Define the Line website: Clarifying the blurred lines between cyberbullying and socially responsible digital citizenship

Dr. Shaheen Shariff and her team at McGill University have launched a critical new website on cyberbullying called ”Define the Line“ which has already received wide press by Stanford University College of Law, YouTube and Twitter.  The site does not attempt to provide any ”quick fixes” for cyberbullying (as we know there aren’t any), but instead “defines” many important “lines” between cyberbullying and socially responsible digital citizenship under separate tabs for kids, teens, parents, educators and policy makers. The site is very dynamic, full of attractive graphics and video clips and fully bilingual — French / English (even the video clips!).

Define the Line is hard-hitting and gives clear guidance on the “line” between joking and harassment, between laws that protect our youth and ones that go too far and restrict our free speech, between accurate media reporting on the seriousness of cyberbullying and the sensational media myths that create moral panic and knee-jerk reactive measures by parents, educators and policy makers. The site looks at discrimination in all its forms and the effect of their extension “over the line” into cyberspace: sexism, racism, ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities), homophobia, ageism (age discrimination), etc.  The site is going to examine the line where rumors and images posted online can ruin a peer’s or teacher’s reputation and “cross the line” to cyber-libel (with attendant legal liability).  The site gives great attention, and even student voice, to the critical issue of the roles and participation of so-called “bystanders” or witnesses of cyberbullying.

The site’s team shows no fear of tackling controversial ”lines”: In what appears to be a pioneering move into new territory, Define the Line will review and critique corporate ads that might tacitly condone cyberbullying and define the emerging legal responsibilities of corporate intermediaries. The site will also examine the controversial line of the point at which sexting should be treated as distribution of child pornography.  The site also grapples with the complex issues of on- and off-campus cyberbullying, and since cyberbullying has such close ties to the schoolyard, whether  educators’  roles, responsibilities and liabilities end at the schoolyard fence and at the close of the school day.

While Define the Line is clear that it does not pretend to give “quick fixes,” it does offer many useful resources to targets, parents and educators about what to do when offensive behavior does occur and the range of appropriate responses.  This website is definitely one to watch as it is clearly going to be a most useful resource for all involved with online safety and digital citizenship.

We have blogged about Dr. Shariff before as one of the early and ongoing pioneers in cyberbullying research. Dr. Shariff’s expert recognition continues to expand as she is now an Affiliate Scholar with Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society and was invited to participate on a United Nations panel on cyber-hate chaired by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. She continues to be a marquis speaker at numerous prominent national and international conferences on cyberbullying, bullying, cyber-hate, sexting, laws affecting digital online safety and related issues.

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