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Facebook charges a lesson for others

Brandon girl accused of online death threat

REPORTS of charges laid in a social-media bullying matter should be an important status update for teachers, parents, administrators and students, Manitoba experts say.

Brandon Police Service charged a 17-year-old girl Monday with uttering threats to kill or injure a 14-year-old girl on Facebook after a dispute about some property.

Lawyer Brian Bowman, who specializes in social-media and privacy issues, said a threat on a computer is just as valid as one given in person or on paper.

"If you can verify who sent the threat, then social media is a platform and, Facebook included, you can be charged," Bowman said.

"The courts have defined the admissibility of evidence and if relevant... it's like putting pen to paper.

"If there's one lesson in this, it's a good reminder that what you do in the online world can have legal ramifications in the offline world."

Brandon police said they received the teen's complaint on Jan. 2, and they arrested the 17-year-old on Saturday. The girl is also charged with breach of probation. She will appear in court on March 12.

Bowman said he has noticed "a slight increase" in the number of clients concerned about cyber threats or bullying since the death of 15-year-old Amanda Todd in British Columbia last October.

Todd took her own life after suffering online bullying, sparking an outcry across the country.

"It's not always children coming to me -- there are adults, too, being harassed online," Bowman said.

"People want advice whether to go to the police, while others are trying to identify anonymous posters and trying to out them and have information removed. They also want to see if they can sue the person."

Jennifer Katz, an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba's faculty of education, said teachers and administrators will have to do more to prevent bullying.

Katz, who teaches inclusive education and spent 16 years in the classroom before joining the U of M, said the current anti-bullying message isn't driven home often enough for it to have a lasting effect on students.

"There's more that we can do," she said. "Teachers are put under a lot of stress to get kids ready for exams, and usually bullying programs are short term and don't continue."

Katz said what teachers have to do is "weave it into daily life and into the curriculum or it won't be effective, whether the message is bullying or healthy eating. "We have to see it as important as academic outcomes. It has to be part of the science curriculum and the social science curriculum."

-- with files from the Brandon Sun

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