UB Imprint Vol 01: UB takes a bold stand against Cyberbullying and Sexting



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UB takes a bold stand against Cyberbullying and Sexting

by Dr. Priscilla Brown-Lopez
Assistant Professor, UB

The University of Belize’s motto, Education Empowers a Nation, refers to more than teaching within the confines of the classroom. Empowerment is about creating meaningful changes and connections to help our Belizean society become stronger and more confident. The Faculty of Education and Arts (FEA) in its quest to form strong alliances with the community launched its Anti-cyberbullying campaign on April 6, 2017 with an education forum under the theme, “Stand up! Speak Up! No to Cyberbullying!”.

The purpose of this launch is to sensitize the community on the effects of cyberbullying and to discourage the posting, sharing, or liking of any vulgar, rude, insensitive, racist, false or sexist messages, images, or videos to harass, torment, threaten, intimidate, embarrass, hurt, or attack a person or a group of persons.

Stopbullying.gov describes cyberbullying as use of mean text messages, emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. According to a study to assess the use of social media, it was noted that 50% of the participants were involved in sexting and 70% admitted to having received a nude photo online. Sexting refers to sharing sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of self or others, or sending sexually explicit messages. Sexting is often also called trading nudes, dirties, and pic for pic. One example of sexting in Belize is the recent Facebook page “Belizean Cheaters” and WhatsApp groups in which nude pictures were shared among members.

These inappropriate photographs or messages can be duplicated and redistributed within seconds. Nude photographs are often then saved by viewers and redistributed to friends and acquaintances. An unfortunate consequence for the victim is that these images or comments are virtually impossible to remove as they have been ingrained within the digital footprint of the digital world. To deter the spread and availability of revenge porn, Microsoft and Google who operate two of the biggest search engines on the web unveiled a reporting system that allows victims to identify their images and request that they be rendered unsearchable. Microsoft has also taken a stand against revenge porn by launching a website where inappropriate content can be reported and removed.

In a small knitted society such as Belize, exposing victims’ nude pictures on social media can have serious repercussions. Revealed in a recent study is that teens involved in sexting are twice as likely to report feeling symptoms of depression than those not involved. The survey also revealed that teens who send and receive sexual text messages are more likely to report having attempted suicide. Additional studies on the effects of cyberbullying and sexting indicate symptoms of emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression. Other severe complications include social isolation, and increased use of illicit substances. Students who are cyberbullied are also more inclined to then participate in cyberbullying, cyberstalking and other forms of cyber aggression behaviour, thus perpetuating the online problem.

A recent study to assess the nature of the relationships between who sends and who receives sexual images illustrated that this practice occurred most among persons in early relationships. It was also noted that persons in long-term or casual relationships also send sexual images to partners. Indicated in these findings is the urgent need to sensitize individuals about the effects of sexting.

It is important to note that, in many countries, this practice that is becoming common in Belize is punishable by law. An article in the Jamaican Observer of April 17, 2017 entitled, “Posting obscene images online could land you into jail”, indicated that persons who post obscene images on social media with the intent of defaming and extorting users could be fined and imprisoned under the cybercrimes legislation. While it is based on the discretion of the court, people have been convicted for up to 12 years of hard labor. According to section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015,

A person who commits an offence by using a computer wilfully with intent to send to another person any data (whether in the form of a message or otherwise) that is obscene, constitutes a threat, or is menacing in nature; and intends to cause, or is reckless as to whether the sending of the data causes annoyance, inconvenience, distress, or anxiety, to that person or any other person can be fined not exceeding $4 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years, or both, by a parish judge if the person is a first offender.

While some experience the thrill of posting and sharing nude pictures on social media, these actions are deemed unacceptable and should be discontinued.

Even as there is need to halt the exposure of nude photos online, Assistant Commission of Police, Chester Williams, noted that Belize currently does not have a specific law against cyberbullying. However, there are efforts to develop legislation and policies to halt this practice. Such legislation will also seek to bring an end to hate crimes which also include posting of pictures by persons in intimate relationships after the relationship has gone “sour.” This cowardly form of revenge intended to damage the reputation of victims cannot be supported, encouraged, or promoted in Belize.
This educational forum held in UB’s Jaguar Auditorium included speakers such as the Deputy Major of Belmopan, Mr. Ralston Fraser, who emphasized the need to speak out against cyberbullying. Mr. Kyle Miller of the Research and Education Unit of the Department of Youth Services explained that cyberbullying is wrong and posting of nude pictures should be discouraged. Mr. Darrell Chapman, Information Officer at the United States Embassy, sensitized participants on the effects of cyberbullying and informed that in the US it is a criminal offence to willfully post nude pictures of a person. Ms. Renee Wentz, UB’s Students’ Affairs Counsellor and Assistant Commissioner of Police Chester Williams sensitized students about the inappropriate use of social media to post nude pictures or to bully and intimidate others. In attendance were students from UB, Belmopan Baptist High School and Belmopan Methodist High School.