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Q&A about cyberbullying with the Media Literacy Council

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The anonymity and illusion of protection provided by the internet sometimes permits people to do and say things they would never do in real life. The recurring success of these actions potentially results in individuals suffering cyberbullying.

In 2019, we witnessed some tragic incidents involving cyberbullying in Asia. What are some of the lessons we’ve learned from these high-profile cases and how do we remind youths that their actions can cause real consequences on another individual’s life?

We posed these questions to Ms Anita Low-Lim, a member of the Singapore Media Literacy Council and also a Senior Director with TOUCH Community Services.

the Active Age (AA): What are some of the different forms of cyberbullying? (e.g. harassment, deception, flaming, hate speech)

Ms. Anita Low-Lim (ALL): Cyberbullying is the act of using the internet or technology such as mobile phones or video games to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person.

There are many different forms of cyberbullying. For example, the recent suicide of K-pop star Sulli shone the spotlight on cyberbullying. Sulli endured constant harassment and degradation, as she was often faced with a barrage of negative comments and malicious rumours on her social media accounts attacking her appearance and behaviour.

It is important to be aware of the various forms of cyberbullying, which include:
Harassment: This is a sustained, constant and intentional form of cyberbullying. It involves sending offensive messages to an individual or group multiple times.
Cyberstalking is one form of harassment that involves continuous threats and rude messages.
– Harassment could also come in the form of disseminating “doctored” images or videos with the intention to cause harm.
Impersonation: This involves the creation of a fake profile in another person’s name or hacking into another person’s account to pretend to be the victim, and sending messages to others saying hateful, cruel, or threatening comments while pretending to be the victim, with the intention to tarnish his or her reputation online. For example, the bully may post provocative messages in an online group chat room or on their social media platforms, inciting hatred or backlash against the
victim. The bully may also share details of the victim’s personal information online.

Flaming: Flaming involves hostile online interactions that involve profanity and insults aimed at hurting a person. These interactions typically take place on public channels like online forums or the comments sections of Facebook pages, for
example. Flaming may draw in bystanders who try to lend a helping hand, and others who may not be directly involved in the argument.
Denigration: Denigration is a term used to describe when cyberbullies send, post or publish cruel rumours, gossip and untrue statements about an individual with the intention to damage their reputation or relationships.

Doxxing: Doxxing involves using private or identifying information about an individual or organisation to discredit them and threaten harm. For instance, information about where someone lives and their contact details can be leaked to target a victim of harassment.

AA: What are signs that online teasing has moved from being harmless to crossing the line?

ALL: Consider the ways in which you and your friends interact online. Do you tease each other? Are the interactions harmless enough to be brushed off as friendly banter?

Teasing crosses the line and becomes harmful when one party starts to feel hurt, angry, frustrated, sad or even fearful. It can be hard to judge someone’s intentions online. Tone and context can often be hard to interpret without face-to-face communication.

However, if a message is sent with the intention of hurting someone’s feelings, it has crossed the line into cyberbullying.

When this happens, you may feel some of these emotions:
– The messages you are receiving are scary and not funny anymore
– Helplessness
– Despair
– Worried about risks to your reputation
– Fearful for your safety

AA: What are the implications of cyberbullying?

ALL: Cyberbullying can infiltrate into every part of the victim’s life and cause significant emotional and psychological distress.

This includes feeling:
Feeling alone and isolated. To avoid the effects of cyberbullying, victims may avoid the use of the Internet. As it is one of the most important ways that people connect to each other today,victims may end up being isolated from their support networks, which results in them feeling more alone.
– Getting anxious and depressed. Victims of cyberbullying may feel anxious and depressed as cyberbullying destroys their self-confidence, self-esteem and their happiness.
Feeling vulnerable and powerless. Victims may find it difficult to feel safe, especially if the bullies are acting anonymously. Not knowing the identity of the bully can worsen feelings of helplessness and despair.
Becoming disinterested in life. Being cyberbullied can cause the victim to lose interest in things they once enjoyed. They may feel hopeless, prefer to be alone, and spend less time interacting with their family and friends.

AA: Today, some children have a public profile with up to a few thousand followers on their Instagram or TikTok accounts. Does this increase their risk of being cyberbullied? How should they manage their online presence?

