Cyberbullying: Two wrongs don't make a right

Carole Morris-Underhill
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A Nova Scotia actress-turned-politician has bid farewell to Twitter after being ridiculed for engaging in a war of words over a nude photo of herself posted by a 17-year-old boy.

The exchange between the teenager and MLA Lenore Zann, and the subsequent involvement of the RCMP and Nova Scotia's newly opened CyberScan investigation unit, has made national, and international, news.

It's thrust the issue of what constitutes cyberbullying to the forefront once again — and the definition is not as cut and dry as some would like it to be.

For those unfamiliar with the issue at hand, the teenager, whose screen name is NScissons, posted a screen shot of Zann when she appeared in an episode of the Showtime drama The L Word. The prison shower scene involved full nudity — something Zann would have agreed to. It's an image readily available online — and perhaps more so since this social media incident came to light.

Along with the picture, he inquired, “what happened to the old Lenore?”

There's no doubt posting the image was a tasteless, immature thing to do. It's possible that posting such an image could be construed as bullying, especially if the intent was to humiliate the politician. (He maintains it was a joke, but Zann — along with others — aren't laughing.)

When Zann asked that he remove the image, he didn't. That sparked a series of tweets, in which Zann noted that distribution of such images fall under new cyberbullying laws, that the incident had been reported, that it was an indictable offence and that she and the producers of the L Word did not consent to have the image used.

Zann, who voted alongside fellow Nova Scotia politicians to enact Canada's first anti-cyberbullying act just a few months prior, contacted the police, then on their advice, CyberScan. She went on to contact the boy's parents, school principal and the school board.

Her actions have been heavily criticized, with people alleging she, in turn, began bullying the boy, using her position of authority to get results. (The boy eventually removed the image.)

The question we need to grapple with is does the situation warrant investigation? Was there bullying by either party?

A main difference between this image and one that's posted by a scorned lover or former flame is the expectation to privacy. A nude 'selfie' sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend should never find its way onto the web without the person's consent. To do so is breaking federal law.

In Zann's case, the former actress was paid to be in a show that required nudity. Although copyright infringement laws exist, the image of her topless isn't difficult to find online.

Whether or not Zann's case has any cyberbullying merit is still up in the air. But, regardless of the outcome, it does have people talking — and thinking — about a person's right to privacy, about distributing naked images and the risks one must assume if they post titillating photos.

Although Zann has since asked for the case to be dropped, hopefully all the publicity will not be in vain and will make at least one person think about the consequences of their actions before doing something they could regret.


Organizations: CyberScan, L Word, RCMP

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Canada

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