Webinar: Cyber Bullying a Soft Word for a Serious Crime
Year of production: 2020
During this webinar we will:
- Learn about cyberbullying from experts who work in this field every day, including ‘web constables’ and Police Officers in the service of the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board;
- Look into a number of incidents related to cyberbullying. We will show you projects that seek to make the public more aware of how communication in social media works and how it can get out of hand.
- Show examples of the prevention of intimate partner violence.
- Share the DOs and DON’Ts of cyberbullying cases.
- Examine the Instagram page @seepoleokei, which approaches the topic of cyberbullying in a very practical way.
Q&A with Maarja Punak
How do you encourage children to speak up and report bullying?
We have been building trust year by year. Trust towards the Estonian police is now at 93%. Children can make initial contact over Facebook in the web constable accounts where we explain what happens next and can help reduce their fears. We go to schools and meet with children so they know who we are.
Fun fact: a questionnaire was handed out in schools, and it showed that students knew web constables better than the police mascot Leo the Lion.
What has the Estonian police done to build the level of trust?
We wrote down the values that we wish to represent: open, wise and compassionate. In effect, this means a lot of community work, being as open to the media as possible (if we cannot give any details due to there being an ongoing investigation, we will still try to give similar examples and pass on preventive suggestions), discussing our shortcomings, looking for new ways to serve people better and making the country a safer place for everyone. Our new vision for 2030 is “to be the best police in the world”: we set high goals, but we have big dreams. We want to be the best for our people, but they must know that our goals are even higher.
What types of bullying behaviours are reported? Are some issues regarded as “minor” and otherwise resolved?
Basically, all kinds of behaviour. Sometimes, we direct them to the children’s helpline. Some issues can be resolved by just explaining the situation to the child and making the parents or the school aware. Sometimes, we contact the bully through social media (if his/her name is anonymous). Sometimes, we pass the question on to the local police station and other times we take action ourselves.
Can the dislike button on social media also be used in bullying?
A dislike button reflects opinion and generally does not constitute bullying. However, it can be used as a means to bully. I had a case where a young YouTuber got a lot of dislikes (thumbs down) under every video from his classmates because they simply did not like him and that was their way of showing it.
Do you think present-day teenagers are becoming more aware about cyber harassment and more likely to report it to the authorities?
Yes. It is not only about cyber-crimes. We also get more and more emergency calls from children about domestic violence. Nowadays, all kids have phones and calling or writing a message is so much easier than it used to be. It is not because young people cannot handle stressful situations and need too much help. It’s that they are better trained to ask for help if they see that they need it. I think this is a positive sign.
Can you suggest where I can find more information on cyberbullying for my students?
Do Estonian schools have media education for children?
We have digital skills lessons (cyber-hygiene) as well as robotics and programming, but there is a lack of media literacy and skills on how to deal with social engineering.
How can you recognise cases as a youth worker or someone who is working on a daily basis with young people in a country where young people are not even speaking to friends or family, let alone the police? What suggestions do you propose for situations such as these?
Games. Card games in which they have to solve situations. We did a list of bullying stories and Telia (a telecom company) composed cards with stories and questions:
- How do you think the victim feels?
- How can the bystanders help?
- Where can the victim turn? And so on.
So children receive cards and answer questions in the role of the victim, the bully or the bystander. In this way, you can collect anonymous suggestions from children on the topic of bullying.
So even if you do not know who is interested in getting more information about sextortion, if you talk to them all at the same time you will pass on this useful information in full to the target. And if she/he sees that you know the topic, he/she might open up a bit more.
What are the mandatory reporting laws and practices in Estonia? Can a minor contact the police (or someone) for support anonymously? If a minor contacts the police for support and discloses their identity and that they are disclosing a reportable offence, is the police obliged to follow that up with the perpetrator or can the minor request the police not to follow it up?
If they ask questions of the web-constables, then we do not compel them to reveal their identity. However, if we see that we cannot help them otherwise, we will try to talk them into meeting us in real life. In 6 years, I had no cases in which this approach did not work. We also have a children’s helpline, where they can be anonymous and ask for advice. If there is someone who wants to report a crime they cannot stay anonymous, but there are special ways of how to protect them.
Can you provide definitions for the terms you used in your presentation?
This might be useful.
