Fewer cyberbullying cases, but threat still looming

19 Nov 2019 / 12:06 H.

KUALA LUMPUR: Although the incidence of cyberbullying has shown a downward trend in Malaysia in recent times, it is however by no means an indicator that the menace is well under control.

According to statistics provided by Cyber999 Help Centre, which is operated by CyberSecurity Malaysia, 266 cyberbullying cases were reported in 2018, compared with 292 in 2017.

For the first eight months of this year, a total of 117 cases were reported, against 181 for the corresponding period last year.

CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, provides a broad range of cybersecurity innovation-led services, programmes and initiatives to help reduce the vulnerability of digital systems.

Its chief executive officer Datuk Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab said although the number of cyberbullying cases reported to Cyber999 Help Centre has declined, it did not mean that there is an overall reduction of such cases in this country.

“Cyberbullying is a threat that demands the attention of the public, especially social media users who should have a proper understanding of how to use social media (ethically) so that they don’t fall victim (to cyberbullying) and don’t turn into cyberbullies either,“ he told Bernama recently.

In a recent survey on online bullying carried out by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, it was found that three in 10 young Malaysians had been victims of cyberbullying that affected their education and social life.

Five thousand Malaysian respondents participated in this survey where a total of 457 respondents (nine percent) admitted that they had used the digital platforms to harass or bully others. About 63% of the survey respondents were not aware of the existence of cyberbullying helpline services in the country.

ABUSIVE, THREATENING POSTS

According to Amirudin, most of the cyberbullying cases reported to Cyber999 involved victims who were abused, threatened and shamed online by fellow social media users, some of whom held fake accounts.

While it is commonly perceived that the bulk of cyberbullying victims comprises children and teenagers, in reality, however, it is different.

Most of the cases reported to Cyber999 from January to August this year involved victims aged between 26 and 40 (37 cases), followed by 25 victims aged between 19 and 25 and eight (41-55). Only two of them were aged below 18.

“Today’s cyber world is becoming increasingly accessible to everyone. Lack of awareness on cybersecurity, including bullying, has contributed to the abuse of social media,“ said Amirudin.

He urged Internet users to educate themselves on issues related to online security and refrain from divulging sensitive personal information online, and also manage their privacy settings to allow only their close friends to access their social media accounts.

Parents, he added, should make use of the parental control application to monitor their children’s online activities.

CyberSecurity Malaysia has also implemented the CyberSAFE programme to educate the Malaysian public on cyber safety and the threats they face online.

Online users who face cyber threats can lodge a complaint with Cyber999 Help Centre via an email to cyber999@cybersecurity.my or mycert@mycert.org.my. They can also call 019-2665850 or download the Cyber999 mobile application on their phones.

MILLENNIAL SOCIAL PROBLEM

Senior lecturer and researcher at the Advanced Communication Research Unit, Centre for Multimedia and Communication Technology Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia Dr Mohd Khairie Ahmad described cyberbullying as an “existing issue manifested in a contemporary form” in line with the transformation in mediated communication.

“Cyberbullying can be defined as a form of cyber behaviour displayed by a certain individual or group whose purpose is to acquire something, enhance their reputation or wield social control over other individuals or groups.

“Any violation occurring online will have a negative implication on the victim,“ he said.

Among the many local celebrities who have fallen victim to cyberbullies are Neelofa, Zizan Razak, Mira Filzah, Fizo Omar and Nora Danish, with the effects of the bullying not only affecting these individuals themselves but also their family members.

These celebrities, incidentally, had also previously collaborated with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission on campaigns to increase public awareness on the issue of cyberbullying and circulation of fake news.

According to Mohd Khairie, there are two categories of cyberbullying — cyberstalking and Internet trolling.

“Cyberstalking means secretly collecting information about a person with the intent to harass, monitor or threaten the individual concerned.

“Internet trolling, meanwhile, refers to online users who deliberately provoke or offend others in order to trigger a certain reaction,“ he explained.

He said both categories of bullies not only involve the “aggressor” and the victim but also third parties, which ultimately can affect other cyber users either directly or indirectly.

“In other words, cyberbullying can have a chain reaction since the cyber world is an open platform for communication, more so with the presence of social media applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,“ he added.

SPECIFIC LEGISLATION NECESSARY

On whether legislation should be introduced to protect netizens against bullies, Mohd Khairie said existing laws such as the Computer Crime Act 1997, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and Children’s Act 2001 may be adequate to deal with cyberbullying but a more specific law is needed to penalise bullies and protect online users.

“This is important because the government has said that the nation’s digital economy has the potential to contribute to 20% of the Gross Domestic Product by 2020. The increase in digital economic activities will lead to more interactions on cyberspace,“ he said, adding that the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 should also be beefed up.

Mohd Khairie also said that formal media literacy education, similar to that implemented by the curriculum in the United States and in European countries, can enhance public awareness on Internet abuse and handling online communication ethically.

“Cyberbullying can be averted by educating people on cyber ethics. Besides initiatives taken by the government, parents should also have the skills to educate and monitor their children so that they become ethical online users,“ he said.

He added that with more bullied celebrities now seeking redressal through legislation, it may lead to holistic efforts to curtail the menace at all levels of society. — Bernama

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