A 12-year-old who was arrested and charged with two counts of uttering threats is the second case this month Brandon Police Service have responded to involving online threats among youth via social media. Police were called on Jan. 22 and were told that the two young victims had been involved in some type of ongoing dispute with the suspect. It’s alleged that, via social media, she threatened to harm them.
After an investigation, police say they arrested the suspect on Jan. 24.
Staff Sgt. Gay Jones said BPS handles online threats just as seriously as any other. It’s the message, not the medium.
"If a person feels like they got a threat, we have to look at the content and nature of the threat," she said. "It’s not the method it’s conveyed, it’s the nature of the threat itself that determines whether it’s a criminal matter."
Earlier this month in a separate incident, BPS received a complaint from a 14-year-old girl that she was the target of a threatening message from another girl on Facebook.
The police investigation revealed that a 17-year-old Brandon girl had threatened to kill the victim as a result of a dispute over some property.
Police arrested the suspect and she is expected to appear in court on March 12, facing charges of threatening to cause death or injury and breach of probation.
While online bullying or threats make it easier for police to get evidence, BPS is aware that some people use aliases, making it harder to track down the suspects, according to Jones.
"It makes it more difficult for us to track them," she said. "The one advantage … is that we can have evidence of it rather than it be one person saying something against another. You have the possibility of a printed representation of what was said."
Online bullying entered public consciousness last year in the wake of the death of Amanda Todd, a Port Coquitlam, B.C., Grade 10 student, who was the victim of relentless bullying through Facebook. It quickly became the banner story of 21st century bullying and while the majority of teens are living a lot of their life online, Jones said she believes parents should be conscious of the age children log into social media sites for the first time.
"You seriously have to think about the age that your youngster is and when it is appropriate to utilizing certain parts of this medium," Jones said. "A 10-year-old on Facebook, is that something you would consider to be reasonable?"
Brandon School Division chairman Mark Sefton said the division has a slew of policies regarding bullying, student conduct, harassment and appropriate use of technology, but administration is in the process of implementing policy specific to social media conduct for students.
"It’s an emerging issue," he said. "Keeping ahead of the curve is sometimes difficult."
BSD schools block the use of Facebook on school computers but Sefton said many of these cases occur outside of school hours.
"It’s a challenge for schools and school divisions and parents."
If online conduct spills into the school and becomes an issue in the classroom, then it becomes a school issue, Sefton said.
"Schools respond very quickly to those things, and they take them very seriously because their No. 1 concern, of course, is student safety," he said.
Parents need to monitor what children are doing online, Sefton said, but parents don’t want to be overly suspicious.
"But at the same time, you want to be aware of what they’re doing and what their virtual footprint is."
Social media isn’t a passing fad and many school divisions are implementing ways to educate students on social media, BSD included.
"(Schools) have to make sure students understand they have responsibilities with the right to participate in social media."
Facebook has become one primary mean of communication and it has given users a sense of invisibility which leads to online bullying.
Bullying is now following students into their bedrooms through computers and even in their pockets, and Sefton said students just don’t know when to close it out.
"Part of it is a fascination, I think we’re all a little fascinated about what’s online about us," he said.
The 12-year-old suspect will appear in court on Feb. 19 to face two counts of uttering threats.