Cyber Bullying and how to deal with it
Created by Payal Updated on Aug 19, 2021
Radhika’s daughter was 13 when she had just opened an account on a popular networking site. She did it on her own and without knowing much about privacy settings and its importance, uploaded her photographs with friends on it and shared them with her contacts. After a couple of months Radhika noticed that her daughter stopped posting photographs, in fact, stopped going on the networking site, and would not talk about it. She did not think much of it, until, one day, she refused to go to school. The 13 year old started confining herself in her room. Radhika heard crying in the middle of the night, and one day she heard her daughter confide to a friend on the phone that she wanted to end her life. Alarm bells started to ring, and after days of talking to her daughter and gaining her confidence, she finally revealed that a man in the same neighborhood had been stalking her on the net. His messages on the networking site had made her the subject of relentless jokes in her school. Now he had sent morphed photos of her face on other women’s bodies at various stages of undress to her and He was threatening to make it public if she didn’t chat with him.
Now Radhika is contemplating going to the police with the details.
You may have heard of Dharun Ravi, the Indian American who was accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate. The roommate committed suicide 3 days after he came to know of 19-year-old Ravi’s act and that he was going to make the video public.
Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager, was bullied on the net and in school in an eerily similar manner to Radhika’s daughter. A man who threatened to make her topless pictures public bullied her if she didn’t “put on a show”. What is scary, he had all her details, name, address, school, phone numbers, everything. Dealing with anxiety and depression, she started getting bullied and avoided by her friends in school. After a horrible struggle with constant bullying and trying to cope, she committed suicide in October last year.
Closer home, recently a Class 10 student in Delhi slashed the wrist of his friend who had put up altered photos of him with his girlfriend. This photo was taken in a party and was a group photo with a baby. The friend morphed the photo to show only two individuals and the baby.
A survey in 2012 revealed that 53% children in India between 8-17 years have been bullied online. It is also estimated that more than 90% of cyber bullying cases never get reported. A survey by Ipsos, a global research firm, among 24 countries gives India the shameful distinction of having the largest number of cyber bullying cases in the world. They say that 32% of all children having access to the internet or phone have been bullied at one point. The most preferred means of bullying was social networking sites, followed by mobile phones and online chat rooms. In India 55 % cases are reported on networking sites, about 54% in online chat rooms, apart from SMS bullying.
It is time to wake up to a new reality of bullying, one which is so stealthy, so effective, that one does not even need to meet the victim to harass him/ her to the point of suicide.
What is cyber bullying?
Using electronic means to harass and target someone with malicious and derogatory net content, a comment is called cyber bullying. The worst thing about cyber bullying is that you may never know the identity of the perpetrator. And the audience to this bully is basically, everyone on the Internet.
Children today spend more and more time on the Internet. They may not understand the severity of the repercussions of their actions on the Internet. Usually children don’t have inhibitions while commenting or posting photographs on the net, or while chatting leading to unfortunate incidents.
How does it affect your child?
Stress, anxiety, depression, and low self esteem and confusion, while all the conditions are grave, the worst is FEAR. Since the identity of the bully is usually unknown, one may never know whom one is dealing with. The fear of blackmail is also a fall-out of cyber bullying. Children usually don’t take any steps or complain about this to parents till it is too late, for the fear of being blamed. There may be cases where a child may not divulge being cyber bullied to his/her parents for the fear that the Internet Privileges may be revoked. In extreme cases, there have been cases of suicide among adolescents as a result of Cyber Bullying.
Types of cyber bullying
Virus or spam attacks, hacking networking pages: Usually done by the more tech savvy bullies, these are done to get into email ids or network site pages to gain information or to attack and bombard the site with derogatory comments.
Unwanted attention from strangers: Usually this will be from perpetrators who target children or adolescents under the veil of anonymity.
Online offers or lotteries, email scams: This is meant to get personal information, addresses, names and numbers and credit card information also in some cases.
Hate groups: This has increasingly become a major way of bullying in schools and colleges. Once there is a difference of opinion, some way ward student will form a hate group against someone else and then starts the bombardment of abuse and threats. This is very common in networking sites.
Fake profiles: Sometimes a known acquaintance will create a fake profile to befriend someone and then use the above methods to bully the victim.
Identity threat: This is a means where a uses the victims name and details to open an account on the Intenet. Identity threat can become extreme where with bank or credit card details the perpetrator starts leading your life, buying with your money and using your bank account.
Morphing photographs: So many of our youngsters have become experts at photo-shopping and other ways of morphing photographs. They can put any face on any body and use it against a victim.
Phone MMS: With all the MMS cases and films that have already made the rounds, this one does not need too much explanation. A video clip of something which should be private is used to bully and blackmail victims.
What you can do as a parent
Educate children on cyber ethics and cyber safety. You may want to teach them to maintain high level of privacy in networking settings and only add people they know well as friends. Chat rooms are very unsafe if children are not careful about whom they are talking to. If they are giving out email ids, make sure it does not have their name in the email id. (E.g.- firstname.lastname@example.org). Phone numbers should not be divulged on the Internet. They should never try and meet someone they know from Internet sites or chat rooms on their own. If they ever feel threatened they should confide in the parents and then the parent could inform the host or admin of the particular site of the same. Make a note of the relevant information like name and address details of the perpetrator for the purpose.
Parental supervision of Internet: Your child may be using the Internet for playing games and school research but there may be times they use it to surf other sites as well. You may keep a check on the kind of sites that your child is accessing by checking the Internet history once the child is off the computer. You could also have your own account on the site to monitor your child’s activities. When you do it, it is not called stalking, it is called protecting.
Have rules for Internet usage: Sit and talk out a strategy which works for both you and your children. Ensure they adhere to the rules.
Communicating with your child and more empathetic and involved parenting: This may mean not blaming your child, not scolding them or doing anything which will make them non communicative towards you. Keeping communication lines open and having an alert eye on any behavioral changes may help in the long run.
Cooperate if the school is banning networking site profiles for their students: After increasing attacks through hate pages and such means, some schools choose to ban these rather than have problems on their hands. Parents need to stand as a united front with the school on this one.
Cyber bullying and suicide
A study of suicide cases in US, Canada and UK threw up some interesting facts that we should take note of before this becomes a problem in our country. It was seen that 78% of adolescents who took the ultimate step were actually not victims of cyber bullying alone but of both online and offline bullying. Only 17% were victims of only online bullying. There were also cases of mental illness reported in these instances. This leads us to conclude that if our children have already been a victim to cyber bullying in order to protect them, we should keep an eye on any abnormal behavior that may be signs of mental illness and get help immediately. Secondly, we should ensure peer bullies don’t target them in school and college.
It is up to us to be aware, be informed and be prepared for action if something like this happens to our children.