critic, but I needn’t invoke any particular professional credo to justify my behaviour. Mockery and reputation smearing aren’t just for the pros. Anyone can do it and most of us have. Hopefully we have a greater end than just making our subjects miserable, but that’s really beside the point. We have Charter rights to free expression, whether or not we use them to be nice.

I know that the Tory bill is unlikely to become law. It’s a reaction to another ridiculous bullying bill, tabled in May by Manitoba’s ruling NDP government. Their definition of bullying is even broader, as it leaves out the “cyber” part:

 In this Act, “bullying” is behaviour that

(a) is intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property; or

(b) is intended to create, or should be known to create, a negative school environment for another person.

I’m pretty sure we already have laws against harming another person’s body or property. But outlawing the intention to hurt someone’s feelings is a bizarre government intrusion that could only have been borne of moral panic.

Quantifying bullying is as difficult as defining it. Most studies rely on surveys filled out by kids who have been inundated with anti-bullying messaging. Even then, there’s often no clear trend upwards — Statistics Canada found bullying numbers dropping and then stagnating from 2006-2009.

My hunch is that the overall level of cruelty among children is probably pretty constant. What’s changing is the documentation of this behaviour. Before social media, parents were rarely privy to what was said to, or by, their kids on the schoolyard. Today, permanent digital records are shocking grown-ups.

These messages, so easily repeated, are not harmless and should not be ignored. But criminalizing “cyberbullying” as a unique aberration worthy of zero-tolerance punishment is a bad idea.

A hypothetical example: a teacher learns that 12-year-old Mike has posted “Everyone hates you and I wish you were dead!” on schoolmate Evan’s Facebook wall. It’s a clear instance of cyberbullying. Parents, principals and police are notified, Mike is expelled and charged, his parents sued. What isn’t documented electronically is that before taking his rage to Facebook, Mike was beaten up by Evan every afternoon for a month.

Social media payback is often the refuge of victims, physically weak kids who are afraid or unable to stand up for themselves in person. Singling them out for special punishment by school administrators, or by the law, is itself a form of (dare I say it) bullying.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Confessions of a professional cyberbully

  1. Uh huh. And the kids who end up taking their own lives because of constant, relentless cyberbullying were just wimps who deserved it, huh Jesse?

    I don’t think the intent is to target the isolated post, but to prevent the nasty gang-ups that social media allows (note the “typically repeated or with continuing effect” portion).

    It’s not an easy thing to deal with or legislate against.But you seem to suggest just throwing up our hands and saying “Oh well; kids will be kids!” I don’t think we need to crack down on every single statement, but when there’s evidence of a serious campaign against another and it is having serious psychological consequences then yes, we need to be able to hold those doing the attacking accountable.

    • Furthermore, there are many amorphous terms in the law that judges have done a laudable job applying. “But what if this thing results!” isn’t necessarily a good argument unless that thing is reasonable.

    • I was bullied as a child in the 1960s but at least I knew my bullies. The advent of the internet sadly introduced a new level of COWARD

      • Agreed. I was bullied on a couple of ocasions – but all I had to worry about was avoiding the bully on the walk home. Or standing up to him / them. Faceless cyber attacks that can span the continent (or beyond) is a completely new paradigm.

  2. Mr. Brown,

    I assume, by your example and your last paragraph, that you intended for the hypothetical Facebook rager and subsequently-expelled student to be Evan, not Mike? Or was it hypothetical Evan who was hypothetically beating up hypothetical Mike every afternoon for a month?


    • You assume correctly, thanks for catching that. Fixed.

      • You’re welcome, and thank you for your common-sense insights into this thorny issue.

  3. I’m with you on this Jesse. It’s amazing how many kids attacked or criticized online go and hang themselves of all things!

    Whatever happened to ‘sticks and stones’? At least online nobody hits anybody!

    Parents need to teach their kids to toughen up…..they’ll obviously never make it through life if words on a website push them to suicide.

    Apparently if they can’t slug someone in return, it doesn’t occur to them to fight back verbally.

    • It’s a completely different paradigm from when we were kids Emily. Who do you stand up to if you can’t face your attackers? How do you take down those posts circulating to every kid in your school and beyond? Even if you turn off all your devices or change your accounts, it still goes on and you get ostracized.
      Yes, killing oneself is extreme, and unwarranted to someone mature and emotionally stable – but someone under constant attack and who becomes depressed s a result may not see another way out.
      Emotional pain is just as real as physical pain – and not always as easy to recover from. But hey – who gives a crap about mental health? Let kids be kids and if someone dies – oh well!

