IS it okay to call an overweight person “an elephant” online?
Yes, apparently, according to most Malaysian teens in a study on Internet usage and its impact on psychological and medical health.
The teenagers also didn’t see anything wrong with “liking” such offensive comments or forwarding it to others online.
It turns out that most (53.5%) of the teens have moderate to high tendencies of being a cyberbully, rather than a victim, based on the study conducted by a team of six Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia experts and lecturers last month.
Such cyberbullying includes targeting a person or group by calling them inappropriate names.
Some 36% were also likely to have aggressive online behaviour such as using foul language over social media.
On the flip side, about 25% had the experience of being moderate to severely victimised online by bullies.
The study, held in collaboration with CyberSecurity Malaysia and the National Council of Women’s Organisations Malaysia, was a pilot project carried out among 86 Form Two students in a secondary school here.
It will be expanded to cover Malaysian adolescents nationwide, with the next chapter to be conducted in the next quarter of this year.
Calling the results worrying, UKM Assoc Prof Dr Suzaily Wahab, a consultant psychiatrist, said the team didn’t expect for the respondents to show such high likelihoods of being cyberbullies.
“Children can be well-behaved in person, but become a different person altogether online.
“The online world enables a person to be anonymous, with ability to post threats at anytime of the day and spread news within seconds.
“The imbalance of power, often seen in face-to-face bullying, is reduced in cyberbullying cases.
“For example, a small-sized teen can easily bully someone of bigger size online,” she said in a recent interview.
The teens in the study also tend to be significantly affected emotionally by what happens online, with 44.2% having moderate to high cyber-related depression, anxiety and stress.
Internet addiction is also high with 59.3% of respondents being heavily dependent on the Internet.
On why there is such a high tendency for teens to be aggressive online, Dr Suzaily said further research needs to be done to explore the possible reasons.
“However, it could be because they have been so used to seeing actions like name-calling and using vulgar words online that they feel it is acceptable to do so.
“Nowadays, even primary school kids have snartphones and so, they are exposed to cyber threats at a young age,” she added.
Dr Suzaily said there was a need to focus on educating teenagers on proper online etiquette.
“We also need to provide appropriate intervention for students with high cyber risk behaviours as the problem may persist into their adulthood.
“We must always remember to not only help cyberbully victims but also the cyberbullies themselves,” she said, adding that the underlying issues contributing to the bullying behaviour need to be identified and properly managed.
Dr Suzaily said parents have an important role to play in monitoring their children’s activities online.
“Parents should set time limits for their children in using digital devices,” she said.
CyberSecurity Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab said over 80% of children in Malaysia go online mostly at home.
“This is why cyber parenting is important in ensuring children learn about good Internet etiquette,” he said.
He added that children needed guidance and monitoring from their parents so that they will be able to benefit from using the Internet while staying safe online.