If you’re old enough to have lived in a world before the internet, you’ll find that the way humans interact has drastically changed.
For better or for worse, advancements in technology have made communication and, by extension, self-expression, much easier. Today, we live much of our lives online, although for all the good the internet provides, it has also allowed us to behave dramatically differently from how we would in real life.
In a 2012 study done by Microsoft to understand the global pervasiveness of cyberbullying, it was found that Singapore had the second highest rate of online bullying among the twenty-five countries surveyed.
In fact, just last year, it was found that 3 in 4 Singaporean youths have experienced some sort of online bullying. A quick Google search reveals how cyberbullying has been linked to self-harm amongst the youth in Singapore, along with us having the third highest rate of bullying in the world.
While cyberbullying is nothing new, we’ve made surprisingly little progress in finding ways to manage it.
25-year-old Nathan Lee tells me that he witnessed a classmate being cyberbullied about eleven years ago, when both were 14.
During a football game after school one afternoon, his classmate accidentally kicked the ball too hard, causing it to rocket straight into the head of an older boy who was also using the communal multi-purpose court.
Over the next few days, Nathan saw an influx of vulgar and offensive comments appearing on his classmate’s blog. In addition to insulting his classmate’s and his family’s modesty, there were also ones that described in great detail the physical harm that was still to come.
“All I did was anonymously post rebuttals and appeals for them to leave him alone. I was scared of them and I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it if they started cyberbullying me as well,” Nathan says.
“Looking back, I was a huge coward and very selfish,” Nathan admits.
“I definitely should’ve at least told my friend that he wasn’t alone. I apologised but I wish I had said something sooner.”
Today, conversations regarding cyberbullying continue to center around getting teens to open up to the relevant authorities, or how parents can pay more attention to play an active role in their kids’ lives.
So far, little (if anything) has been said about the role that friends of the victim or their support networks play. They’re the ones who witness it first-hand, yet they are often ill-equipped to provide the support their friends need.
19-year-old Leanne Koh, shares that her best friend, Steph, was once a victim of cyberbullying in their all-girls alma mater.
One day, word of an Instagram profile dedicated to mocking Steph got out, and soon became the talk of the town. On the page, there were many vandalised pictures (ripped off of Steph’s personal account) with vulgarities used casually, flooding the comment sections.
Similar to what happened with Nathan, the comments were posted by anonymous, throwaway accounts. Yet due to the personal nature of most, it was obvious that her schoolmates were behind it.
“We went to our form teacher for help but she said she was unable to do anything without proof. She just advised us to report the page and ignore what was happening.”
Not knowing whom she could trust, the once-bubbly Steph became increasingly reserved and started isolating herself.
“As her best friend, it was extremely frustrating to feel so helpless. I didn’t know what to do so I tried my best to counsel her but she was completely listless.”
Clara Wong, 27, tells me that her experience with cyberbullying happened five years ago, when her close friend Andrea broke up with her boyfriend when he started becoming increasingly controlling.
A couple of months after the break-up, Andrea’s ex-boyfriend started harassing her online. He would send her text messages in which he threatened to show up at her doorstep and tell her extremely conservative parents about their relationship.
Already seen as somewhat of a “delinquent” by her parents, her ex-boyfriend’s threats sent Andrea into a panic. As much as Andrea wanted to ignore his messages, she was too afraid that he’d show up unannounced if she didn’t reply. Desperate and traumatised, she turned to Clara for comfort and made her promise not to tell anyone what was happening.
“She was extremely distraught and I had no idea what to say or do. All I could do was to be there for her when she needed me.”
“I’ve seen her break down in public simply because she saw someone that looked like him. She’ll just brush it off and say she’s fine after calming down but it just makes me so angry that he did this to her,” Clara says.
Elsewhere on the internet, other forms of cyberbullying such as identity theft, love scams, and cyberstalking run rampant, claiming new victims with alarming frequency both overseas and locally. Trolling (itself a form of cyberbullying) has become such a norm in the online world that when it happens, we no longer even bat an eye.
With the way technology is changing both the world and how we communicate, it would be naïve to think that we can ever eradicate cyberbullying completely.
What we can do, however, is learn how to protect ourselves and support those who are victims of cyberbullying. Heart-to-heart talks and constant encouragement are one thing; there also exists avenues through which professional assistance can be rendered.
Take Cybersmart for instance. A DBS initiative to safeguard your and your family’s well-being and offer holistic cyber insurance in the unfortunate event of cyberbullying or online identity theft, for about $9 a month.
From covering expenses resulting from a loss in income because of online identity theft, to trauma counselling and legal advice, their plans are an example of the concrete steps we can all take to have a little more confidence in managing these invisible forms of intimidation.
Yes, some people suck, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it a better place, both online and off. So why not be better prepared?
Revolving around a family’s confrontation of a bully-whom they believe is responsible for their son’s suicide-over dinner, Late Company shines a stark light on our mutating 21st century society and volatile youth culture.
DBS is proud to be a season sponsor of Pangdemonium, a theatre company that explores modern-day societal issues in an authentic and artistic manner. Through this, their hope is that a greater understanding of the world we live in will spur us into action, as we work together towards creating a better world for a brighter tomorrow.
This story first appeared on RICE.