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Wednesday, July 29 • 15:16 - 16:45
"Social Media and Cyberbullying: Not Just a Dangerous Tool for Teens"

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Author: Mylynn Felt

Joel Best (2008) outlines a natural progression of social problem construction. The six stages of this model include the following: claims making, media coverage, public reaction, policymaking, social problems work, and, finally, policy outcomes. Following several high-profile teen suicides linked to electronically-mediated harassment, cyberbullying has recently emerged as a Canadian social problem. This process began with claims from the victims and their families which led to mass media coverage. With a high level of ongoing public attention, at least nine provinces have passed legislation and the federal government just passed the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act in response. 

Objective: As cyberbullying moves through the process of social problems construction, I seek to analyze how claims makers forward and legitimate their concerns in a manner that leads to policy change. 

Methods: I applied frame theory to a content analysis of Canadian print news coverage of the deaths of Jamie Hubley, Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons, and Todd Loik. This included eight categories: remedies of cyberbullying, effects of cyberbullying, definitions of cyberbullying, moral judgments of cyberbullying, blame for the death of the teen, establishing a pattern of cyberbullying, causes of cyberbullying, and defensive claims. 

Results: Results show that print news frames cyberbullying as a social problem in the mediated public discourse of these teen suicides. The most prevalent category of analysis was remedies, and the most commonly suggested remedy was public attention. This attention comes in the form of mass media and social media; however, most coverage emphasizes social media. While teen use of social media is heavily associated with cyberbullying, tools such as YouTube, Facebook, and blogs are cited as the means used by these teens and their parents to bring awareness to the persecution they each faced prior to their deaths. Without the use of these tools, their claims would likely never have achieved the public attention necessary for society to recognize a social problem let alone to see the policy changes that have resulted. 

Future Work: It is clear that social media can be used by claims makers to draw attention to cyberbullying as a social problem. The next stage of research should focus on how social media users utilize these tools to forward social problem claims and to counter them. Only when cyberbullying is seen as socially unacceptable will society see a noticeable reduction in prevalence. The communications tools used to deliver messages of hate can also be utilized to alter what forms of communication are seen as socially acceptable. 


Mylynn Felt

Ph.D. Student, University of Calgary

Wednesday July 29, 2015 15:16 - 16:45 EDT
(8th Floor) TRS 2-166 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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