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Panel Discussion on Cyberbullying Against Children

Panel Discussion on Cyberbullying Against Children

Photo Source: GHRD Staff.

Topic: United Nations

Region: World 

Denisa Cepoiu

Team UN Geneva Researchers,

Global Human Rights Defence.

Through Resolution 51/10 of the 51st UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) held a panel discussion on cyberbullying against children at the 54th session of the UNHRC. The OHCHR invited States and other relevant stakeholders to discuss the implementation of regulations under the provisions of international human rights law and to discuss challenges and practices in this regard. On Wednesday,September 27th, 2023, the aforementioned panel discussion took place.


         Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada al-Nashif, opened the panel discussion stating that traditional forms of bullying have been exacerbated by technology and digital resources. 1 in 3 children aged 13-15 have reported being victims of cyberbullying. This would lead them to skip school, perform less well, experience anxiety, emotional distress, and higher levels of depression. Cyberbullying skips the barriers of local constraint and follows kids home. New forms of bullying emerge: blackmailing, exploitation, or sexual demands. Deputy High Commissioner believes that cyberbullying is an extension of violence against already vulnerable groups, such as girls or children with disabilities. Ms. Nada al-Nashif emphasised the centrality and role of companies that provide digital means of communication. These companies should implement a strict set of guidelines and regulations in their work.


         Mr. Philip Jaffe, representative of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, supported the Deputy High Commissioner’s call for guidelines and a regulatory framework. He strongly believes in the need of technological solutions against cyberbullying that do not infringe upon children’s rights, such as a child friendly complaint mechanism. He also called for more investment in the prevention of bullying in schools, which he deemed the root cause of cyberbullying. Ms. Santa Rose Mary, a 15-year-old from Uganda and member of the Children’s Advisory Council, suggested the introduction of digital literacy in school curricula. She defined cyberbullying as sharing children’s personal information, or sharing inappropriate content with children. She also asked parents to teach their children about cyberbullying.


         Mr. Yony Tsouna, founder and co-director of Matzmichim, the Israeli Violence Reduction Organization, brought a new perspective on cyberbullying: children learn through imitation. In the absence of parental or educator figures in the digital space, children have no one to learn from but from each other. He presented four solutions to cyberbullying: a focus on small everyday incidents rather than the big picture; the introduction of digital literacy courses; a need for tools and educators that have real practical experience both with children and with social media; and social media training for those who work immediately with kids.

         A representative of Meta was also present. Ms. Deepali Liberhan presented her company’s multipronged approach to safety, which includes working holistically with experts such as youth advisors or mental health experts, and several policies against harassment, hate speech, and graphic content. According to Ms. Liberhan, Meta also invests heavily in proactive reporting on its platforms.


         After the speakers had concluded their opening remarks, it was time for States representatives to speak. All States agreed on the need to protect children in the digital space, sharing different perspectives on how this could be achieved. Israel, Austria, the Holy See, and the European Union were of one mind on the need for education on prevention of cyberbullying and the need for digital literacy in school curricula. They inquired on strategies to ensure protection against cyberbullying, especially for vulnerable groups. Paraguay, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Turkey, Australia, and the United States agreed that the most effective strategy would be a cooperation between the state and the private sector on ensuring children’s safety. They also agreed that a multipronged approach in this sense would be most useful, because of the many stakeholders involved. The United Kingdom (UK) delegation expressed their expectations on social media platforms to remove harmful content.

         Luxembourg, UNICEF, the Holy See, and Malaysia were concerned with the increasing number of suicides because of cyberbullying. According to the Holy See, 50 percent of children victims to cyberbullying have considered suicide. This was a deeply shocking statistic which spoke volumes on the victims’ need for emotional support and prevention. Costa Rica and Lithuania proposed to consult with children in developing cyberbullying policies. Lithuania’s delegate was a representative from a schools union board who spoke about the role that child activists have played in combating cyber bullying, such as creating a “Without Bullying Campaign” (ad-literam translation) in Lithuania. Madagascar, Malaysia, China, the UK, and some civil societies, spoke about the rapid implementation of digital transformations and policies. China has already instituted special regulations, while the UK has passed a digital safety bill.


         In his concluding remarks, Mr. Jaffe asked States to develop digital safety policies in such a way that they would not infringe upon other rights in the process. He also stated that “children don’t live in a vacuum” – they are influenced by their peers, as well as their parents. The parents’ influence should be the greatest and, because of this, their need for digital literacy education is even more important. Ms. Santa Rose Mary asked schools to implement such courses in their curricula and to punish the perpetrators of bullying in appropriate ways. Mr. Tsouna felt more optimistic about the future safety of children after hearing the States’ statements. He particularly emphasised the need for  open communication between parents and children, and between children and their peers. He cited the MeToo movement as a great example of a platform where women were encouraged to speak about common experiences and to help and teach each other safety. He encouraged such open communication between children, because, in his words, “children learn from children”. 

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