Cyber Bullies — Bits and Bytes Pack A Bite

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Mike Focus / Shutterstock.com

 

A SECONDARY school girl was bullied on Twitter for being overweight and made fun of for quoting the Bible — called names and accused of “acting holy”. This harassment started at school and continued online for almost one year until she left polytechnic.

In 2010, a young man at university found himself ridiculed for his homosexuality after his roommate uploaded footage of him with another man without his knowledge or consent. Unable to handle the unwelcome pressure and attention the student took his own life later that month.

These examples could take place anywhere in the world, given the connected nature of our existence. From bullying in the physical space it has gone virtual, and gone viral.

 

SEVEN Examples Of Cyber Bullying

1. Cyber Stalking
Obsessive behaviour displayed over digital means. This includes incessant messaging, with threatening or intimidating content that causes distress and makes victims fear for their safety.

2. Flaming
Using vulgar or abusive language with the intent of causing hurt and starting an altercation.

3. Degradation and humiliation
Spreading rumours and harassing victims, particularly in front of a peer group, often resulting in the victim being shunned from social groups.

4. Impersonation
Creating a fake profile of the victim to damage their reputation. This can also include gaining access to and using victim’s social media platforms without their consent and with malicious intent.

5. Harassment
Inundating victims with rude, offensive, and insulting messages. This can happen over almost any digital platform — on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp groups, or even SMS.

6. Ostracism
Intentionally excluding victims from online groups.

7. Using photos or images without consent
Bullies will upload private or embarrassing images of victims, these are often defaced, altered or even fake. This is done to torture and humiliate the victim.

With Internet use and social media proliferating almost every facet of life, cyber bullying, particularly of children, is becoming a serious issue.

Mischievous children can quickly turn vicious when they get behind the computer screen.

With 24-hour access to the Internet and to social media, cyber bullying can become an unrelenting inescapable horror for those targeted and victimised.

The Media Development Authority Singapore Consumer Experience Study suggests that eight in 10 children (up to age 14) use the Internet and start as early as six years of age.

Social media use has also increased (from 49.8% in 2014 to 65% in 2015), with most children starting between the ages of 7 and 10. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, which encourage content creation and interaction, were found to be the most popular with this age group.

Polls by Touch Cyber Wellness found that as many as one in four students admitted to cyber bullying their peers while one in three said they had been victims. Safer Internet use advocate Kingmaker Consultancy has also tracked increases in instances of cyber bullying. On-going research by the Singapore Children’s Society is finding links between self-harm and cyber bullying in children.

What is Cyber Bullying?

Cyber bullying is using electronic media and communications to bully someone to intimidate, threaten, or to cause upset. The most common of this happens via the smartphone or the Internet. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are also spaces where aggressive behaviour has become prevalent in the last decade. This repetitive and targeted aggression is categorized as cyber bullying.

It can be as simple as sending aggressive or threatening text messages to even creating fake social media accounts to intentionally and repetitively “troll” someone.

While used as an umbrella term to capture a number of online aggressions, cyber bullying can also include taking and sharing unpleasant photographs, harassment using email, or on message boards, and social networking platforms. Sometimes cyber bullying may happen even behind the victim’s back, with the bullies using social media to spread rumours. It can also include the ostracisation from online and social media groups.

How can we tackle the harmful effects of cyber bullying?

 

FOUR key signs when identifying a potential victim of cyber bullying.

1. Psychosomatic symptoms
Frequent complaints of headaches and stomach aches, often withdrawn and reluctant to say why, have difficulty sleeping, often experiencing nightmares, loss of appetite and sleep.

2. Social symptoms
Has no friends and rarely participates in school social activities, prefers to be alone.

3. Emotional symptoms
Often appears sad, moody or irritable.

4. Academic symptoms
Decreased interest in school, reluctant to attend school, often skips school and has poor performance in school.

We speak to those involved to find out more.

Poh Yeang Cherng, Principal Consultant, Kingmaker Consultancy Pte Ltd

It is first important to understand what exactly cyber bullying is before we can address the issue.

 

Cyber bullying is:

1. Aggressive and negative behaviour exhibited through a technological platform.

2. Intentionally done with the aim to cause harm to someone.

3. The negative actions are done multiple times over a period of time and its consequences are repeated too, as posts made online remain there and can be seen by many people.

4. There is a power imbalance in the relationship between the bully and the victim. Victims often find that they are helpless and are unable to “fight back” against their aggressor.

