SINGAPORE: Cyber bullies turn vicious
Experts warn that social networking websites make bullying more widespread and humiliating
The Straits Times
Monday, December 15, 2008
By Tan Weizhen
A 16-YEAR-OLD girl here created fake profiles on popular social networking sites MySpace and Facebook with a single-minded purpose: To befriend those she disliked in school.
Once the connections were made, the teen turned on her schoolmates, hurling nasty insults at them.
The bullying was reminiscent of a now infamous 2006 case where American teenager Megan Meier killed herself after being taunted online. In that case, the mother of a former friend created a phoney online profile to bully the girl.
According to psychologist Vanessa von Auer, the Singaporean girl was discovered by the school before her victims could suffer any deep emotional scars.
Psychologists, counsellors and teachers, however, are worried that the methods of Singaporean cyber bullies have morphed into something more vicious than before.
A 2006 survey found that a quarter of 3,488 Singaporean students polled had been victimised by cyber bullies.
Traditionally, these bullies target victims through e-mail messages or forum postings.
Now, experts say, the bullying has turned "viral."
The rising popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, YouTube videos as well as multi-media messages has made the humiliation of the victims more widespread and more immediate than ever.
"The new breed of bullies is narcissist. They treat the Internet as their stage, with an instant audience of thousands -- or even millions," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, the director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.
"It just takes one to get it going, and it's like wildfire. Online, users can see what others are doing, even if they're half a continent away," said Dr Balhetchet.
Psychologists are worried about the effects of cyber bullying and how the attacks may be escalating in frequency and intensity.
"Say something happens to a child at school, and when they get home, they realise that everyone is talking about it on MSN. People are spreading it like wildfire," said therapist Katy Harris.
Referring to a case last month where an American teenager committed suicide live via a webcam in front of netizens, some of whom had egged him on, she added: "The ante has been upped."
In Singapore, students commonly band together in blogs and social networks to intimidate victims, say teachers and school counsellors.
Now, many in the education field are taking steps to put an end to that.
Staff from Ngee Ann Polytechnic monitor blogs and social networks with tip-offs from their students.
At a secondary school in the west, teachers picked up on the trend when the victims turned to school counsellors.
"Most of them are cases of students who cyber bully others through blogs, naming their victims, then telling the whole school to read their blogs," said one teacher, who did not want to be named.
A recent report from the government-sanctioned Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims) listed cyber bullying among teenagers as a concern.
And in focus groups, teachers here spoke of how they had witnessed the effects of cyber bullying on their students.
One related how a group of boys bullied a girl and uploaded the video online. The girl was traumatised and faced problems getting along with the boys after that, even crying in class.
Aims recommended that an annual fund and agency be set up for the protection of minors. They would, among other things, promote cyber safety.
Date Posted: 12/15/2008