MANITOULIN – A group of young Islanders has successfully organized a campaign to shut down an abusive Instagram account that was reposting photos of Manitoulin women with disparaging captions, including photos of underage persons, after a few individuals’ complaints resulted in no action from the social media company.
“(The perpetrator) was posting pictures of multiple women from the Island on Instagram with disparaging captions. From what I saw on a Facebook post that was originally made about it, there was also underage girls on there as well as his (family member),” said a young woman whose personal photos appeared on the account.
The victims know the identity of the alleged poster because he once emailed a woman using his real email account by mistake. The Expositor is not naming the man because he has not been formally charged in relation with the account.
The Instagram profile, which used username metalhorse0111, reposted photos of young Islanders and featured objectifying, sexual captions about the women in the images.
The woman said some victims had reported the account to Instagram but the platform ruled it did not violate its community guidelines. However, most of the poster’s victims did not know that their likeness had been taken at all.
One of the victims was frustrated by Instagram’s inaction and created a public Facebook post to raise awareness of the issue. That was how many of the women learned of the account.
It was not until several people joined forces to report the profile that Instagram finally responded and deactivated the page.
“There was a sense that if we filed a police report, they’d just laugh it off because it was online harassment instead of in-person. But with the changing times, police should start looking at online harassment because of the emotional toll it can take on your psyche,” the woman said.
“I obviously want to see some form of justice brought to this person, whether it’s a couple of years of probation or some form of monitoring or some kind of fine, something that gives the person accountability for their actions. I think the police should know how much of a toll this takes on women,” she said.
Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Constable Marie Ford said she was not aware of the incident, as none of the victims had filed a police report, but that cyberbullying is a serious and growing problem.
“OPP remains committed to ensuring that the public is aware of the many potential threats to public and personal safety in the real and virtual world, and encourages everyone to ensure their online presence is as safe as it can be,” she said, adding that cyberbullying is a serious problem because it causes real pain for victims and has led to deaths.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, since March 10, 2015, it is an offence to share intimate images of any person without the consent of the person in the image. Other Criminal Code offences pertain to bullying, including cyberbullying.
Constable Ford explained that if a victim files a police report, the potential charges, depending on the circumstances, may include criminal harassment, uttering threats, intimidation, mischief in relation to data, unauthorized use of computer, identity fraud, extortion, false messages, indecent or harassing telephone calls, counselling suicide, defamation and incitement of hatred.
The woman who shared her experience with The Expositor said her goal was to spread education and awareness of how widespread online harassment is. This is not the first time she has faced such behaviour online.
“There is an extreme disconnect between people in real life and people on the internet who think they’re anonymous and can’t be hurt because they’re hiding behind a screen. They need to know their actions have consequences,” she said.
A key to this would be teaching children from a young age about accountability. She suggested elementary schools could reinforce education against online bullying; into high school, this could shift toward harassment.
Although this alleged poster is a man, the woman said she believes anyone has the potential to cause harm online, regardless of their gender. She encouraged teaching everyone the meaning of ‘no’ and to respect personal boundaries.
She added that she wants social media companies to take such complaints more seriously, saying it was disturbing that it took a co-ordinated campaign of victims and their allies to make change.
“I don’t believe Instagram takes its users seriously and often only reacts after a certain amount of pressure is placed upon them,” she said. “Something definitely needs to be done for Instagram to listen to the claims of victims who have been harassed from multiple sources.”
Further complicating matters is that social media like Instagram (a subsidiary of Facebook) have become an income source for those with larger followings. When harassment becomes a normalized behaviour that is an expected part of any publicity, it can expand the gender divide.
Public perceptions of online harassment need to change, too, the woman said.
“People are saying we should make our accounts private, block people and do everything such that we might be protected but (perpetrators) are not being held accountable for their actions,” she said, adding that none of the shared images were particularly lewd or risqué but became sexualized through the reposter’s actions.
Going through this experience has brought some of the young Island women together to find strength in the midst of the disturbing content.
“It’s definitely been uplifting in the sense that I realize there’s a community among us women. We protect each other and want to protect others from what we’ve gone through, especially if they’re younger, and make sure they come on the other side of this okay,” she said.
Constable Ford said there are many toolkits for internet users and their loved ones. The Canadian government runs ‘Get Cyber Safe’ for digital security tips, NeedHelpNow offers guidance on the steps to take when dealing with cyberbullying and online exploitation and Kids Help Phone offers support for youth under 25 about bullying and cyberbullying.
She said police take these reports seriously and encouraged anyone facing harassment to file a report through Cyber Tip, Canada’s tip line for reporting online exploitation of children and youth, by calling OPP at 1-800-310-1122 or submitting an anonymous report to Sudbury Rainbow Crime Stoppers at SudburyCrimeStoppers.com.