Bullying is no longer limited to school compounds nowadays, it can also occur online and cause damage to the same degree. In this generation, the accessibility of the internet has made cyberbullying a common occurrence, especially among teenagers. Every teenager is familiar with the meaning of ‘cyberbullying’, but do they understand how much harm it can cause and the impact it has on the victim? Cyberbullying takes place almost every day. According to recent statistics from U-Report Malaysia, 3 out of 10 Malaysian teenagers are cyberbullied on a daily basis. Out of all the teenagers surveyed, 28% of them claimed to be victims of online bullying and 43% claimed to be cyberbullied through social media. Cyberbullies abuse the anonymity of social media and attack anyone they dislike. They make negative comments about the victim's appearance and behaviour and even threaten to harm them or their family members. Cyberbullying has progressed to the point where it is far too common.
How is cyberbullying defined? Firstly, it can be defined as sending cruel or threatening texts or comments to another person. Harassing someone online through means like shaming or demeaning them can also be considered as cyberbullying. It may sound innocent at first, but its effects can be terrible. Producing posts to make fun of someone, maliciously editing the victim’s photos and making memes out of their image are common examples of cyberbullying. Sharing memes that ridicule someone even if you did not create them is also considered cyberbullying.
Cyberbullies may be more tempted to commit the act due to the anonymous nature of the internet. They believe that because of their anonymity, they do not have to take any responsibility for their actions, or that they are just making harmless jokes without any real consequences.
Netizens also frequently bully individuals who did something wrong. For example, there was a video recently uploaded on Instagram and Facebook in which a group of teenagers threw a cat into a river, claiming that they were bathing the cat. Their actions were criticised as animal cruelty and their pictures were shared extensively on social media. Their parents have also been accused of "failing to educate their children". The actions of these netizens cause them and their family members to suffer a lot of cyber violence. In this case, many netizens who were involved refuse to admit that they were cyberbullying, claiming instead that they were seeking justice.
This is a common scenario: cyberbullying individuals in the name of seeking justice. Indeed, some might argue that rather than abusing the Internet for useless attacks, it is preferable to report them to the authorities for punishment. However, some may have concerns that the authorities may not hold these wrongdoers accountable. As a result, they take matters into their own hands. The bullies stand by the spirit of "No smoke without fire" and believe that everything happens for a purpose; “Who will bully you if you don't do something like this?” Rather, situations like this should be approached with reasonable and sensible criticism, without attacking or threatening wrongdoers and those close to them.
Cyberbullying can have harmful repercussions on its victims, be it emotional, physical, or behavioural. The victims could fall into a variety of stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and depression. According to a study, 93% of victims of cyberbullying have expressed feelings of sadness, powerlessness, and hopelessness. Their mental health is affected when they begin to lose confidence in themselves. Over time, their fear of being cyberbullied will possibly lead to mental illness or other complications such as insomnia, headaches and chest discomfort. Victims of cyberbullying may self-harm by cutting or burning themselves in response to these intense feelings. According to research, cyberbullying may increase suicidal thoughts in some victims. When people are bullied online on a daily basis, they may come to believe that death is their only option to escape. South Korean singer-actress Sulli committed suicide after being subjected to incessant cyberbullying. She was known for breaking taboos and norms which led to netizens scrutinising and sending her a barrage of online criticism, according to CNA. Her death exposed the continuous assault of bad comments faced by females in the world. She was a proponent of the braless movement in South Korea, challenging the K-pop industry's rigorous brand management as well as conservative social norms toward young women, which led to strong criticism from the public.
With the threat of cyberbullying ever-present in today's day and age, are there any laws in Malaysia that prevent cyberbullying? There are a few cybersecurity laws in Malaysia, but none directly mention cyberbullying. According to The Rakyat Post, Malaysia currently prosecutes cyberbullies under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. It is illegal to post any obscene, indecent, misleading, menacing, or offensive materials, according to the provision. It might bring a maximum penalty of RM50,000 or one year in jail, as stated by IFEX. According to a survey conducted in 2020 by Multimedia University relating to cyberbullying laws in Malaysia, 74% of legal practitioners believed a criminal case for cyberbullying should be created. This survey was conducted with 409 people, including lawyers and members of the public.
When we are on the internet, we must first learn to protect ourselves from cyberbullying. If you come to realise that you are being cyberbullied, avoid responding or retaliating in any way. The offender may be seeking attention because they believe it will give them control over their emotions. What you can do is distance yourself from the situation and keep all the evidence in case things go out of hand. You should look for help as well. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to tell someone, such as your parents, friends, or siblings that you are being cyberbullied.
Increased awareness among teenagers is a significant practical step, as many teens may be unaware of the various positive and negative effects of the internet. The problem is not about technology or the internet. Rather, it is about the people who intentionally use it to harm others. With the COVID-19 pandemic, cyberbullying is on the rise due to stay-at-home orders. According to research by L1ght, cyberbullying among children and teens increased by 70% during the early months of the COVID-19 crisis. If someone you know has been bullied, step in to help rather than become an accomplice yourself. Let’s stand together and say no to cyberbullying.
By Adrena Lee Sin Sian