Cyberspace bullies spark growing concern

An Australian schoolgirl, a Chinese adulterer and several South Korean celebrities have one thing in common: all have been victims of cyberbullying, a modern version of mob cruelty.

The case of the girl was particularly horrific and led an Australian state to ban the popular internet film-sharing website YouTube from school computers.

A group of schoolboys had filmed themselves sexually abusing and degrading the girl and then uploaded the video on to YouTube.

The film showed a group of 12 youths surrounding the 17-year-old girl, who has a mild mental disability, bullying her to perform sex acts, urinating on her and setting her hair alight.

The education minister in southern Victoria state, where the attack took place, said the state’s 1 600 public schools would block access to YouTube.

“The government has never tolerated bullying in schools and this zero-tolerance approach extends to the online world,” said Jacinta Allan.

The director of the Australian police’s High Tech Crime Centre, Kevin Zuccato, said at the time of the attack on the girl late last year that it was a disturbing example of cyberbullying.

“Cyberbullying between children online is on the rise,” he said. “Social networking sites are also putting children at risk.”

In South Korea, a law aimed at cracking down on internet misuse means cyberbullies will no longer be able to hide behind false identities, South Korea’s Ministry of Information said this month.

When the new law takes effect in July, the “internet real-name system” will mean cyberbullies can be traced because major portals and news media websites will be compelled to record the real IDs of users when they post entries.

Portal operators will be obliged to disclose personal information, such as names and addresses, of cyber attackers when their victims want to sue them for libel or infringement upon privacy.

“South Korea is an internet powerhouse and it is probably the most wired country in the world. But sadly, the dark side is too dark,” ministry director Lee Ta-Hee told Agence France-Presse.

“Victims have so far been unable to trace cyber attackers when the attackers use false IDs,” he said.

Cyberbullying has become a social issue in South Korea as celebrities often fall victim to abuse and malicious attacks.

TV star Jeong Da-Bin and pop singer Yuni reportedly suffered cyberbullying before they committed suicide earlier this year.

Many internet users, taking advantage of anonymity, have made a hobby of writing malicious messages on websites, accusing celebrities of sex scandals or having plastic surgery, experts said.

In China, a famous case of cyberbullying developed in April 2006, when a man posted information about another man who allegedly had an affair with his wife.

He identified his wife’s suspected lover by his web name, which led to a series of postings that revealed the man’s name, phone number and address.

Thousands of web postings denounced the lover, while internet users telephoned or showed up at his home to shout abuse at him and his family.

Lawyers are now calling on the government to protect people from having their personal information made public on the internet.

Marilyn Campbell of Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, a child psychologist and expert on cyberbullying, said a key element of the new form of an old abuse is that it cannot be escaped.

With the use of the internet, blogs, email and mobile phones with text messaging, video and picture capability, cyberbullying can be carried on “24/7,” she said.

“It gives the bully a lot of power, being able to reach the victim at any time and any place.
So it transcends schoolyard bullying,” said Campbell.

“With cyberbullying you can’t get away from it, at night as well as during the day.”

The use of modern technology, such as mobile phones and email, was so ubiquitous and entrenched that victims of cyberbullying could not simply switch off, she said.

“Kids have a social life online and a social life offline ... and connect and network with each other just as much as they do face to face, if not even more.

“Because it’s a seamless online and offline life it is no use saying ‘well, just turn the technology off’. It’s not possible.”

Campbell said it was well established that the consequences of face-to-face bullying were increased anxiety and depression, which sometimes led to suicide.

With cyberbullying’s wider audiences and the fact that it cannot be escaped, even at home, the impact on the victims could be even more drastic.

“The police can’t intervene unless the law is broken” despite the cruelty of the bullying of children, she said.

“If you continually get an email saying ‘you’re a loser, you stink, we hate you’, it is not a threat, they didn’t say were going to kill you.”

But by posting a video of their bullying of the young girl on YouTube, the teenage boys in Australia gave the police a chance to act.

After a five-month investigation, eight boys have been charged with procuring sexual penetration by intimidation, manufacturing child pornography, and assault.—AFP

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