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The Pandemic that Needs to End Now

by K. Vatsala Devi

June 17, 2021 : While worry, dissatisfaction, and survival anxiety is on the rise as Malaysians enter into the third lockdown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, there is one other element that is also on the rise – cyberbullying and it needs to stop NOW.

With lockdown prolonging and many activities such as working, studying, playing, and socializing taken online, both adults and adolescents alike are spending more time and depending on their smart devices to help them cope with staying at home. With the increase in time spent online, it makes it possible for cyberbullying to happen in a worrying frequency.

In a news article that appeared on Healio, PhD holder Sameer Hinduja who is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said in a news release that when smartphones and social media became ubiquitous for students, cyberbullying rates went up.

In a webinar, “Buli Siber : Realiti Buli Zaman Moden” hosted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Law Faculty, 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 percent in a pandemic since restriction on movement and social activities, limits individuals to the confines of their own homes and devices.

“At the lab, what we study is the social media analytics especially the linguistics. Our findings also revealed that cyberbullying almost always starts with physical bullying and escalates to cyber bullying and that cyber bullying has been seeing an increase in cases from 2007,” said Dr Maznizah, who is also a part of the Knowledge Technology (KT) research group and Head of the Cyber Intelligence Lab at the Center for Cyber Security (Cyber).

If left unchecked, cyberbullying can lead to many psychological effects on a victim. Some of consequences are that it causes the victim’s self-esteem to erode, anxiety, depression, and a sense of powerlessness amongst others. And Joanna Joseph, a victim of cyberbully agrees that these were some of the feelings that she has experienced during her ordeal.

Bullying can have adverse effects on mental well-being

As one of the panelists at the webinar, Joanna recalled her experience of being bullied at a young age for her weight. Considered obese as she weighed 60kgs during her primary school days and steadily increasing to 104kgs at the age of 13, Joanna was mocked and bullied by her friends and even teacher.

“Unlike most people who have fond memories of their schooling days, I have memories of teasing that were continuous, mean, and merciless.  I was teased by friends, teachers and sometimes even my family,” recalled Joanna. “As a result, I didn’t have much friends and in school I was usually sidelined from social and sports activities so with not much to look forward to, I turned to social media,” added the 24-year old.

Wanting to outlet to turn to, Joanna decided to set up a Facebook account and though she was filled with trepidation on uploading a profile photo, she did so and the cyberbullying too began, with demeaning comments left on her profile. She fell into a major depression that took her down a dark hole.

Spurred to make a change, Joanna went on a transformation journey that included making changes to her diet and lifestyle while including a punishing exercise regime that saw her running for two hours every day. It worked and she lost 14lbs. But still the cyber bullying continued.

Fortunately for her, with a strong family support and a positive mindset, she managed to sidestep the bullying and achieve many milestones, including becoming a model and winning a few titles namely the Miss Selangor Earth title in 2016 and becoming the first runner up in the Miss India Worldwide 2018.

More monitoring and awareness can help in preventing cyberbullying

Joanna said as a cyberbullying victim, her physical, emotional, add mental well-being had suffered terribly. She suffered from depression and even start inflicting harm upon herself. A few times, she also contemplated suicide.

She urges anyone who has been a cyberbully victim to stay strong, to stay strong, to stay patient and to seek help to overcome it. She also emphasized that only through education and awareness can we eradicate physical and cyber bullying.

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