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From victims to tormentors

This article is more than 12 months old

Survey of students in Singapore finds many cyber bullies once suffered from the scourge

One in nine adolescents have been victims of cyber bullying and close to half of them have, in turn, bullied others online, a large-scale study has found.

The study, which surveyed 3,319 students aged 12 to 17 from 28 schools, was done by the Singapore Children's Society and the Institute of Mental Health in 2014.

Some 40 per cent of victims said they cyber bullied others.

Victims are also more likely to have recurring headaches, socio-emotional and behavioural problems, self-harming patterns and suicidal thoughts compared with those who have not been bullied, according to key findings recently released to The Straits Times.

The study also found that both males and females are as likely to be cyber bullies, and the victim usually has an idea of who the bully is.

Top tactics are shaming, calling the victims names and spreading rumours via social networking sites and texts.

"The findings are significant because the use of technology is becoming more prevalent, and if we are not careful, the problem will grow and we will have an increasingly unhealthy online culture," said Ms Iris Lin, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services.

Counsellors say victims easily turn into bullies themselves because they learn to imitate behaviour that they know hurts.

Mr Shem Yao, assistant manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, said some social media platforms have features that allow users to remove traces of their aggressive action after a certain period of time, and this emboldens bullies because their actions may not be traceable.

"Cyber bullies may also employ cyber-baiting tactics by provoking victims to react in a negative manner, and then posting the recorded video or picture online to shame the victim," said Mr Yao.

A 2012 Microsoft study found that Singapore had the second highest rate (58 per cent) of cyber bullying worldwide, after China.

A new Protection from Harassment Bill that covers cyber bullying was passed in 2014.

The law, which prescribes fines and jail terms, also provides for the court to order counselling or probation in the case of child offenders.

Those who are the target of false and malicious online content can also get orders requiring the content to be taken down and for correction notifications to be published in their place.

Counsellors say they have not encountered instances where the law was used to persecute cyber bullies.

Ms Ena Su, 20, used to bully a secondary school classmate online because she was not aware that her comments in cyberspace could cause as much hurt as those made in real life.

"This girl was clingy, and she kept sticking to us despite our hints," said Ms Su.

"So I used vulgarities and wrote mean things about her on Twitter and on her blog."

The victim confided in a friend, who persuaded her to tell a teacher. When the teacher counselled them, Ms Su was shocked to see the victim crying.

"I didn't show it but I felt sorry. Hiding behind the computer screen brought out the worst in me," said Ms Su.

"If you are bullied, speak up and stand up to it."


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