Nfld. & Labrador

Cathy Bennett gets positive responses after speaking out on cyberbullying

N.L. Finance Minister Cathy Bennett received about 35 comments after speaking publicly about cyberbullying and body shaming, and every email response except for one was positive.

N.L. finance minister says stories and positive messaged 'very energy-giving'

Finance Minister Cathy Bennett says she's received an overwhelmingly positive response to calling out cyberbullying in December. (Gary Locke/CBC)

After speaking publicly in December about online abuse and cyberbullying, Newfoundland and Labrador's Finance Minister Cathy Bennett says she's empowered by comments of positivity and support.

People who disagreed with Bennett's policies and decisions as Finance minister were still supportive of her decision to speak out about online abuse she's had to deal with.

When that feedback crosses the line into … shaming and threatening, then I don't think that's acceptable.- Cathy Bennett

"For the most part the comments were overwhelmingly supportive and many people reached out to offer support," Bennett told CBC News.

CBC News obtained copies of the emails received by Bennett in the four days after she spoke publicly. Only one of the 35 messages was negative — the rest were supportive.

"I don't approve of some of the things you've done as finance minister, but I have to thank you for coming forward with your personal stories about cyberbullying," wrote one person in an email.

The names and email address of the people who wrote the minister were redacted.

'I was very honoured'

Several people referred to her decision to speak out about the attacks as courageous, and many made a point of saying they've opposed some of the decisions she's made as finance minister.

"I may not agree with all your decisions," one person wrote. "I commend you, however, for your strength in sticking with your extremely difficult job and I wish you all the best in the future."

At a December news conference, Finance Minister Cathy Bennett showed slides of various messages that have been posted about her over the past year. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Bennett said the sheer number of people who contacted her after she went public came as a surprise.

"The amount of people who took the time out for many many weeks after, and wrote some pretty long messages and people who had experienced things themselves that they shared and they felt comfortable sharing," she said.

"I was very honoured to have received those messages. It was very energy-giving."

Not all positive

But Bennett said some of the negative comments she criticized in her news conference have continued, and she did receive at least one negative email after her news conference.

"You didn't just play the 'completely ELITE Capricious RITCH BITCHes' victim card on national TV," one person wrote in.

[Social media] can't be an area for bullying and abuse.- Cathy Bennett

"You … have no idea what true bullying is about! LOSER!"

While she still receives cyberbullying messages, Bennett said she plans to continue the conversation when she's able in order to change the way people think about the things they say online and in social media.

"Certainly we need to recognize that there is the power to be able to do things positively on social media," she said.

"But there's also responsibility, and it can't be and area for bullying and abuse and it's not fair for those individuals who have to incur it."

Crossing a line

Bennett wouldn't say whether she's filed a complaint about any of the negative messages with police, citing personal safety concerns.

While people certainly have a right to voice disagreement with politicians and policy, Bennett said there's a line that shouldn't be crossed.

"When that feedback crosses the line into negative messaging that's shaming and threatening, then I don't think that's acceptable," she said.

"It leads to increased comfort levels with violence, verbal violence, and other things that are unacceptable in this day and age."

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.