Nov 19, 2013

    Cyber-bullied and suffering in silence

    A 14-YEAR-OLD was nearly driven to suicide after secrets she had shared with a friend were leaked online.

    The friend then twisted the knife with nasty posts about her on Facebook.

    "She already had depression, but that incident was the last straw. She really couldn't function," recalled Dr Ken Ung, a consultant psychiatrist at Adam Road Medical Centre.

    He added: "Cyber bullying can be dangerous - especially for vulnerable people."

    The secondary-school student is undergoing treatment, but she is not alone in her pain.

    Cyber bullying is widespread, and particularly brutal as the victims - either out of embarrassment or fear - tend to hush it up.

    Yesterday, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that his ministry is preparing legislation to deal with online harassment.

    "I am concerned that our children seem to be the victims," he noted. "Children are psychologically, physically less able to deal with these issues than adults. If so many children are impacted, I think later on it will have a deep impact on society as they become adults."

    Mr Shanmugam added that he preferred to have the law step in only as a last resort, but conduct which "clearly is egregious" has to be dealt with.

    But laws alone may not be enough to address an issue that victims keep quiet about.

    Mr Alfred Tan, executive director of the Singapore Children's Society, said: "When kids tell their parents they have been bullied online, their parents may scold them for using the social-media sites too often."

    "Parents need to be more open, and we really should... teach kids how to engage and interact over social-media platforms," he said.

    Psychologist Daniel Koh said that young children may not be able to verbalise what they had gone through, and parents may just use a stop-gap measure such as banning them from using the computer.

    Cyber-bullied teenagers also tend to keep mum as they do not want to be seen as "weak".

    Ms Joyz Tan, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, said: "Youth are at the stage where they fear that if they report what they had gone through, they might be seen as losers. Most of the cyber bullies are also people they know and they fear implications in real life."

    Professor Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre, said that in most cases it would be possible to trace the offender. "The issue is the resources to be deployed."

    Mr Chong Ee Jay, assistant manager of Touch Cyber Wellness, which conducts talks at schools, said: "There is no guarantee that setting laws would curb cyber bullying completely.

    "However, we believe that the laws would serve as an effective deterrent for potential bullies and harassers, as well as heighten the awareness that cyber bullying is wrong."