ALL: Having a large online following can open a person’s life to unwanted attention. The type of content that one posts can affect one’s risk of being cyberbullied. Conversely, disclosing sensitive personal information about their life may invite
cyberbullies to attack them, given that cyberbullies prey on people who they deem vulnerable. Ultimately, cyberbullying is never the fault of the victim, but the responsibility of the perpetrator.

To manage the risk of being cyberbullied, youths can modify the privacy settings of their social media accounts. This ensures that they can only interact with people that they know well and have granted access to on their account. This limits the chances
of getting cyberbullied by strangers, and improves the chances of being able to identify the source of cyberbullying if it occurs.

Children who share sensitive information to a large following may be unaware of the reach that their messages have, and may disclose information that might have been meant for their close circle of friends and family.

Is cyberbullying inevitable with a large online following?
• Given the sheer volume of messages and content that circulates through social media, cyberbullying and online harassment can often go unnoticed and ignored.
• Users with large online followings can also be subjected to a great degree of scrutiny because of this exposure.
• However, people can manage their risk of being cyberbullied by being mindful online.
• Social media platforms can provide a source of validation for their users. Users can become obsessed with getting likes and approval from online followers, which entices users to set their profile to a public setting.
• Parents can set a good example for their children and educate them on the type of information that they share online. For instance, parents can model cyber safety by not disclosing their personal information online unless necessary. Furthermore, parents can also prevent cyberbullying by discussing the consequences of online bullying with their children, conveying the message that the Internet can be used constructively or
destructively. Children may not always understand the impact of their actions, especially when the interactions are not conducted face-to-face.

AA: How can youth look out for one another online, and do their part to discourage cyberbullying?

ALL: According to some cyberbullying research and studies, one of the most helpful coping methods for victims is in receiving emotional support.

Youth can provide moral support for peers who are being cyberbullied, because one of the main impacts of bullying is isolation. For instance, they could post messages of support towards the victim of cyberbullying, in order to show the victim and others that they are not alone.

If it is safe to do so, youth can also reach out to the cyberbully to let them know that their actions are not acceptable.

By fostering a positive online environment, this will encourage others to do the same.This could be in the form of:
a) Being respectful and sensitive in all online engagement. Do not provoke or troll others.
b) Being prepared for haters. Understand that there will always be haters no matter how sensitive or careful we try to be.
c) If you are receiving messages from haters, assess if it is meaningful to engage and make a decision on when to pull back. If harassment continues, utilise functions on the online platforms to protect yourself, i.e report and block. In some cases, it is recommended to delete accounts.
d) Practise selective disclosure of information. In some cases, personal information can be subjected to abuse and used against us.

We hope that youths can take a proactive approach in preventing cyberbullying by not instigating, participating or even passively allowing cyberbullying to take place.

AA: How and where can youth seek help if they are being cyberbullied?

ALL: If it is a case of criminal intimidation, youth can make a police report on the incident. Youths can also turn to their parents, teachers or counsellors for help. Alternatively, here are some organisations that youth can seek help from:

TOUCH Cyber Wellness
TOUCH Cyber Wellness (TCW) is a service of TOUCH Community Services specializing in the field of cyber wellness education and counselling programmes. Since 2001, TCW has worked to promote cyber wellness, healthy gaming and online safety, reaching out to 360 schools and more than 1.6 million youths, parents, educators and counsellors. TCW is also the key
agency providing counselling on cyber wellness issues.

TOUCHline (1800 377 2252) provides counselling services for a range of youth-related issues, including cyber wellness issues. The helpline is available from Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm.

Singapore Children’s SocietyBully Free Sg
The Singapore Children’s Society, a charitable organisation that focuses on helping children, youth and families in need. Children’s Society’s Bully-Free Programme addresses the issue of school bullying and its impact on those involved. Its website carries resources for children and youth on tips on what
to do if they are being cyberbullied.

Ignoring cyberbullying may only serve to encourage the bullies’ behaviour, as the perpetrators do not face any consequences for their actions. While it is inadvisable to retaliate to abusive speech online, victims can take steps to protect themselves. These victims can document what is being said or done to them, as evidence that the abuse is taking place.

Victims can also report incidences of cyberbullying to the school or social media platforms. Most social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok have clear guidelines against online harassment, and users can make a report against someone for posting abusive content, impersonation and hate accounts. Most platforms also have the block feature to prevent the perpetrators from following
them and seeing their profile.

For more information and resources on how to deal with cyberbullying and other media literacy issues, visit:



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