#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Taking on the cyber bullies: Justin Preston helps others overcome online hate

“For many, it is their primary form of social engagement,” she said.

Compounding this issue is that most apps show the location of users.

“The people you are feeding to can tell where you are,” she said.

Another thing, Clayton said, is cyberbullying isn’t simply a case of someone being mean to another person online.

“It’s consistent, it’s repetitive,” she said, adding victims are left with no safe space. “You could be confronted by the same cyberbully in the community.”

Perhaps the most well-known case of cyberbullying is that of Amanda Todd, whose mother Carol and the work she has done to raise awareness of the issue is part of the documentary Dark Cloud. Preston is a part of the same film created by Telus Originals that premiered on Oct. 10 to help mark Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada.

The film follows Carol as she connects with other parents, victims of bullying, academics and experts, and top anti-bullying advocates across the country, including Preston.

Amanda Todd committed suicide in 2012 after enduring years of bullying in the wake of photos of her topless spread online. Most notably, she created a cue-card video describing the experience and detailing the abuse she experienced online.

It’s a situation Preston can relate to. He created a similar video for his YouTube channel six years ago. It was also at that time he had the opportunity to meet with Carol in 2014.

“We sat down to talk at a Tim Hortons in Fort Erie. I appreciated being given the chance,” Preston said, adding the two have remained close since then and that it was Todd who suggested to the filmmakers to bring Justin aboard for the film.

“On Jan. 13, I received an email from the producers,” Preston said. “They asked if I was local (the film was being produced in B.C.), but I told them I’m in Fort Erie, Ontario. They said, ‘we’ll come to you.’ ”

Preston’s story is not unusual, said Dr. Shaheen Shariff, a McGill University professor whose specialty centres on the intersection of education, law and policy, with a focus on constitutional, human rights and civil law as it impacts educational institutions, said bullying is only a symptom of larger issues including racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia among others.

“It’s deeply rooted in society,” she said, adding that social media has only heightened the problem.

“It’s a forum that allows this to happen.”

Preston, meanwhile, is continuing his efforts to raise awareness through riseagainstbullying.ca. It’s something he has been doing for nearly a decade. Last Christmas, he created the Letters by Justin campaign. In total, nearly 800 cards and letters were sent to people experiencing mental health issues as the result of — but not exclusive to — bullying.

It’s something he continues to do on a daily basis.

“All year, I’m writing letters to kids and to adults who need a confidence boost,” he said.

Pathstone Mental Health, meanwhile, offers a wide range of resources to parents of children who are experiencing issues with cyberbullying, including guides to social media for parents, high-risk behaviour online and more.

Walk-in mental health services are available through Pathstone’s Hear and Now clinics at various locations throughout Niagara.

More information on Pathstone Mental Health is available at https://pathstonementalhealth.ca. Youth experiencing bullying and abuse, family issues or who need support for emotional well-being can also phone the Kids Help Line at 1-800-668-6868.

Dark Cloud can be viewed for free on TELUS ’ YouTube channel.

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Bullying, whether in person or online, is a serious problem facing youth. Local advocate Justin Preston, who was a victim of relentless bullying himself, is now helping others through his Rise Against Bullying initiative. Reporter Richard Hutton spoke to Justin about the initiative and his involvement in the documentary Dark Cloud.


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