Social media, smartphones and video games are a big part of our world. Your rights, responsibilities and safety are also important here. What happens online can play out in your everyday life. This section covers your rights and laws online, including harassment, protecting your online information and much more.

Even though the online world can have its cons, there is so much that would not be possible today without the Internet and social media. It is important to remember that there are many positive uses for these platforms and not to be discouraged by the bad.

  • consider putting your security settings on “friends only”—some sites update their settings, often without warning, so make sure settings are as private as you are comfortable with.
  • Ask yourself if you have a history of positive and healthy interactions with each of your contacts. You may add people you don’t know to make friends, which is okay, but sometimes there are risks and dangers associated with doing this. Be aware of them.
  • Ask yourself, when you receive messages, if the message looks suspicious. Scammers, hackers and phishers are able to do an endless amount of things nowadays. Trust your gut! If the message looks suspicious, don’t click on it.
  • Think about the level of detail in the information you share. For example, sharing details like your first name, gender, general location (for example, Ottawa, Canada) is okay, but sharing things like your phone number, home address or even what school you go to, makes it easy for people to find you.

As a helpful tip, there are some things that shouldn’t be shared online unless on trusted and secure platforms. This is information that can be used by identity thieves to access things like your bank account and make purchases. This information includes:

  • first and last name
  • date of birth
  • Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  • full address
  • mother’s maiden name
  • bank account numbers
  • usernames and passwords for online services
  • driver’s license number
  • personal identification numbers (PIN)
  • credit card information (numbers, expiry dates, CVV/verification number [i.e. three-digit code on the back])
  • signature
  • passport number

Cyberviolence is defined as online behaviours that criminally or non-criminally assault, or can lead to assault, of a person’s physical, psychological or emotional well-being. It can be done or experienced by an individual or group and happen online, through smartphones, during Internet games, etc. Even though cyberviolence takes place online, it affects people offline and has real world implications. Some examples of cyberviolence include but are not limited to

  • online harassment
  • threatening
  • bullying
  • blackmailing
  • unwanted sexting
  • stalking
  • hate speech
  • luring
  • non-consensual distribution of images

If you, or someone you know, is the victim of any of these forms of cyberviolence, there are things you can do. You can go to a trusted adult for support in taking any next steps. You can tell someone like a teacher or principal, a police officer, etc., who can help you find ways to address and stop this behaviour.

Remember, if you are dealing with any of these situations, it is not your fault.

It depends. Bullying, harassment and violence are often very traumatic experiences. Online there are some circumstances in which it can be illegal. It is illegal if it falls under the category of criminal harassment—repeated online tormenting (including Instant Messages (IM), Private Messages (PM), Direct Messages (DM), texts, phone calls, etc.) causing another person to fear for their safety.

You have the right to express yourself sexually. You can create and/or send sexual images as long as they are 100% consensual. The pictures should stay private, and should not be shared with people who are not meant to see them. There should be no physical or sexual assault or abuse shown in the image or video.

It is illegal to store, keep or save images if they involve people under 18. This counts as child pornography, and possession of child pornography is illegal. Storing these on your phone, computer, tablet, cloud storage or any other type of device is considered possession.

No. No one can send an intimate picture of you without your consent. In Canada it is illegal for a person to distribute an intimate image of another person without their consent. If the picture has someone under 18 in it, then it is illegal. It does not matter if there was consent, it is still considered child pornography.

There are steps you can take if your image was distributed without your consent. It may be helpful to let a parent/guardian or a trusted adult know about the situation, so they can support you in navigating these steps.

  • If the picture is online, figure out on what platform it is on and contact them, asking to remove it. Let them know that you do not consent to it being uploaded, and that this is illegal in your country.
  • If you feel comfortable and safe, you can contact the person who has the picture. You can say “I do not consent to you having this image of me [add a description and the date you sent it]. I want you to delete it, and I do not give you permission to share it with anyone else.”
  • If you are worried that your image will be shared with someone, you can legally apply for a “prevention order.” If the judge is satisfied that your fear is reasonable, they will grant it.
  • You can contact the police. Depending on your age, If someone has shared an image of you without your consent they can be charged for distribution or possession of child pornography.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out many rights that the government (at all levels) is expected to uphold. They must take all measures to protect you from all forms of violence, including cyberviolence. If you are being harassed on social media, a number of your rights could have been violated. For example, if the situation you are experiencing makes you feel scared to go to school, it means your right to education and to develop to your full potential is being violated.

You have the right not to receive harassing calls or texts. There are ways you can block calls or texts:

  • If the message is from someone you know, you can go to the contacts list in your phone and block them.
  • If you get a harassing text from someone you do not know, do not write back. Save the text. Look at the menu for options to block the person.
  • If you don’t see block options, call your cell provider and ask how to block a sender, or you can save the unwanted phone numbers as “Do not answer.”

You have the right not to receive harassing emails or chat messages. There are ways that you can block them:

  • Click on the message in your inbox and select “spam” or “junk mail.”
  • When the message is open, select “block sender” or “junk” from the options menu.
  • Go to the options bar from your social networking home page, look for profile or security settings, and change them so that only the people in your friends/contacts can send you messages.

You do not have to take abuse online or anywhere!

