Monday, 25 August 2008

Terror on the Web - My Son's Story

When The Straits Times contacted me to write a story on bullying in school, I accepted the interview. I persuaded my son Jaymes to speak up. He has to face his fears and stand up to his bullies.

I reproduce part of the article below. I don't know if the cyber bullying of my son happened because of my whistle-blowing, but I'll not be threatened into silence. I have my fair share of cyberbullying too but that will be another story.

Aug 15, 2008
With growth of online connectivity, bullies unleash their malice on the Internet
By Sujith Kumar

JAMES Tan was 15 by the time he stood up to his school bullies. After being harassed for years at his Bedok South Secondary School, he took them on in a fist fight.

After the challenge, they backed off - or so he thought.

Months later, they launched a different campaign, this time online. On Friendster, a social networking site, his profile was hijacked. Cyber bullies rewrote his personal information, changing his address to Geylang and calling his relatives pimps and prostitutes.

The bullies posted pictures of naked men and women on his webpage before sending lewd messages to his female classmates. The coup de grace: They changed the password to his account and e-mail so that he could not log on to remove the information.

'I wanted to get those pictures off, but I couldn't log on, couldn't get in, couldn't get the account deleted,' said James, who left his secondary school last year to study culinary arts.

'There was nothing I could do.'

His case is not unique. A Straits Times survey of 100 teens aged 13 to 17 showed that all had some encounter with online bullying one way or another.

James, for one, said he no longer feared his old school bullies catching up with him. When asked what he would do if they did, he said: 'I don't know, but I have knives now.'

No place is safe
THE explosion of social networking sites, gaming communities and Internet forums has created ample opportunities for cyber-bullies.Because these hot spots are accessible from home, victims may feel that there is no safe place for them, said Ms Geraldine Tan, a psychologist at Centre for Effective Living, a private clinic. 'Cyber-bullying can also be more dangerous than physical bullying as the victim may not know his abuser and the bully is unable to see the extent of the damage.'

At sites like MySpace and Facebook, teens say incidents begin with comparisons about who has the most number of friends. Gamers pick on weaker players, while in chatrooms, insults are hurled. Blog tagboards attract sarcastic remarks, while online forums breed personal attacks that include defaced pictures of victims. Reports and studies conducted by experts all over the world say bullying also differs between the sexes.

Girls go for relational bullying, which includes backstabbing, gossip and social exclusion.

Boys prefer direct aggression, such as killing their target's game character and hurling vulgarities. One player, John, said: 'I was playing an online game and a friend swore at me over the Internet voice chat. I took revenge by killing the guy multiple times in the game.'

When online aggression becomes offline reality, Ms Tan said, some victims feel lost and 'haunted'. Being victimised in a place where parents cannot help 'can force a teen to develop extreme coping strategies such as withdrawal, self-mockery and rage', said Dr Ilya Farber, an assistant professor of social science and philosophy at the Singapore Management University.

Other experts say victims should save the evidence and report online attacks to parents, teachers or counsellors.

In the worst cases, the law too can protect victims. Mr Adrian Tan, a litigator with Drew and Napier who specialises in IT disputes, said cyber-bullying might be an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences Act, which carries a fine of up to $5,000.

Anonymous abusers, if caught, face tougher consequences. 'They will be given an additional punishment of two years' jail, according to Section 507 of the Penal Code, which discusses criminal intimidation by anonymous communication,' he said.

Additional reporting by Yen Feng, and InCrowd reporters Daniel Peters, Sarah Sim & Siti Aishah


A. said...

My elder son was bullied quite badly at school, and the school was hopeless. They just didn't deal with it properly at all. That was quite a time ago now. I often wonder how those bullies have grown up. Are they still bullies now in their working lives? Or do they have any regrets over the way they behaved?

Gretchen said...

It's scary how people can destroy your life through the internet! I had two people threaten to kill me because they didn't like my religion. Can you imagine in 2008, people are actually so ignorant?

eastcoastlife said...

It's ironic that the school is supposed to educate our young and teach them the right from the wrong, but in such instances, it failed terribly.

The teachers and Principal chose to turn a blind eye or worse, let the kids 'kill' one other. Their indifference is horrendous.

eastcoastlife said...

Hi gretchen!
Oh my! That's scary!

I have come across quite a number of ignorant people, evenly highly-educated ones! These people are a menace to society.