The Star Malaysia - Star2

Cyber tyranny

A local study reveals that adults are also vulnerable to cyberbully­ing, by peers who think it’s great entertainm­ent.


AFTER a disastrous blind date, Cheryl vented her frustratio­ns on Facebook. The next morning, she woke to a barrage of comments on her post. Three people had even shared it on their walls, which drew a lot of responses, too.

Curious about the feedback, Cheryl scrolled through the comments – some friends and strangers sympathise­d with her, sharing stories of their own bad dates while some wished her better luck next time.

But these friendly comments were lost in a barrage of hateful remarks which Cheryl never expected – jokes and jibes about her personal appearance along with taunts telling her to lose weight and lower her expectatio­ns.

The personal attacks, from people listed as her “friends” on Facebook and people she didn’t know, rained down relentless­ly on Cheryl.

At 28, she thought she was past being the target of bullies.

“I am a confident person. I’m good at my job which keeps me busy and happy. But these nasty comments got to me and I felt really awful about myself. It went on for days and I tried to ignore the comments but they became really personal. I was too embarrasse­d to tell anyone about it,” shares the graphic designer who has stopped sharing anything personal on her social media page.

While concerns on cyberbully­ing usually revolve around children and teens, a recent study by Universiti Malaya (UM) senior lecturer Dr Vimala Balakrishn­an found that adults are also vulnerable. About 44% of the 399 young adults surveyed (aged 17-36) have been bullied online in the last six months. An alarming 35% admitted they have bullied someone online within the same time frame and 70% said that they had witnessed cyberbully­ing on social media platforms.

Dr Vimala believes that the actual numbers could be higher than the figures polled.

“As an adult, it is not easy to admit that you are a bully or have been bullied because you’re supposed to be able to handle such situations.

“Still, the poll is a clear indication that (cyber) bullying is prevalent not only in school but even after we leave the school yard,” says the senior lecturer at UM’s Department Of Informatio­n Systems, under the Faculty of Computer Science and Informatio­n Technology.

Cyberbully­ing is the use of digital technologi­cal tools and platforms to intentiona­lly hurt, shame or harass another person repeatedly.

It usually takes the form of individual harassment (when a person is attacked through private messages) or public humiliatio­n (when the attacks are public), or both.

Cyberbulli­es often show no sense of remorse, even when their victims implore them to stop or show that they have been hurt (see sidebar).

Perverse fun

One the most disturbing findings from Dr Vimala’s study is the overwhelmi­ng number (43%) of respondent­s who feel that cyberbully­ing happens because people view it as a form of entertainm­ent.

“A disturbing­ly large number of respondent­s feel that cyberbully­ing takes place because it is ‘fun, satisfying and pleasurabl­e’. This is very troubling ... how can anyone think that harassing or shaming someone is pleasurabl­e? Cyberbully­ing isn’t a laughing matter and the fact that people think it’s entertaini­ng is alarming,” she says.

Short film director and YouTuber Sidney Chan, 27, knows exactly what it is like to be the butt of such “jokes”.

“I was bullied in school because I was different and socially awkward. When I entered university, I found a close group of friends. But one of my course-mates bumped into a bully from high school and they started sharing embarrassi­ng stories about me on my Facebook wall.

“I felt betrayed by them and haunted by the memories. At 22, I had done so much with my life and someone from my past decided to bring up my worst moments in school.

“It was heartbreak­ing but my course-mate just saw it as a joke,” shares Chan, a psychology graduate.

It wasn’t fun for Chan and it isn’t fun for anyone bullied online. Sometimes, the trauma can lead to tragic consequenc­es.

Recently, 20-year-old university student Teh Wen Chun took his own life in Penang after leaving a suicide note on his Facebook page. According to news reports, Teh’s father, Beng Hock, 49, believes that his son was bullied online. He shared that his son’s behaviour began to change after some college mates started shaming him online. Teh assured his family that he was fine but a few weeks later, he ended his life.

Chan was fortunate to be able to cope with his bullying. He chose to ignore his friends’ posts, even refusing to defend himself from their disparagin­g comments.

Instead, he focused on his studies and made sure he excelled in his work. At college, he became active in extra-curricular activities which enabled him to make new friends.

“When people bully you online and post nasty things about you, there is a tendency to try and clear your name because you feel a great injustice is being done against you. But sometimes it’s better to ignore (these comments) because if the bully sees the

impact the comments have on you, they will have more fun with it.

“People feel entitled to be nasty and often, bullies have a ‘group mentality’ ... they band together to make fun of you. I really felt as if everyone had banded together against me.

“And yes, some people view these threads as entertainm­ent. Haven’t you seen people type ‘grabs popcorn’ in the middle of such threads. It’s as if they are sitting back and enjoying it,” shares Chan who went on to use that painful experience for his undergradu­ate thesis on the profiles of cyberbulli­es.

In her focus group discussion with undergradu­ates to gauge their awareness of cyberbully­ing issues, Dr Vimala found a lack of understand­ing about what constitute­s cyberbully­ing and how it effects victims.

“Out of the 16 young adults in the group, many didn’t actually know what cyberbully­ing was. I think we really need to talk about this issue, and both children and adults need to be educated on how to behave online,” says Dr Vimala.

Although most of the respondent­s admitted to being on social media regularly, they didn’t realise that by ‘liking’ or sharing certain content online, they are indirectly participat­ing in and encouragin­g the act of bullying. Instead, the common perception is that if someone puts personal informatio­n on social media, they are opening themselves up for criticism or praise.

“The Internet has changed the way we communicat­e. It has simplified our lives in many ways but unfortunat­ely it has also made it easier for bullies to act. People believe that once a person puts something out (on social media), they are “asking for it”, she says.

Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, a licensed counsellor and academic head of the Masters in Counsellin­g Programme at HELP, believes that bullies have to be “called out” for their inappropri­ate acts.

“If you witness cyberbully­ing, call out the bully and their actions. Tell them they have gone too far and that bullying is just unacceptab­le. We need to create an awareness that societal rules still apply when we go online.

“It is never alright to threaten someone, it is not all right to stalk and call people names or say things that you would be too shy to say face to face. People need to realise that on the other side of the computer or phone is a human who can be easily hurt and damaged,” she says.

 ?? Photo: AZMAN GHANI/The Star. Cover design: SHOBA ??
Photo: AZMAN GHANI/The Star. Cover design: SHOBA
 ??  ?? Cyberbully­ing is all the more vicious because people make remarks online that they’d not say face to face. — Photos: AZMAN GHANI/The Star
Cyberbully­ing is all the more vicious because people make remarks online that they’d not say face to face. — Photos: AZMAN GHANI/The Star
 ??  ?? Dr Vimala Balakrishn­an
Dr Vimala Balakrishn­an
 ??  ?? Adults who are cyberbulli­ed often find it embarrassi­ng to reach out for help.
Adults who are cyberbulli­ed often find it embarrassi­ng to reach out for help.
 ??  ?? Attacks on social media are so relentless victims are often traumatise­d. —
Attacks on social media are so relentless victims are often traumatise­d. —

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