2019 Oct 7
The lack of boundaries in the digital sphere has become a serious cause for concern and the consequences that come along with it are plenty. The youth in Sri Lanka, who are perhaps the most active on the Web, eventually become the vulnerable recipients of the one of the most common virtual threats faced in the Age of Information– cyber-bullying.
The National Crime Prevention Council in the United States defines “cyber-bullying” as “the process of using the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” It is similar to traditional forms of bullying, but with notable differences. Bullying, on a virtual platform, is targeted harassment intentionally carried out in an aggressive manner against a victim through an electronic source. Cyber-bullying can:
- take many forms (i.e. text messaging, social media, other online spaces)
- be done either privately or publicly
- be perpetrated by an individual or a group
- take place anonymously
- extend into cyber-violence, cyber-stalking, etc.
Examples of cyber-bullying range from spreading rumours about someone on social media, threatening someone online, create fake accounts, posting compromising images of another person online, harassing another through a digital medium and leaving abusive comments online.
The Sri Lankan context
A survey conducted by the National Centre for Cyber-Security in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka CERT) revealed that 14% of youth were victimized through cyber-crimes such as identity theft, 11% reported that their accounts were hacked and 9% stated that their photos were abused. Despite these worrying incidents, 71% of respondents admitted to taking no action against the perpetrators.
Many young people in Sri Lanka are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the pervasive atmosphere brought on by cyber-bullying. One does not need to look further than the many Facebook pages portraying innocent school girls in uniform, “slut-shaming”, death threats and the increasing rate of “revenge porn” (the distribution of sexually explicit images or video clips of individuals without their permission), that show how Sri Lankan society is deeply rooted in patriarchal norms, unnecessary sensationalizing and a culture of victim-blaming.
The victims of such incidents of cyber-bullying face intense psychological distress, depression and post-traumatic stress, according to Samudra Kathriarachchi, Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. It is common for them to feel exposed and humiliated, vulnerable, isolated, and even self-critical. The detrimental impact of this type of harassment goes even further to the extent of suicidal ideation and suicide, as has been the unfortunate case with several young persons who were victims of cyber-bullying in Sri Lanka.
With regard to Sri Lanka’s legal framework, cyber-bullying is not listed as a separate offence. But certain provisions in the Penal Code of Sri Lanka provide alternatives to take action against the perpetrators. However, the lack of awareness surrounding the issue and a general mistrust in the legal system as well as the longevity of court proceedings, etc. often disincentivize victims from taking action.
Social media platforms are also arguably dormant in responding to reports of cyber-bullying, especially if it has been carried out in Sinhalese or Tamil, due to language constraints. Most reports made on Facebook, for instance, bounce back with a statement that it “does not violate community standards.”
What actions can be taken against cyber-bullying?
- Gather evidence. Take screenshots and save all links. Keep a chronological record of everything related to the incident(s).
- Approach a reporting agency. Refer below for a list of authorities that welcome complaints regarding cyber-bullying and other forms of online misconduct.
1. Sri Lanka CERT
The Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) is the focal point of cybersecurity in Sri Lanka. You can lodge your complaint by:
- Filling a form on their website: cert.gov.lk
- Contacting them via telephone: +94 11 269 1692 / 269 5749 / 267 9888
- Sending them a fax message: +94 11 269 1064
- Emailing them: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. CID Cyber Crimes Division
- Report incidents of cyber-crime (including cyber-bullying) here: telligp.police.lk
3. National Child Protection Authority (if the victim is under 18 years old)
- Contact 1929 – the NCPA hotline is toll-free, available 24/7 and all reports are treated confidentially. Visit childprotection.gov.lk for more information.
- The NCPA also has several resources for children and parents on online safety which can be accessed here: childprotection.gov.lk/?page_id=2211
- Cyber-bullying is never the fault of the victim. Nevertheless, it is wise to exercise due precaution through the ways listed below.
Protecting yourself and others from cyber-bullies
- IMPORTANT: If you receive a message or compromising information that includes targeted harassment of an individual, DO NOT share it for purposes of entertainment or sensationalizing or endorse such behaviour. Take time to educate the sender on the harmful effects of cyber-bullying and advise them to stop circulating such harmful content. Report the incident if it infringes upon the privacy and safety of the victim(s).
- Do not engage with the cyber-bully. It is best to avoid all contact and block him/her if their actions threaten your safety and confidence.
- Recognize the signs. Look out for your loved one for signs like sudden withdrawal, lack of self-esteem, changes in eating and sleeping habits, skipping classes and sudden disinterest in favourite activities. These signs may point to the possibility that they have been a target of cyber-bullying.
- Refrain from sharing too much personal information online
- Do not respond to hate-driven messages/comments etc. with hate. Seek advice from someone you trust and try to have a respectful conversation without resorting to hateful rhetoric. Report the incident if your safety is at risk.
- Think twice before sharing images and videos that may compromise your safety or reputation. Bullies often use them as ammunition against you.
- Check your privacy settings.
- When using a public computer or any other digital devise, remember to log out of all your accounts.
- If you are a parent, teacher or caregiver, educate younger children on how to practice online safety. It is important to advise them on how to be responsible digital users and what to do if they witness an incident of cyber-bullying.
- Hold bullies accountable. Let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable and that they will face consequences if they continue to resort to cyber-bullying.
In lieu of World Bullying Prevention Day, let’s keep in mind that the onus falls on all of us to take a stand against cyber-bullying and be respectful and responsible digital citizens in the virtual sphere.