Our lives are evolving with Information and Communication Technology (ICT). We are adapting to the new shift that is reducing the digital divide in terms of communication, socialising virtually, accessing knowledge and also attaining education.
Living in a world of Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0, it is needless to say that inescapably we have to be in the band wagon. Human beings are not only connected by technological gadgets such as computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones as the emergence of the Internet, Big Data, Wi-Fi and hotspots has brought us to the cyber, global village beyond limits or a world without boundaries.
These technologies have certainly brought about a social change to human communication. We used to communicate face-to-face, but now everything is done faceless. Not only communication but also the sharing and exchanging of views are done by instant messages through mobile phones, I-pads, e-mail, blogs, forums and chat applications.
Moreover, various social media platforms have been developed, adding to our preferences, such as Facebook (FB), WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Telegram, Tik Tok, YouTube and others.
Indeed, the advanced features offered in these online social networking sites can certainly create wonders. Or, it can be the other way round for netizens who do not take extra precautions in the cyber world.
Cyber bullying becomes a silent killer
It is an alarming. An article published by tech review site Comparitech has stated that Malaysia was ranked sixth among 28 countries in a survey on cyber bullying around the world. This caused huge dismay among netizens. Malaysia ranked second behind India on the list comparing Asian countries.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said three out of 10 young Malaysians have been victims of cyber bullies in the country. Youths are the highest number of victims in Malaysian cyber bully cases.
This is the evidence that online communication has side effects if netizens are not careful enough in using social media platforms wisely. The issue of cyber bullying has to be taken into account before it gets worse.
Something to ponder is that most of these social networking sites have features that can result in cyber threats or cyber bullying as the communication gadgets allow two-way communication whereby the netizens can post or share their opinion, feedback or even comments, either positive or negative, depending on the person’s behaviour and intention without being identified or being in an anonymous social media account. In fact, these cyber bullies are the harmful faceless beasts that will continue to disparage and attack their prey without feeling any sense of empathy.
In the “virtual” world, some people have lost their Malaysian culture of being polite, decent and being mindful of their language. They tend to become insensitive, abusive, insane and lose compassion as they feel brave and proud to bully a person simply by hitting out with hazardous, hateful or irritating messages in reprimanding a person in the faceless cyber world.
Cultivate awareness and civic-mindedness to curb cyber bullying
The Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey (a Microsoft survey) of 7,600 children aged between 8 and 17 demonstrated that one out of every three children in Malaysia was a victim of cyber bullying. The study concluded that the level of awareness on this dreadful cyber bullying among parents in Malaysia was low and only 38 per cent of the parents were concerned and conscientious on this issue while slightly more than a quarter have discussed or informed their children on the cyber threats of online communication.
Astonishingly, not only Malaysian youths or teenagers are facing this serious problem of cyber bullying. Politicians, celebrities and public figures are also facing this merciless cruel act. Their social media accounts such as FB, Twitter or Instagram are targeted and bombarded and flooded with rude statements, hurting their feelings, disturbing their privacy and degrading their peaceful life, thus leaving them in a state of deep agony.
In response, Malaysian celebrities have collaborated in the “End Cyber Bullying and False Information Dissemination” campaign which aims to counter cyber bullying and dissemination of fake news on social media. Also, the “I Am with You” campaign was implemented with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) educating the public on the right to protect themselves from cyber bullying and the spreading of false information. UNICEF came up with the “Standing Together to Curb Bullying” aimed at creating a culture of kindness. The UNICEF movement had resorted to combat bullying with kindness. This message goes for all people to stand together, support each other and come up with ideas to express kindness instead of punishing the bullies and to avoid the cycle of violence from occurring.
Consequences of cyber bullying on victims
Cyber bullying can cause huge collateral damage to victims. It can hurt them psychologically and socially and damage their self-esteem and attitude because their pride and dignity have been challenged. They bear the pain of having been insulted, embarrassed or socially harassed in the social media platforms.
What’s most terrifying is that the perpetrators have no sense of guilt for causing the humiliation and mental torture through the sending of vulgar statements, stalking their victims, assaulting the person by name-calling or labelling, committing body shaming, framing by posting and viralling indecent images, pictures or videos of the victims, disseminating offensive messages, lies or rumours and causing social disturbance, emotional fatigue and ridicule.
As a result, the victims will become restless, and suffer from lack of sleep thinking that their reputation has been damaged. This destroys their relationship with their family and peers. Worse still, the victims may become withdrawn or be misjudged by the public due to the blatant and open comments in their social media accounts.
As a cause of these unethical acts, the victims will become mentally disturbed and emotionally confused. They will feel vulnerable, depressed and hopeless. They will realise their courage and confidence diminishing and they will eventually begin to experience anxiety, disorder and fear and will isolate themselves, thus leading to acts of self-harm or suicide.
According to the Cyber Bullying Research Centre, most of the high-profile suicide cases are due to the irresponsible act of cyber bullying. Moreover, it says, nearly 20 per cent of cyber bullying victims reportedly end their nightmare and misery by committing suicide.
Cyber bullying contributes to deadly long-term effects to the victims as it is not only traumatising but also affects their mental state, emotions, concentration, social skills, trust and behaviour. It is like a lethal weapon in the form of ridiculing messages that are shot into their mind, causing a scornful scar for a life time.
The victims should not keep quiet on this issue. They should instead stand up for their rights by reporting to the authorities such as the police or the MCMC.
Heavy punishment for cyber bullies
It is truly unfair for the cyber bullies to get away unpunished as this is a severe, unlawful and disgraceful act causing horrendous unscrupulous behaviour in online communication.
So, for that matter, it is imperative for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The MCMC has punishment for cyber bullies. They can be charged under the Computer Crimes Act of 1997 and Communication and Multimedia Act 1998.
Section 233 of the Act states, among others, that a person commits an offence if he or she, by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service, knowingly makes, creates or solicits and initiates the transmission of any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.
The person who is convicted is liable to a fine of up to RM50,000 or a maximum prison term of one year.
Call for help for emotional support and professional self-therapy
Malaysians must act fast as there is no time to waste in not only solving but also curbing cyber bullying before it gets out of hand. The victims have to be saved by giving good advice, emotional and mental support.
As the saying goes, if there is a will, there will always be a way. So, be sure to lend your ears as a good listener by hearing out their problems or grievances instead of isolating them and subjecting them to social stigma and feeling worthless.
We have organisations that help victims of this notorious cyber bullying. Victims of cyber bullying who feel stressed and in despair or having suicidal thoughts should not hesitate to call for help. You are just one call away. Reach out to a helpline support like UNICEF Malaysia, Befrienders or Talian Kasih at any time to share your problems and worries and get emotional support, guidance and counselling instead of remaining in isolation.
Prevention is better than cure. Let’s put a stop to cyber bullying for good. The Internet is not a space for bullying.
Norazlinda Mohammad is a lecturer at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies at UiTM Lendu, Alor Gajah Melaka campus.