It's easy to turn off moral and social filters on Facebook and Twitter, making social media a rife breeding ground for cyberbullies—whose activities can and often do go unchecked. But that doesn't mean there's nothing anyone can do about it.
“For students of top-tier schools, the platform they use for bullying is Twitter and some popular apps on iOS,” explains cyberbullying expert Sonnie Santos. “While their counterpart in public schools is Facebook.”
At the moment, there are no official cyberbullying statistics, said Santos, but the recently signed Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 will ensure the availability of statistics in the future. He also said that based on his experiences of engaging students, guidance counselors, and parents at the seminars he conducts at schools, “cyber bullying is a common case and the students have a blurred distinction of fun and cyber bullying.”
He has seen more female victims seeking advice than male ones.
Two types of cyberbullying
According to Santos, there are two types of cyberbullying in the Philippines: the cyber mob (like what happened to Chris Lao and Jamie Paula Salvosa); and the day-to-day cyberbullying that remains under-reported.
Recently, one Devina DeDiva found herself the recipient of much vitriol after she called Filipinos “poor, underprivileged, and smelly from cleaning toilets” after Megan Young bagged this year's Miss World crown.
As an example of under-reported incidents, writer China Jocson wrote about her experience as a target of cyberbullying just for issues related to people she happened to be connected with.
For defending her university's stand on the Reproductive Health Bill against a conservative rival university, Nikki received numerous threats from students claiming to be from the latter institution. Some even threatened her not to venture out of her own campus.
“Okay, anong gagawin (nila) paglabas ko?” said Nikki of her ordeal. However, she remained unfazed: “I think magiging bullying lang ang cyberbullying depende sa magiging reaction mo as the one being 'bullied.'”
Also earlier this year, college instructor Karlo's Facebook timeline and WordPress blog were swamped by angry students from a local university after he publicly questioned the institution's high standing in a recent survey of Asian schools.
“My statements (were) public, and an understandable backlash from followed,” he added. “The whole shebang made me reevaluate my friends on Facebook, and I opted to deactivate the account indefinitely, though the backlash continued on my blog. I got a barrage of insinuations that I was bitter because none of the universities I graduated from or teach at got into the list.
“I was called, among other rather uncreative insults, a 'loser.' Even my mother was mocked; my Facebook banner photo featured her. The vast majority of the backlash, really, tried to point out I had bad grammar.”
Worse than in real life
Santos explained that the effect of cyberbullying is worse than real-world "offline" bullying because the latter is confined to time and space, whereas cyberbullying is not.
“Bullycide (bullying induced suicide) is common in the west,” said Santos. “While we don't have reported cases in the Philippines, one person who sought our help confessed suicide came to his mind. Likewise, Atty. Chris Lao also admitted it crossed his mind.”
Depression for cyberbullied victims is common. In fact, testimonies of at least two well-known cyberbullied victims—Jamie Paula Salvosa and Atty. Chris Lao—said they went through fear, depression, and unexplained sadness. Lao, in particular, said for a time, his body refused to receive any liquid or food.
Nikki said that her experience has made her think more carefully about what she posts on the Internet—due in part to her father being bothered for her and chiding her about it.
“Pero sa specific issue na 'yon, I gained friends,” she jokingly said. “Again, it's how you react to them. Kung papatulan mo, lalala. kung tatawanan mo lang, mawawala rin eventually.”
Karlo, meanwhile, said that his experience made him rethink his relationships with the people around him: “Perhaps the only thing I regret from the whole thing is the little support those I considered my friends had shown me. I must admit that I lost a lot of trust in them since then.”
How to face attackers
Santos provided several useful steps for dealing with cyberbullies. He said, “Victims have several options depending on their situation.”
Always take a screenshot of the hateful messages and save it for future use. Inform your loved ones about the attacks. Inform the authorities—school adviser or guidance counsellor for the academe, and Human Resources if it's a case of workplace bullying. Report the account being used by the bully to the service providers. (Facebook/Twitter) Change cellphone number if cellphones are also being used for the attacks. Deactivate all accounts or abstain from going online for a time being. However, have someone in the family or friends monitor the online aggression. Seek professional counselling if necessary. Seek police help. Lobby for a cyberbullying/harassment law for non-minors since the current anti-bullying law only covers primary and secondary schools.
Not the end of the world
Reactions may also be dependent on the disposition of the victim. Nikki says that, at the height of the public backlash, her Tumblr and Twitter accounts saw an influx of new followers—which she saw as a good thing.
“Some of them stayed,” she shared. “Yung iba probably forgot about the issue because madami akong UST followers na pumupuntang gigs ko or who watch my stuff and like my photos. Again, yung effect talaga depends on how you react to the situation. Naging humorous sa akin, which I think, is a good 'defense mechanism.'”
Karlo did his best to be civil to the many students and USEP alumni who sent him insults, and according to him, “it has always been a pleasure to see them surprised at how polite I turn out to be.”
Santos also suggests levelling up education on the matter, as well as 'online intelligence.'
“That is the reason why we use various channels to inform and educate online,” he said, referring to his website (http://cyberbullying.ph). “And offline, we go to different schools, communities, and organizations providing seminars about bullying and cyberbullying prevention, digital parenting (bridging the digital divide), and social computing for social good (responsible social computing).”
Jocson also wrote in her PhilStar article that she sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation. She went on to say that it was a long, painstaking process, but the NBI eventually flushed the cyberbullies out of anonymity. Though the attacks have begun again, this time instigated by different people, she says that knowing who her attackers were gave her solace.
If cyberbullying is happening to you or a loved one, you can contact the National Bureau of Investigation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 521-9208, local extensions 3429 (Chief) and 3497 (Staff). — TJD/HS, GMA News