How to tackle Cyber-bullying
Ever since the advent of the internet, human beings have been able to communicate with each other in a virtual world which offers them anonymity and unlimited access to resources. Cyber bullying refers to any online behavior which threatens the emotional and physical well-being of another person using websites, social networking sites, online discussion forums and other online avenues where communication is possible. Cyber bullying is prevalent worldwide, and statistics show that it can result in a number of behavioral problems for those who are targeted online if not addressed correctly. The recent suicides of some young teenagers who were continuously threatened and even blackmailed online, increases the urgency for awareness and advocacy information to reach not only teenagers but also their parents, who should be aware of the “dark” side of the virtual world.
Recently, a study carried out by Microsoft titled “Global Youth Online Survey” revealed the following; India ranked third among 25 countries in context with the number of children, aged 8 to 17, who stated that they had been victims of cyber-bullying. In another survey carried out by Ipsos, a global research firm, India was ranked among 24 countries as having the highest number of cyber-bullying cases among children who had access to mobile phones and the internet.
Legally speaking in the Indian context, cyber law falls under the Information Technology Act of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), and anyone who is found guilty of harassing; threatening, or making age inappropriate insinuations online faces a hefty fine and a prison term of up to 3 years. However, this law has faced criticism due to a number of loopholes and is currently being amended in order to keep up with the increasingly diverse means by which cyber-bullying can be carried out. This includes chat applications for mobile phones which are now being misused by offenders, and online relationships via social networking sites which often lead to blackmail threats and stalking once the relationship sours.
Another shocking but relevant factor associated with cyber-bullying is the age and social profile of the people who perpetrate it. Offenders ages range from a tender 8 years of age and there is no upward limit. Peer pressure, offline bullying at school and work, and other issues are often fought out online through popular social networking sites, blogs and discussion forums, with coarse, hurtful language, character assassination, and often, by posting morphed, offensive photos of the targeted person which cause much emotional distress. Studies carried out on cyber-bullying reveal that 50% of all offenders do it for “fun”, and do not consider the ramifications of their actions, some of which are tragic. Additionally, only 29% of parents have counseled their children on online etiquette, and have warned them about the dangers of the internet.
One of the most effective means by which parents can protect their children from the dangers of cyber-bullying is by being open with them about it. The internet has become an ingrained part of most people’s lifestyles, and while talking about the dangers of it is not exactly dinner table conversation, it is better to prepare ones loved ones and support them fully in case of a situation, rather than be shrouded in ignorance and silence, and then have to deal with the consequences of online harassment. The recent suicide of 14-year-old teenager who was unable to handle bullying and blackmail at the hands of an online “friend” [who later turned out to be an online predator] should serve as a wake up call to Indian families, millions of whom are online and enjoying the benefits of social networking.