For a multi-cultural and multi-racial country like Malaysia, we are famed for our warmth and hospitality and tourists cannot get enough of these attributes. However, the care, concern, and civility we have for one another are put to test severely over two instances, when we are on the road and on social media platforms.
On the latter, Malaysia has quite startlingly placed sixth amongst 28 countries in the Ipsos’s Global Advisor Cyberbullying Study. And when compared to only Asian countries, Malaysia ranked second behind India. These placings aren’t the kind of milestones we want to be making as a developing nation.
One might wonder how does being on social media platforms cause harm and the answer lies in cyberbullying. If left unchecked, cyberbullying can even lead to fatality.
So What Is Cyberbullying And Why Is It So Rampant?
Similar to physical bullying, cyberbullying too starts off as a harmless joke amongst friends but over time, the prolonged mean jokes and cutting comments can lead to the recipient feeling boxed into a corner or like there is no way out. The victim could then resort to self-harm or taking their life to put an end to the bullying episodes.
With cyberbullying, the act takes place over digital devices across social media platforms – where friends and followers or in some instances everyone where people can view, participate in, or share comments and content. Acts of cyberbullying can be defined as sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about a person.
Understanding that it is a social problem plaguing our country’s young adults, and more so now as the countries worldwide battle a pandemic, might help in the process of delving further and finding a way to alleviate it.
In a webinar, “Buli Siber : Realiti Buli Zaman Moden” hosted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Law Faculty – a while ago – one of the speakers Prof. Madya Dr. Maznizah Mohd, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information Science and Technology, said that incidences of cyberbullying has increased approximately 70% in a pandemic since restriction on movement and social activities, limits individuals to the confines of their own homes and devices.
“Our findings revealed that cyberbullying almost always starts with physical bullying and escalates to cyberbullying and that cyber bullying has been seeing an increase in cases from 2007,” said Dr Maznizah.
Apart from the usual reasons a person becomes a bully, cyberbullying is more prevalent as the world wide web, gives perpetrators anonymity. Therefore they have a false sense of security that they won’t be caught. What is worse, with cyberbullying, offenders are spared from their victim’s reactions, so it is easier to get away with being mean.
Kids evolve into cyberbullying because they think everyone in their age group is doing it, so they too should participate to fit in. These children are more concerned with fitting in than they are worried about the consequences of cyberbullying. There have been instances where groups of friends will cyberbully together because there is a false sense of security in numbers. Other reasons that pressure an individual to become a bully is wanting to be the biggest, baddest player on the field, to be popular, due to boredom, and jealously.
Cyberbullying Gone Wrong
Just in Malaysia, there have been several fatalities linked to cyberbullying. In 2019, a 16-year-old killed herself after sharing an Instagram poll asking followers whether she should die — and 69 percent of them said she should. A newspaper reported that the victim jumped to her death from her home in the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak after she prompted others on social media to vote “death” or “life,”.
The question that arises from this incident is “should the 69% who voted for her to die, be held responsible?”
In another instance, a 20-year-old woman, was found dead at her home in Penang, in 2020. It was revealed that the victim died by suicide after a TikTok video of her with a co-worker went viral on Facebook. The video was filmed by the victim, and it featured her with her Nepali colleague. The victim’s elder sister said her sister had been receiving mean comments on the Internet because she was spotted with a foreign worker in the video. A news portal said that the victim took her own life after feeling humiliated by netizens’ comments.
These are just a couple of instances where cyberbullying has led to loss of lives. There are many more that we are not aware of, or it could even go unreported.
Are Parents Helpless?
While it may seem like that at times, but no, the situation is neither hopeless nor helpless. Adolescent is admittedly a phase where parents might find it challenging to maintain communication or exercise control over their children’s friends and activities. There are things that can parents to lessen the probability that it would happen or to help your child cope with it, if they have been a victim.
In this current climate where many are working home, parents might find it challenging to juggle both work and family but having open communication over shared meals, and teaching kids about pros and cons about Internet safety might go long way in building or restoring a child’s self-confidence. For younger children, parents can keep devices in a communal area and also enforce screen time, which would keep the kids in check.
Parents can also keep a lookout for signs that their children could possibly be a victim of cyberbullying. Some of these telling sings are when a child spends lesser time online, avoids school and other related activities while also refraining to talk about their day-to day, or seems to be in a depressive mode. If you think a child is being bullied, talk to him/her child in a clear and honest manner, where the adult is seen as a trusted confidante.
What a victim needs to the most at that point is the trust and support as well as validation that they are not at fault.