There are things you can do if you are being harassed on a website. Contact the host administrator (for example, the blogger) and let them know what is happening. If you don’t know who this person is, look for the link that says “contact” or “contact us.” You can also block people on forums by clicking the “report” or “ignore” tabs on their comments.

Sometimes when people are abusive online it can be considered defamation or hate speech. Defamation is an action that hurts someone’s reputation. It is untrue comments about a person. The comments make those who see or hear the comments, think negatively or less of that person. If the comments are spoken to others it is called slander. If these comments are written it is called libel.

When someone has posted something like this online on social media, in forums, chat rooms or personal websites, etc., this is referred to as cyber-libel. The law protects people against defamation in cases where someone accuses you of a crime or accuses you of having a contagious disease, etc. However, the law does not protect you from personal insults or remarks that are said/written to you directly. Although they may hurt your feelings, and may be considered bullying, assault or abuse, they are not considered defamation unless they were said to another person.

Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens or insults groups based on colour, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or other traits. The Criminal Code of Canada makes it a criminal offence to promote or incite genocide and hatred. For something to be considered hate speech, the comments have to take place in a public place. Posts online like this fall under the criminal code because the Internet is considered a public network.

If you see hate speech online, there are steps you can take. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have reporting options where you can flag posts containing hate speech. These platforms will then review them, and sometimes take further action such as banning that user from their platform.

You can also stand up for someone who is being harassed online.

You can do things that will not make you a potential target as well:

  • Comfort someone in private.
  • Tell a trusted adult about the situation.
  • Talk to the person about how they want to handle it.
  • Try and mediate between the people involved (however, this may make you a potential target).

Yes. Games should be fun. Sometimes there are abusive behaviours in gaming communities. It may seem like many players threaten and put other players down. Racist, sexist or homophobic comments are never okay. Some games have options to report abusive behaviour.

Yes. Abusive behaviour can take many forms online. It could look like

  • harassment
  • threatening you with sexual posts or texts
  • stalking you
  • making you check in all the time
  • making you disconnect from your other friends
  • spreading lies or rumors about you
  • pressuring you to send intimate photos
  • threatening to share ones you have previously sent

Sometimes other people make social media accounts online, pretending to be someone else. This is not okay. It is identity spoofing. This happens when they posts things pretending to be coming from your computer, personal accounts or electronic devices. It can be harmful because if they post hurtful things, people could think this is coming from you. If you suspect you are being spoofed on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, you can report it.

It is better not to share your passwords with people, even if you trust them. It is better to keep that information to yourself. People imitating others on social media does not stop with identity spoofing. People also make false identities or personalities on social-media websites to deceive, manipulate or lure others into entering online relationships, sending intimate photos, transferring money, etc. This is called catfishing.

It is illegal for someone to force you to send sexual images online. It is illegal for someone to force you into sexual acts on a webcam and then threaten you. It is also illegal to threaten to distribute the images/video if you do not pay money or provide more sexual images/videos. It is sextortion. Forcing someone to do something through threats is illegal online and in person. If you are being sextorted, there are steps you can take:

  • Never give in to the threat.
  • Stop communication with the person.
  • Block them from your accounts.
  • Deactivate the accounts you used to interact with them.
  • Speak to a trusted adult.
  • Contact law enforcement.
  • Take screenshots and gather evidence.

The Criminal Code of Canada says that luring is the use of technologies (social media, smartphones, chat rooms, etc.) to communicate with someone who is, or is believed to be, under the age of 18 for the purpose of committing an offence against that individual. This is punishable by law, and those who perpetrate/commit it can get up to 10 years in prison.

Grooming describes an ongoing activity that is illegal and dangerous. It happens when a person builds and maintains a relationship—usually emotional—with a child to gain their trust. They do this for the purpose of sexual abuse and/or exploitation. Groomers often tune into a teen’s or child’s vulnerabilities and low self-esteem. They make the child or youth feel special in order to gain their trust. It is used to manipulate the child or teen into becoming co-operative or willing. They try to reduce the chances that the child will tell anyone about the abuse. Grooming can occur both online and offline. It can be a stranger or someone you know—for example, a family member, friend or coach. Groomers can be any age or any gender. Most often it is an adult.

Here are some tips to look out for if you suspect someone of grooming. You may notice that the person:

  • doesn’t have any, or has few, adult friends, and spends their free time with teenagers or children
  • finds ways to be alone with teenagers or children when adults are unlikely to interrupt (for example, car rides, special trips, offering to babysit, etc.)
  • ignores teenagers or children’s wishes that they do not want to be hugged, tickled, kissed, etc.
  • has different child or teen friends of certain ages/appearances from year to year
  • doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in places like the bedroom or bathroom
  • gives a child or teen gifts and money for no reason
  • talks about, or asks a child or teen to talk about, sexual experiences and feelings
  • views child pornography through videos, photographs, magazines or the Internet
  • makes you feel like their inappropriate interactions with children or teenagers are normal

If you think you, or someone you know, is being groomed by someone in real life or online, it is best to tell a trusted adult, and they can help you deal with any next steps to take. Again, grooming is illegal and very dangerous. For more information, see the “Resources” section of this guide).