Where there’s honey, there’s bee, and where there’s a playground there are bullies. As we get more and more wired up, our kids’ playgrounds gets replaced by the new age cyber-grounds and turn our playground bullies into a cyber-bullies.
Same behavioral traits, but this time, the bullies hide behind the computer screen or smart phone attacking from the comfort of their homes – they have now become transparent.
However, these cyber-bullies are a far more dangerous breed with instant and round the clock access to their victims. They can cause more damage by casting a wider net and getting access to a more diverse audience through multiple social mediums causing long-term emotional and psychological harm.
Some known acts of cyber-bullying include:
· Creating fake social media profiles on MySpace or Facebook
· Sending unwanted and insulting email and instant messages
· Hurtful Internet polling (Who’s hot, who’s not?)
· Stealing passwords
· Posting embarrassing or harmful images online
· Posting personal information including real name, address and telephone numbers online, etc.
The above list is in no way exhaustive because the cyber bullies are creative and imaginative and continually look for new avenues to achieve their malicious objectives.
Rates of teenage suicide, depression and incidences of self harm are on the rise in Asia Pacific due to such social cruelty, victimization and humiliation that the youths are being subjected to in absence of any specific laws that penalise cyber bullying.
A study on rates of depression and suicidal thoughts conducted by Dr Lim, Dr Liew and Dr Fung of Woodbridge Hospital in Singapore found that out of the 600 children aged between 6-12 surveyed, 22% had suicidal tendencies (the asianparent.com – 25 September 2012).
Although the rate of depression and suicide is lower in Singapore than other developed nations, it has been on the rise over the past 30 years making suicide the most common cause of death in Singapore youths apart from accidents.
It would be difficult to link the rate of suicide to cyber bullying, but it is still interesting to note that a recent survey on the state of cyber bullying done in Asia Pacific covering around 12,500 kids aged between 8 and 17 years revealed that the highest rates of cyber bullying were reported in China and Singapore 58% with India closely following on 53%.
Japan recorded 17% being the lowest level in Asia Pacific with Australia slightly below the global average of 37%. UAE reported the lowest levels globally with only 7%.
In light of these alarming findings, it is not surprising that calls for tougher laws and penalties for cyber bullying are being called for by the lawmakers and education sector, not only in Singapore but also Asia Pacific wide.
There are suggestions to introduce heavy fines and in more severe cases, imprisonment of up to four months with authorities pushing for up to a four year sentence in Manila.
Possible interim solutions?
While the implementation of anti cyber-bullying laws are failing to keep pace with the rise in the incidences of cyber bullying, the big question is if there are any preventative measures that can be implemented in order to protect our children before they become victims? The answer to that question is, yes.
Although there are no specific laws against cyber-bullying in Singapore currently, but according to Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, there are existing laws that can be applied as the act itself may amount to criminal intimidation under the Penal Code.
In addition, the government is also contemplating granting victims interim judicial injunctions, prior to the conclusion of any pending criminal proceedings. Furthermore, civil injunction can also be obtained from the court to restrain the perpetrator.
Yes these injunctions are available after someone is victimized, but at least something can be done legally before the actual laws can take effect.
Aside from that, fortunately there are solutions and technologies available that can help monitor, block and report malicious content from email and web without the need to deprive youths access to these mediums.
Email and web security solutions are available to schools and educational institutions to help prevent the occurrence of cyber bullying which is a recommended action, rather than trying to fix the problem after such activity has taken place.
The key however, is to ensure that these security solutions don’t just focus on the in-bound content to protect the internal environment, but also focus on the outbound traffic.
As the messaging landscape continues to expand beyond just email to include messaging across web protocols and applications, it is more important than ever to have a unified solution to block threats, and holistic visibility to monitor and control content from a single point of administration.
Just the thought of monitoring and controlling content across email, web, social networks, and the host of Internet tools used by the digital generation can be daunting. Where does a school start, and how can it provide effective protection with a limited budget?
Here are some tips:
· Look for a solution that provides the ability to monitor and block malicious or slanderous messaging across email and web in a single solution and intelligently finds the threats, categorizes them, and takes the appropriate remediation action defined by the school or district policies.
· Ensure that the solution you choose extends email and web protection beyond anti-spam, anti-malware, and URL filtering with the integrated ability to scan all inbound and outbound content and attachments using granular content controls, such as objectionable content filtering. By monitoring and blocking malicious messages from reaching their intended recipients, schools can stop cyber-bullying in its tracks.
· Check that your technology allows you to define and enforce acceptable use and objectionable content policies for email and web to block, quarantine or reroute slanderous and harmful content.
· The best solutions are unified solutions that enable access control to certain websites, monitor email usage, provide notification of policy violations, monitor SMTP and webmail traffic, provide consolidated reporting for holistic visibility into cyber bullying actions, block offensive content from being uploaded onto websites and help you identify gaps through which students maybe trying to bypass system measures.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Scott Robertson is the Vice President of WatchGuard Technologies for APAC. He took over as WatchGuard's vice president of sales APAC in 2012, after leading the turnaround of the company's ANZ region with over 40% year-over-year growth. Robertson has a combined MBA from the University of Washington and Macquarie Graduate School of Management, with a concentration in entrepreneurial studies.