      • Sorry Bram….you had numerous chances and blew ’em. The ‘Ciao’ is permanent.

        • [Does a little jig]

    • Did you watch the video of the school bus monitor being bullied by the boys on the bus? How do you think a young girl their age would do against them? Are you really so naive as to believe that people who cyber-bully don’t also bully in person and don’t recruit others to join them in making a person’s life miserable. I knew a young girl and her bullies…other young girls…turned her whole class against her. They threatened her with violence. They tortured her at very break in school. They called her at home in the evenings. She was suicidal. She changed schools and they tried to recruit people from that school to bully her. Do you really think that a 14 year old girl can toughen up enough to withstand that sort of torture? Do you think an adult would put up with that in the work place and stay at a job where he/she was being bullied that way?

      • I don’t think much of the school bus monitor either….why are people such wimps anymore?

        14 year olds go to war, get raped, get brutalized elsewhere in the world and survive….here, where they have everything they could at least speak out.

        • You don’t think these kids speak out? Of course they speak out but when it is one kid (the victim) against multiple bullies and then all the other peers that they have turned against them, speaking out is intimidating and pointless. Do you honestly believe these bullies stop because the victim responds verbally?
          Also, do you believe that because 14 year old children in war torn countries physically “survive” rape, war and brutalization…. Canadian children should be able to survive being mentally brutalized because failure to do so makes a child a “wimp”.
          Do you think children that are raped and brutalized survive mentally? When they don’t, are they also “wimps” that need to “toughen up”?
          I am sorry but your suggestion that children here “have everything” just shows your belief that material belongings somehow make a child immune to emotional and mental despair. I can assure you that this isn’t the case. Children don’t need “things”, they need to feel safe.

          • LIfe is still all about survival. Those who forget that….don’t survive.

          • Well, seeing how you feel that way…let’s do a little experiment here on Macleans online.
            “Welcome to ‘Lord of The Flies, EmilyOne’. From now on, you will be known as Piggy and treated just like he was on that fantasy-like island portrayed in the book. Enjoy honing those survival skills….because life is all about survival! Maybe, you would offer up one of your 14 year-old grandchildren in your place and we could do the kid a favor and “toughen the wimp up”. Nothing like a whole bunch of cyber bullies going after a kid to teach him/her a life lesson on survival. How about giving us a phone number and address too, as well as a school. Then we could invite the other kids to participate. We could really teach make sure this kid is on the road to success. What do you say….are you willing to sacrifice one of your own for the experiment? Even if you don’t have a kid 14 years of age, we can be flexible. After all, it is never to early to start those tough life lessons.

          • Don’t you have to hitch up the buckboard and go into town for groceries or something?

            I’m busy, and don’t intend to waste time arguing your nonsense.

          • I didn’t know you were an American.

          • See….more nonsense.

          • Says the women who sounds like she just stepped off a Rick Mercer show illustrating on how ill informed Americans are regarding the advanced living conditions in Canada. I know you think you are witty with the “buckboard” and other references to the old west, but instead you just revealed that you are completely predictable and somewhat pathetic. If you are going to give a 14 year old verbal sparing lessons, you better sharpen up your tongue there granny. You are sadly out of practice for survival in the cyber-bulling world. I don’t think your “what are you smoking” and “ciao” are going to do much to deter nasty little sh*ts who are threatening bodily harm.

          • Honey, you’re the one who dresses up like a cowboy, and has chuckwagon racing, and calf roping and all….not moi. LOL

            In civilization however, more than bull-riding…and sh*ting, is required.

            Survival requires brains and character….not log-cabin building or skinning rabbits or whatever.

            Now go weed your garden or something.

          • You are suggesting that cyber-bulling is ‘civilized’…and requires brains and character. As for log-cabin building and skinning rabbits…those are skills that our First Nations people might find come in very handy up in James Bay. At any rate, I would not demean people who those skills. In a true survival situation out in the snow and cold wilderness, I would rather be with some one who knows how to build a cabin & snare a rabbit than program a computer.