Our research shows that about 10% of school children have experienced cyber bullying either as aggressors or victims.

Behaviour that doesn’t meet the above criteria is termed online aggression. It is far more common, affecting two-thirds of Internet users. While not as harmful, it can escalate to bullying if left unchecked in youths.

Children in their developmental years need to be nurtured and taught how to deal with the world around them and this is slowly achieved as they mature into young adults. However, the vast and varied space of the Internet opens the floodgates to many experiences — good and bad — and children are forced to grow up very fast. They may not yet be equipped with the skills to deal with the nature of these spaces and communities.

For example, the move from Primary 6 to Secondary 1 (and a new sense of independence and autonomy it brings) has shown to be a particularly trying transition where kids can be quickly exposed to the “real world” and the practices within.

The challenge when dealing with cyber bullying is the lack of awareness on the part of children. They often don’t realise what they are doing and saying online is nasty and hurtful. Sitting behind a computer screen, there is no feedback (in the way of facial expressions, body language, and social cues) for them to understand what effects their words and actions on the Internet can have on others. They need to be taught cognitive empathy and the consequences of their actions.

When dealing with the Internet, parents should teach children to conduct themselves well in cyber space — it is always best not to start, attract, or escalate aggression.

 

If your child finds himself being targeted by cyber bullies, he should:

1. Stop the exchange.

2. Block the aggressor

3. Capture evidence

4. Report the incident to an adult.

As a parent you would not let your child roam around a strange new place unsupervised. Why would you then let them do so on the Internet?

Research has shown that the consumption of media violence, readily available from various avenues, also contributes to increasing aggression. This increased aggression in adults and children, exhibited both in cyberspace and in the real world, is a complex issue that needs attention in coming years. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution we can use for a quick fix.

Delane Lim, CEO, FutuReady Asia

Children today lack the coping mechanism to deal with cyber bullying. The root cause is their relationship with social media. They often get their affirmation through the likes on their post and photos, which mean it is very easy to tear a young person down by making negative comments online. This then leads to self-esteem issues

Today’s youth need to build their mental resilience. Negative comments on social media are given the power to reinforce whatever negative thoughts a person might already have. Some are not able to deal with the situation in a healthy manner and often responded to that distress by self-harming.

As more young people use the Internet to express themselves, they inevitably pick up aggressive habits from places like online communities, social media and video game platforms. The impact of such cyber aggression is not always immediately evident (like physical bullying). Many young people are unaware that emotional bullying can be more hurtful than physical bullying.

We need to address this problem by educating teachers, parents and by creating an awareness and resource point for help. Most importantly, bullies of any form have to held form accountable for their actions.

Parents have to ask kids explicitly what’s happening in their lives, how they’re treated in school, if there is anyone picking on them. It’s difficult to detect emotional bullying, but teachers, parents and counsellors must be seen as responsible adults who are supportive and willing to listen.

Following your children’s social media accounts is one simple way to keep an eye out for signs that they’re being bullied and to make sure that they’re not indulging in any bullying behaviour themselves!

Sylvia Ng, General Manager, South East Asia, Kaspersky

There are numerous dangers on the Internet for children. Cyber bullying is one main concern, as there have been multiple cases of children being mocked on social media sites or in online games.

When dealing with cyber bullying children often do not inform parents what is happening to them online — for fear of getting scolded, or simply due to low self-esteem. While a parent’s first instinct might be to ban their child from accessing the Internet, this might not be the best route. This can cause the child to regress further and withdraw from social activities and make them the subject of further ridicule.

In cyber bullying cases, open communication is key in understanding a child’s online behaviour. Ensuring the child has a safe space to speak to his parents about his struggles, as well as a way of tracking the child’s online activity goes a long way in mitigating not just cyber bullying but all types of cyber dangers.

 

Parents can create a safer Internet experience by:

1. Installing protection software that is suitable for them and their children.

2. When choosing a protection solution for a home computer, that will be used by your children, make sure that the solution is equipped with “Parental Control” features that block web sites carrying content that is potentially dangerous to children.

3. Special “children modes” in online search systems and applications allow

4. Educating children about the kind of cyber threats they could encounter while online — awareness goes a long way.

Parents also need to play an active part in their children’s digital lives as they spend more and more time in the digital space.

While parental control features block dangerous websites, they cannot protect reliably against situations where safe-by-default web services like social networks like Facebook or Twitter are misused to wage cyber bullying activities


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