It's not 'cool', it's cruel
Digital devices are everywhere and their proper use
has enhanced our world, but some people use them in deviant
and unlawful ways to single out and hurt others
Story by SHERRY PAYNE
If an infectious disease were attacking thousands of students in Thailand, every parent and educator would be alarmed. But, there is an attack, and few people are aware of it.
``u're fat. i hate u. everyone hates u.''
Wanthanee (not her real name) wipes the tears from her eyes, erases the SMS message in her mobile phone and bolts to her next class.
Surapol (not his real name) reads his email and shrugs. ``Gay is no big deal. I get these emails every day,'' he explains. ``Want to hear a big deal? My roommate took pictures of me naked on the school trip and threatened to post them on MySpace. That is a big deal.'' Surapol can't wait until next year when he will transfer to another school.
Are these just examples of kids being kids? No! These are examples of cyber-bullying. Is cyber-bullying happening in Thailand? Yes! Every local student and educator interviewed for this article had a chilling story to tell.
Traditional bullying vs cyber-bullying
Online technologies contain certain characteristics that increase the likelihood that they will be used for unlawful or deviant purposes. For example, the use of personal computers allows bullies to remain ``virtually'' anonymous and police find it difficult to obtain the true identities of aggressors who use temporary email accounts, fake names in chat rooms and other Internet venues. The same applies for senders of text messages via cell phones.
Also, the aggressors may be emboldened to do more or go further in their attacks because they never have to come face to face with their victims. Additionally, it takes less effort to achieve greater psychological pain. Via digital technologies, it is no longer a prerequisite that the aggressor be physically larger, older, stronger or more imposing than the victim. The cyber-bully can be almost anyone who can attack from anywhere across the digital world.
What is cyber-bullying?
Cyber-bullying (also e-bullying or online bullying) is a term used to refer to bullying and harassment through the use of electronic devices such as email, instant messaging, text messages, blogs, mobile phones, pagers, and websites. It can constitute a computer crime.
In America, for example, it is a federal crime to anonymously ``annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person'' via the Internet or telecommunications system. The offense is punishable by a fine and/or up to two years imprisonment.
Cyber-bullying is willful and is intended to cause emotional distress and has no otherwise legitimate purpose to the choice of communications. It involves recurring or repeated harm inflicted through the Leg 1 medium of electronic text.
Cyber-bullying may include threats, sexual remarks, hate speech or disparaging labels; but it can be as simple as continuing to send email to someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender.
It is becoming more and more widespread and an ever-increasing problem.
That is why schools, such as New International School Thailand (Nist), have developed ``Rules for the Cyberspace Highway,'' and at least one Bangkok school has blocked MySpace from all school-based computers. Cyber-bullying is such a growing concern that a special seminar was scheduled at Bangkok Patana School last month and teachers from many schools gave up holiday time to attend.
``What's my 17-year-old doing on his computer all day? I'd like to think it's all homework,'' said Payaosri with a wistful grin. ``As parents, we're far less savvy than our kids when it comes to the Internet and electronic gadgets. It's almost impossible for us to know if our kids are doing homework, harmlessly socializing, being victimized or victimizing others. We want to believe the best about our kids, but maybe we need to make more of an effort to see what's going on,'' she said.
Cyber-bullying in Bangkok
Sending cruel and sometimes threatening messages, racial or ethnic slurs are frequent. Because computer proficiency is second nature to many youngsters today, it's not surprising that many create websites that have audio-based stories, cartoons, and pictures that ridicule others.
Dave Knight, a Canadian, was told to check out a certain website. To his horror, the website was titled, ``Welcome to the page that makes fun of Dave Knight.'' At least one similar website has ridiculed a Bangkok student, but, understandably, Leg 2 she didn't want to share the site address with Learning Post readers.
Pictures of classmates are often posted online along with questions asking students to rate the pictured classmate. For example, ``Who is the biggest .......... (choose your own derogatory term)?''
Hacking into an email account and sending vicious or embarrassing material to others is also becoming a common practice in Bangkok. Somsak (not his real name), a local 14-year-old, walked into class to find everyone glaring at him. A boy he barely knew approached him and shouted, ``Why'd you call me a [disparaging term]?'' Somsak was as shocked as the boy making the complaint. Eventually, the problem was resolved, but Somsak still has no idea who accessed his account to send the offensive email.
Another technique is to engage someone in instant messaging, trick that person into revealing sensitive personal information, and forward that information to others. The practice of taking a picture of a person in the locker room or toilet using a camera phone and sending that picture to others is another method that's gaining momentum here.
Why kids bully and how they choose their victims is puzzling. The `gang' mentality and the anonymity of cyberspace are likely contributors. But, while the issue is a worthy topic of discussion, it is critical to focus on what can be done now to prevent cyber-bullying.
How to stop cyber-bullying
Avoidance. The first and easiest step would be to try to avoid the aggressor. This can be done by not visiting the chat room, changing your email address, having your IP account manager to filter out email emanating from the offending address, changing your identity in chat rooms, and reporting the caller ID information to authorities or to an Leg 3 adult you trust.
Unfortunately, the potentially most harmful act of publishing adverse information on the Internet is still the hardest to prevent or undue. Instead of only the victim seeing the hurtful information, millions of viewers can visit and download the message or material before it can be removed.
Parents. Parents would do well to visit a few websites to educate themselves on cyber-bullying. Then turn off the mobile phones, TV, and computers and have a frank conversation with their child. What do they know about Cyber-bullying? Have they been a victim? Have they bullied? While schools can be supportive, it is ultimately a parent's responsibility to supervise children.
Peter Allen, an international educator working in Bangkok, is passionate about taking action against cyber-bullying. He may be able to help. Peter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Students. You must believe there is nothing wrong with you, even if you said or did something stupid that was recorded. The bullies are the ones that have the problem. Don't keep quiet. Talk to someone: your parents, a trusted teacher, a counselor. They can help so that others stop hurting you. If you get a message, do not respond, but do not delete it. Note the time and date, and take a screenshot of the abuse. Then get help from a trusted adult.
Educators and administrators. It's time to develop new strategies to keep schools safe and free from peer intimidation so students can concentrate on learning. First, survey your students to learn the extent of the problem in your class or on your campus. Then, gather information and develop an action plan. Include students and parents on the action team.
Available technology. There is some computing networking tools that can be helpful in tracing a perpetrator's computer back to its host address or IP address, such as traceroute, tracepath or tracert tools. Using your standard computer, you can use the ``nslookup'' (name server lookup) command in Windows and Unix to find the IP address of a particular computer, using DNS lookup. They are legal, legitimate and easy to use.
For further reading, see ``Emerging Risks of Violence in the Digital Age: Lessons for Educators from an Online Study of Adolescent Girls in the United States'', ifJournal of School Violencenf, 1(2), 51-71 (2002), by IR Berson, MJ Berson, and JM Ferron; www.stopCyber-bullying.org ; www.cyberbully.org , ``A Parents Guide''; or www.bullying.org , ``A Student Guide''.
Sherry Payne is the co-director of the Reed Institute, which serves children with special needs through the latest research-driven methods of developmental psychology before transitioning them into mainstream schools. For several decades she has worked in the field of child psychology and is the author of several children's books.
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Last modified: April 27, 2007