How does the issue of cyberbullying differ from country to country and what good practices have you heard about in other countries across Europe?
There are some countries where you can see more bullying based on sexuality, ethnicity and skin colour. Finland has good practices, Portugal has interesting approaches and the UK and Australia have done a great deal of research on what kind of methods work. But my favourite country would be Iceland, and the work that the police, youth workers and social workers together have achieved there.
Do you process cases in the presence of parents if the person who has been harassed is a minor, or is this required?
It is not required but it depends on the case and on the parent. If the parent is more like a source of stress for the child, then no.
Is it possible to get/find an English version of the Cyberbullying board game?
Greatest Courage is the page in English but I have not seen the cards in English. I can write down examples of the stories and role cards, and you can create your own version of it. Email email@example.com
If possible, could you share some movie suggestions?
13 Reasons Why is about suicide.
Brexit: The Uncivil War and The Great Hack will make them think about their social media choices.
Do you think the cyberbullying law will become familiar to children in the same way as the traffic law?
Yes, it will. There are already kindergartens where children have phones with them, so skills on how to use a phone must be there also. As soon as they get into the first grade, they will have group chats, and the knowledge about cyberbullying and how to deal with it is really important.
Has there been a European wide conference on cyberbullying?
Good question. I think the Internet Safety Centres have kept the topic in focus every year on Safer Internet Day, and they are all connected in a way.
Where does the future of tackling cyberbullying lie, and what future needs and resources does this field require?
We have to work more on trust, because the future means more closed communities. If people are not asking for help or reporting illegal behaviour, we cannot help anyone. We have volunteers in the police force. However, they can only help us by pointing out the issues; I would not put them in charge of consulting or advising. This can still be done by web-constables in the police or by the children’s helpline, which receives the necessary instruction from the police, psychologists and the child protection agency. Youth workers can ask for training, and I don’t think the police will ever say no: they are our best partners, and it is in our interest to make them as prepared and skilled as possible.
How are children and young people protected from criminals during investigations and after the criminal is released?
Usually, the criminals are under custody during the investigation. Once they get out of jail, it depends. If the criminal was a close family member (as is usually the case in sexual crimes), then the police and the child protection agency have to find a solution. Estonia is so small that relocation only helps a little bit. So we must put more work into the criminal and on the services that would keep him on the right track.
Why are you not focusing on the conversations between exes? Gender-based violence post relationship can take the form of cyberstalking, etc.
From the beginning, we decided that the account would not be a platform for possible public revenge. We do understand the issues surrounding relationships going bad and possibly ending violently, but since our goal was to introduce the horrifying content girls/women get in their inboxes from strangers or brief acquaintances, we want to remain in that vein. Perhaps in the future we will look at other angles.
And why do people trust your page?
We think that we have mainly gained trust by being very honest and private with the girls who write to us. We offer complete anonymity. And if we suspect a criminal offence and the victim is a minor, we ask for their consent in forwarding their screenshots to the police. If it’s an adult, we encourage them to talk to the authorities. We’ve tried hard not to generalise or blame all men for the viciousness of some. We try to give as much advice as we are able to do and know how. I think these girls just had a moment of recognition, since almost every female has received letters or messages that are of an unwanted and sexual nature from strangers.
Are there negative comments on the Instagram page related to these bullying screenshots?
Yes, some of the posts have very active forums in the comment section. Some of our posts have become memes or have meme-like qualities, since some of them are just so ridiculous it’s hard to fathom that they’re actually real. People use humour and comedy to cope with the horror sometimes. We do delete comments that contain victim-blaming and that ridicule the girl who sent us the screenshot.
Do you operate on a local level only or do you also report cases that may not be from residents of your country?
We’ve decided to operate on a local level only. So that’s also why we don’t post screenshots of chats that foreigners have sent Estonian girls. We do this to avoid cultural discrimination and we do understand that in some countries and societies the stance on women and the accepted way to approach women is very different to ours. We want to show Estonian people that Estonian men are hurting Estonian women.
The webinar was organised by SALTO Participation and Information Resource Centre (SALTO PI) and is co-funded by the National Agencies from Iceland, Bulgaria, Greece, Estonia, Slovakia, Italy, Lithuania and Poland. The training is part of a TCA (Transnational Cooperation Activities) project “ Media and Information Literacy Training Programme” coordinated by SALTO PI.