Expert fears stalled plan on cyberbullying

  • US expert: Parry Aftab

    US expert: Parry Aftab

An American expert in internet law hired by the Government to tackle cyberbullying has warned that Bermuda has still to draw up a national action plan to deal with the problem.

Parry Aftab, one of the world’s first cyber lawyers and a leader in digital privacy law, was a consultant on a national action plan in the summer of 2017, but left the island before the plan to crack down on cyberbullying and revenge porn was completed.

Ms Aftab said that an “unfortunate combination of events and challenges”, including a change of government in the July 2017 election, delayed the project.

She told The Royal Gazette: “I spent several weeks in the late spring and early summer in Bermuda.

“You did have the change of government and there was a great deal of time that nothing could be done.

“We ran into summer and the America’s Cup and a number of other things got in the way that made us unable to get what I wanted done.

“Hopefully, someone will pick up the reins and might have more flexibility in their schedule, but I am always around to talk to anyone who might need my help.”

Ms Aftab conducted interviews with more than 1,000 schoolchildren aged between 10 and 17 and about 100 teachers while in Bermuda.

She gathered anecdotal evidence on incidences of cyberbullying, which she said were often not reported.

Ms Aftab said at the time that there were “major gaps” in Bermuda’s laws.

She added: “Cyberbullying, including revenge porn — or sext bullying as we call it when it involves children — is vast in Bermuda.

“Because you are a country with 60,000 residents, it is more effective because everybody knows everybody.

“The intention is to embarrass the person as much as possible.

“The children I spoke to really cared about the issue because it affects them.”

However, she added: “No one really has statistics on this anywhere because most people don’t report it and try to hide it. So few report it at all that any statistics should be looked at with suspicion.

“All you can do is look at the anecdotes and say it happens a lot more here than other places. We did see a higher than usual rate of revenge porn, I think because everyone knows everyone, and it can do serious damage.”

Ms Aftab said: “Part of what we were going to do was look at the law and address gaps — we never got that far to be able to do that.

“Also, the schools did not have the required protocols in place — schools generally don’t and when they do it is something that they copied and pasted from someone else.

“You need to make sure that the students themselves know what the rules are and understand what the consequences are and where to go for help.”

Ms Aftab, from New York City, is the managing director of compliance firm Wired Trust and is a former board member at social media platform Facebook.

Chardonae Rawlins, a psychology graduate and mental health worker, said in an interview with The Royal Gazette this week that her research also signalled a major problem with revenge porn in Bermuda.

The Department of ICT Policy and Innovation has said it continued to run a programme on safe online practices and is organising its second annual Digital Leadership Conference.

Senior analyst Maryem Biadillah added that the department had run Cybertips, designed to promote safe internet use, since 2007 and a special website on safe use of computers.

Ms Biadillah said the department had teamed up with the Bermuda Police Service every year to visit schoolchildren of all ages to warn about internet dangers such as cyberbullying.

She added: “IPI worked briefly with Dr Aftab in 2017 to organise Bermuda’s first anti-cyberbullying conference.

“IPI then went on to tackle the wider subject of digital leadership skills through Bermuda’s first student-led digital leadership conference in 2018.

This year’s conference is scheduled for March and A’ric Jackson, a youth motivational speaker, is expected to deliver the keynote speech.

Ms Biadillah confirmed that all work has ceased with Dr Aftab. A government spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on why Dr Aftab was no longer working in Bermuda.

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Published Feb 15, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 15, 2019 at 7:01 am)

Expert fears stalled plan on cyberbullying

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