            As for weeding my garden, I use mulch dear…so there is very little weeding required. I am a fan of xeriscape gardening and one of my favorite books is “The Rusty Rake”…a gardeners guide to all the short-cuts.

            Sadly, Stampede is over for another year so no more jeans during the week at work but even with the floods they had over 1 million visitors through the gates at the grounds. If you truly grew up on a farm with cattle and horses, your father must have rode and roped calves to brand them. You cannot be as misinformed as you pretend to be.

          • No, survival requires brains and character ….as in if you had a computer you would know how to build a cabin and snare a rabbit.

            Good lord no, I didn’t grow up with cattle and horses…! We had a dairy, plus our own ‘food’.

            Nobody brands cattle here….or goes running around on horseback either….I’ve told you many times, the world is not like Alberta.

            I don’t garden either….yeesh.

          • Sadly Emily, your computer won’t do you much good if you are in the wilderness with no electricity. Certainly brains and skills are always necessary as well as common sense.
            Of course people brand cattle in Ontario. You cannot tell me they do not take cattle to feed lots and community pastures. Certainly anyone with any cattle use horses to round them up and cut them for treating them and shipping them. Provinces like Saskatchewan, BC and Ontario do have cattle industries.

          • Well since I, like other normal people, take great care never to BE in the wilderness with no electricity…..don’t worry about it.

            No, we do not do your ‘wild west’ thing. Cattle are in barns and fenced areas…..we have no ‘rustlers’ and if any ID is necessary then ear tags are used. Horses can’t make a living these days I’m afraid.

          • No one said anything about ‘rustlers’. What we are talking about is several different owners with their cattle in the same place. Ear tags are used but because they fall off (are dislodged easily) branding is still used. As for barns…hello!! Big operations have thousands of head of cattle…how can you put a thousand head in a barn? Of course everyone has fences…what does that have to do with branding? And the need for horses to round up cattle…what do you think they are using…ATVs?
            I love it how you say “we”….who is “we”. I know YOU have no clue how the cattle business is run. There is a small cattle business in Ontario. There is a big cattle business in places like Montana, etc. Are you saying that in Montana, they don’t brand cattle and use horses? That in Saskatchewan and BC, they don’t brand cattle and use horses? Bullshit!

          • I thought that by now you guys would be running a modern beef operation, not John Wayne reruns.

            Sorry….we do it differently here.

            We have maybe 20,000 beef farmers in Ont. Then there’s the dairy farmers. We also have hogs, sheep, chickens, crops, vegetable farming….even llamas and ostrichs….in farming. It’s just one part of a diverse economy

            I don’t care what they do in yahoo places. Most people got past the cowboy stage long ago.

          • Emily, I don’t think you have a clue what a ‘modern beef operation’ even looks like.

          • You don’t think at all. You need to get out more.

          • So do you! I just found Peace Valley Ranch Ltd. in Mulmir Township outside of Toronto. It is a real working ranch with cattle and HORSES! They take guests. You, EmilyOne can get that Calgary experience right there in Ontario. Apparently, the John Wayne reruns are being played out in your “yahoo” province as well as mine. Maybe you can e-mail the Peace Valley Ranch and let them know how a ‘modern beef operation’ should be run.

          • Didn’t you read their website where it said “We are NOT a dude ranch”. They are a working ranch. They run 100 angus cattle that they raise and sell. They use horses and they have paying guests at their WORKING ranch. You, Emily could be among the guests and get that ranching experience.
            As for the sub in West Edmonton Mall, that experience is shut down….sorry.

          • Oh and marineland is kind of a Canadian disgrace……

          • LOL not as much as your annual horse massacre.

          • Apparently you didn’t read the recent Macleans online article regarding their treatment of a young killer whale that turned it into a killer of humans (it has killed 3 people).
            I am surprised at you expressing so much concern for animals though Emily. Given your “sh*t happens” attitude when it comes to the massacre of people during the bombing at the Boston marathon and your lack of concern for the welfare of teens being bullied, one would guess you are devoid of tender feelings altogether. Apparently, you only lack kind feelings toward two-legged creatures. You can express concern for four legged type. Nice to see.

          • All you’re doing is making up reasons to argue….then you’re amazed that I’m not interested.

            Go to church

          • Hahaha! Now you’ve gone from the “buckboard” to the “church”. You certainly are grasping….I don’t attend church but nice of you to suggest it.

