Cyber bullying among children – A territory unknown

Aparna Singh

We often read jeering comments and insulting remarks on social media sites such as twitter and Facebook. On social media it is easy to make a person butt of the joke and laugh at his/her expense. Recent example of on-going bullying is Deepika Padukone’s Vogue ad. People have taken on her and the rest of the artists who were part of the video and mocked at them publically.

According to a survey conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one out of every four Indian teenager has been cyber bullied. This data has raised alarming issues for a developing country like India. Whereas, in the west two out of four children fall prey to cyber bullying depicting the rise of this phenomenon.

As a result today India ranks third when it comes to cyber bullying among 8-17 age group children. In the Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey conducted by Microsoft it was found that 53% of Indian children have been bullied online. The primary source of cyber law in India is the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) which came into force on 17 October 2000. The IT Act penalizes various cybercrimes and provides strict punishments (imprisonment terms up to 10 years and compensation up to Rs 1 crore). But when it comes to cyber bullying, the laws are not that stringent with absolutely no punishment or provision for cases related to minors.

Children these days are involved in hate mails, online gang wars etc. Most of these abusers have fake profiles and blackmail their victims by using digitally altered pictures. According to a student who goes by the internet pseudonym ‘RiderX’, “it is easy to bash someone online or hunt him/her down as nobody can trace you. Cyber field is the new goldmine and everyone is a potential gold digger.” Internet today has made things easier and much possible. The power of anonymity is so vast and vivid that we today are able to speak our mind to the level that we cannot think of doing in real life.

Cyber Bullying is the ‘hep’ thing for users, there are ‘trolls’ who come up with fake email i.ds on facebook and twitter and continuously harass people. They corner and abuse isolated accounts with real names with unlimited access to ‘hurtful vocabulary’ and no remorse at all for the act.  As for the bullied, they cannot hide away from their enemies. It is unlike school bullying. ‘RiderX’ explain, “there is no room for pussies. fight back or log out.”

Firstly, there is a need to understand the act of cyber bullying which means harassing or threatening someone by sending or posting messages and pictures. One can even go to the extent of forming chat groups on WhatsApp or Snapchat against a person or group of people. The traditional bullying in schools has taken a global format where there is no place for victim to hide. This new level of bullying can torture a child psychologically and break his/her self-confidence.  A child counsellor Nandini Raman says, “The importance children give to cyber world is massive, it is no longer the case of logging out and burying the issue with it. They tend to carry the insults back in their regular life in fact the line between cyber world and real world for them has become blurred and they are unable to delineate themselves from the harassment. It becomes difficult for us to win their confidence at first and to construct it back takes months or years.”

Recently, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) recognised cyber bullying and ragging as serious offence and laid down few suggestions for the schools to deal with cyber bullying. For the first time CBSE has taken a serious note of this ‘menace’. The board, usually known to deal with soft hands, said schools may withhold or even cancel results of guilty students as punitive action. While the CBSE has mentioned minor punishments as well, such as oral and written warning, the overall intent and tone of the letter leaves no doubt that it means business.

One look at the cyber world gives us an acute idea of its norms and practices. Majority of the kids join social media due to peer pressure and the pressure to be accepted as ‘normal’ intensifies with the presence of bullies. Obese kids are usually the softest targets for name calling, a noted example of this case could be that of Mukesh Ambani’s son who became butt of jokes on social media due to a health problem which aggravated his weight. Kids who are perceived to be even slightly different from the herd are cornered and mocked at. Often there are ‘confession’ pages on Facebook dedicated to schools and colleges where anybody can use the url and post whatever he/she feels like. These pages have more visibility on Facebook than personal accounts and thus the chances of getting publically harassed increases.  Councillor Nandini recalls a case where a 12 year old girl was bullied on twitter as she posted some images with her friends. Her developed body gave an impression of a 16 year old teenager. The social media people took on her posting nasty comments by calling her ‘gay’ and ‘tranny’. The girl wasn’t old enough to understand or handle the situation which resulted in depression. It took several sittings with the councillor to win her confidence so that she could open up.

Even adults are not spared in cyber space as there are various instances of them getting mocked at. Be it Smriti Irani, the Human Resource Development Minister who was jeered at her lack of higher education or Deepika Padukone for her recent Vogue empower video, internet space and its freedom of speech has spared none. Such is the extent of social media and internet in the urban life that even adults spend around two to three hours a day on web. Obviously, children get included in this phenomenon due to pressure.

Schools today vigorously encourage usage of internet for a child’s learning. Early access to the cyber world is considered vital for a child’s overall knowledge and development. Parents tend to understand the fine thread on which children walk in cyber world but only partially as through safe search they ensure that their kids do not use or visit websites such as xxx or download porn. Prateek Jain, a silk businessman and a father of two kids based in Jodhpur says, “I ensure that my kids do not venture very deep in the internet world as there are certain websites which they are not supposed to visit. Parental lock comes very handy in these matters”.  But popular networking sites and aps go unnoticed from the parents radar. He adds further, “it’s impossible and near autocratic for me to top my kids from using Facebook as the entire world is on it. Even I use it. The maximum I could do is to ensure that they don’t spend too much time on it. ”

Also, access to smartphones and gadgets among children has increased the chances of them getting bullied. Today, even small children are tech savvy with the onset of multitude of smartphones in the market .This has also ascertained their increased presence in cyber world and thus the chances of them getting bullied.

According to a report, at least 21% cases of suicidal tendencies among students are directed towards cyber bullying. It proves the fact that this is not a trivial phenomenon and has pretty much invaded the personal space of today’s kids. Nandini explains, “cyber bullying is a very serious concern for today’s councillors and parents who have seen the adverse effects of it. Often it leads to extreme forms of depression and increased suicidal tendencies. Further it leads to withdrawal tendencies where the victim slowly refuses to take part in extracurricular activities in school or social life and tends to be isolated.” But is cyber bullying only a virtual phenomenon? How and what is the role of family and society in tackling it? Nandini says, “The kids in a joint family can be checked or kept a tab on with internet or mobile phones. There are people to guide them. But single kids whose parents are working become more used or prone to social media. They do not get enough time from parents or emotional support which makes them addicted to social media and results in cyber bullying as victim or convict.”

Today, internet has invaded our lives to a great extent. Be it work, business, learning or recreation, cyber world is the hub of all. As adults even we end up spending hours on social media. We lack self-control many a times and therefore children are seen getting addicted to it. Need of the hour is to recognise the harmful effects of cyber bullying among children and to not to treat it as a trivial issue. Parents should encourage children to be more vocal about their internet interaction to them and to recognise instances of abuse and bullying and register their protest against it. Also, it is just not the victim but the perpetrator as well who needs to be counselled and made to realize that it is not at all ‘cool’ to humiliate anyone on cyber space.

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