International youth summit in Charlottetown will target cyberbullying

Representatives from Facebook, Microsoft and Google to attend Prince Edward Island summit

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on October 3, 2013

Parry Aftab, executive director of stopcyberbullying.org, speaks to students at Grace Christian School recently about cyberbullying. 

Guardian photo by Jim Day

To learn more about the 2013 International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit Nov. 9 in Charlottetown or to register, visit www.stopcyberbullying.org.

Parry Aftab is confident that youth can come up with clever and effective ways to combat cyberbullying.

She is in the process of rounding up some young, deep thinkers from right across the province.

Aftab, the executive director of stopcyberbullying.org — a volunteer organization dedicated to online safety — is hitting P.E.I. schools to recruit thought leaders who are able to think outside of the box while also discussing cyberbullying issues with hundreds of students.

She has a special purpose in gathering together a good crop of thoughtful students: the 2013 International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit to be held in Charlottetown on Nov. 9.

The handpicked Prince Edward Island students will be among some 400 students in total from grades 4 to 12 joined by about 200 adults at the youth summit.

The students, stresses Aftab, are the ones to turn to for answers to deal with the immense harm taking place in P.E.I. and around the world through cyberbullying — a growing practice Aftab describes as using digital technology as a weapon to hurt someone else.

Industry leaders, including high-level representatives from Facebook, Microsoft and Google, will be attending the summit in the capital city.

Barbara Coloroso, one of the leading experts in the world on bullying, is waiving her speaking fee to participate.

Sharon Rosenfeld, who created Victims of Violence after notorious child killer Clifford Olson murdered her son, is also taking part in the youth summit.

A host of other stakeholders, from health-care professionals to law enforcement, will also be among the diverse delegates.

The key participants, however, will be students, says Aftab. This group, coming from a good cross-section of backgrounds and cultures, will be front and centre.

"So when I turn to a sixth grader and say 'What can we get from Facebook that will make my kids safer?' and the kids give me answers, those answers are really relevant and they work because the kids are the ones in the midst of all of this,'' she says.

"So I am reaching out to the kids who are very good at facilitating ideas, thinking, brainstorming and I'm giving them all of the experts they could possibly need to pick from.''

Aftab, who lives in Charlottetown with her husband Allan McCullough, created the StopCyberbullying Coalition to help address cyberbullying and digital abuse issues. Members include Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Disney and Yahoo!

She says parents need to learn how to recognize cyberbullying and also to appreciate the pain that it causes. Youth need to be taught not to cross the line into cyberbullying when using cell phones or other digital devices.

"We have to stop this,'' says Aftab.

"We've had two serious cases of sextortion that have occurred here on the Island up in the Westisle area and sextortion leads to suicide faster than any other type of digital abuse.''

Sextortion is a type of exploitation that involves coercion to extort sexual favours from the victim. It is also a type of blackmail in which sexual images or videos are used to force sexual favours from the victim.

Aftab, who has spearheaded youth summits at the U.S. Senate, is optimistic the 2013 International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit next month in Charlottetown will lead to constructive change.

"At the end of the day, we will have a written action plan,'' says Aftab.

"We need to focus on parents and teaching them more about these issues. We need to get the word out on awareness. We need to give the kids a helpline online (that is) live kid supported.''

"So it will be a list of what we need to do and then they (summit participants) will also identify the stakeholders that need to be involved to make that happen,'' she adds.

"We're going to have an action plan.''