          • Actually I’m trying to…..gently….get rid of you.

          • Hahaha! You don’t have a gentle bone in your body. You can simply stop replying and that ends the conversation.

          • LOL usual Con tactic….insult someone and then pretend you’ve won. And in your case, you’re so confused you never even know what you’re arguing about!

            And with most Cons on here, not replying means they still keep posting to you…..some mornings I have a dozen drivilly emails in my in-basket….I delete ’em, but it doesn’t stop the crackpots.

            I can block you from my in box if you like….Ciao.

          • It is of course your choice. Goodbye.

          • It’s a dude ranch….a tourist attraction. Not an example of the beef industry….sorry.

  4. It is not the given stimuli, but the response to it.

    Both of ‘Jessie’s’ kids need help, both of them have underlying problems that are identified, by their behavior.

    If there is anything in existence other than the golden example already in place, that being the atrocious failure of the criminal justice system, and it’s further magnification with the juvenile legal system please direct me to it.

    This is just what society needs… further spread of a horrible failure in our society to the children in the public school system. In the first instance, and I dare to say the second and third instances, the path should be constructive therapy for BOTH parties in these situations. Bans from access to the tools (internet, computers) would also be practical aids, but punishment helps no one but the affected parents sense of vengeance.

    Help the victims, help the children with the maladaptive thought processes. Learning will improve the situation, peer approval will stop most cyberbullying, and in fact the ‘bandwagon’ effect of everyone adding to the bullying is also peer acceptance based.
    So do something constructive for a change, get involved, teach, help.

    The usual ‘cop out’ of applying punishment will never work here any better than it has anywhere else in society.

    • If you read the bill, you will see the primary aim is to prevent the activity. Punishment occurs when the prohibition is breached. It would actually be complementary to your approach – a level of escalation if initial intervention attempts fail (or if those who ought to intervene fail to live up to their responsibilities, as sadly seems too often to be the case). Perhaps a better approach than full criminalization – though there may be a case in extreme circumstances for coverage under the Code: e.g. criminal negligence causing death might be an appropriate charge in certain instances where the victim commits suicide.

  5. I have now followed the link and read the bill in its entirety. It basically follows the pattern set down for restraining orders to protect against abuse, stalkers, harassment, etc. It seems like quite a sensible bill.

    And no, Jesse, the bill would not apply to a journalist, critic or average blogger. That’s a rather sensationalistic, mountains-out-of-molehills bit of hogwash.

  6. Also, bullying by teacher is absolutely entrenched in our educational system. If you want to see the source of most kids’ self-esteem issues, look no further than these petty tyrants and their almighty unions.

    • I am close to age sixty and had a few tough teachers along the way but if he or she stepped out of line they would be fired sadly that doesn’t happen much anymore.

  7. Jessie, what concerns me about your stance on this issue is your failure to accept what is really occurring…the big picture so to speak. These victims of cyber-bullying aren’t just having their “feelings hurt” on social media sites. They are being relentlessly attacked at school, after school, in their homes via telephone and on social media. They aren’t being attacked by one person. Sometimes they are being attacked by groups of kids. These kids aren’t happy unless they turn everyone against their victim. Would you go to work everyday when everyone was picking on you and attacking you, Jessie? Would you think it was alright for people to make nasty phone calls to you at home and spread lies about you on social media? As an adult, how long would you be willing to let yourself be victimized that way by a group of people? How would you feel if you took your concerns to your wife and she told you to “toughen up”?

  8. ㅎㅇㅎ

  9. Did anyone bother reading the article? Jesse didn’t minimize the negative impact of bullying on teens. He criticized a law he thought was bad because it is i) unlikely to successfully address the problem, and ii) have unintended negative consequences. None of this is addressed by pointing out that teen bullying has real and very negative consequence. We all agree on that.

  10. “I regularly set out to humiliate people and harm their reputations on the Internet. On a good week, I might damage some self-esteem to boot. I don’t set out to intimidate or terrify my targets, but sometimes those emotional responses could be reasonably expected.”

    Awesome. Actually, good (op-ed) journalism usually sets out to make a point in a way that’s fair and persuasive. That comment is REALLY going to come back and haunt you when MacLeans is defending a defamation action on your behalf.