A new global study by computer security software company McAfee has found that 60 per cent of Canadian children as young as 10 have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Globally, that figure is only slightly higher, at 63 per cent.
The study, entitled “Cyberbullying in Plain Sight,” sheds light on cyberbullying trends based on survey responses from 11,687 parents and their children in 10 countries this summer, including 1,516 in Canada.
“Our findings reflect the concerns of parents and children alike,” the study’s authors write. “Cyberbullying remains a pervasive and potentially harmful fact of life online, particularly as racism and other severe forms of cyberbullying take rise.”
Cyberbullying takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets, through SMS, text, social media apps, forums and online gaming communities.
It encompasses familiar forms of bullying such as name-calling, making physical threats, spreading false rumours, stalking and outing – disclosing someone’s sexual orientation without their consent – but also includes methods like doxing, which involves publishing private or identifying information about someone online without their consent.
According to McAfee’s research, cyberbullying in Canada focuses on highly personal topics, with the top three appearing, at 34 per cent; clothing, at 22 per cent; and friends, at 19 per cent. The top three forms of bullying, both in Canada and globally, are name-calling, exclusion from group chats and conversations and spreading false rumours. However, a growing number of parents are reporting racially-motivated attacks on children as young as 10.
“Our survey found that more than 28 percent of children worldwide have suffered racially-motivated cyberbullying, according to their parents,” the study reads.
Canada’s survey results are mostly aligned with global averages, except when it comes to the way parents and their children perceive and respond to cyberbullying.
“Canadian children experience cyberbullying largely on par with global rates,” Gagan Singh, chief product officer for McAfee, wrote in the study. “Yet their parents act on it less often than other parents, and Canadian children are the least likely to seek help when it happens to them.”
According to the study, Canadian children and parents expressed some of the lowest levels of concern about cyberbullying, at 15 and 13 per cent below global averages respectively.
Additionally, Canadian parents were among the least likely to take an active role in protecting their children from cyberbullying, with 78 per cent responding that they actively protect their children from cyberbullying compared to 85 per cent of parents worldwide.
Canadian children are also less likely to confide in their friends about cyberbullying, or to seek help. Globally, 32 per cent of children said they have sought help at some point compared to 21 per cent of Canadian children. Only Japan reported a lower figure, at eight per cent.
“Worryingly, Canadian children are some of the least likely globally to seek help in the face of cyberbullying,” Jasdev Dhaliwal, McAfee’s director of social and digital content told CTVNews.ca in an email. “Canadian parents can support their children by starting an open discussion about cyberbullying at home and seeking resources to support their child.”
As for broader solutions, the study points out cyberbullying is shaped by cultural, technological, societal and governmental factors.
“Addressing one factor alone won’t curb it,” it reads. “Significantly curtailing cyberbullying for an internet that’s far safer than it is today requires addressing those factors in concert.”
Despite efforts by technology conglomerate Meta to provide resources for family safety on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, cyberbullying persists on its properties at the highest rates. Globally and in Canada, cyberbullying is most likely to take place on Facebook and Instagram, followed by YouTube, TikTok and Twitter, according to McAfee.