What's behind your keyboard? Cyber-bullying can be deadly

Updated: 2014-01-09 07:05

By Albert Lin(HK Edition)

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The Internet has made our daily duties so much smoother and faster. It provides so many quick solutions and convenient short-cuts. But it can also become a tool for serious hurt. And one of the very worst ways computers are used is in intense and ongoing cyber-bullying among teenagers. Most regrettably this has led to a string of suicides among sensitive teenagers, mainly young girls, all over the world.

In Hong Kong, investigations by the Federation of Youth Groups discovered instances of cyber-bullying among students going back as far back as 2009. After completing a research project on the subject the Federation was joined by 14 equally concerned youth and education-related organizations, and launched its "Be Net-wise" Internet education campaign that drove home the message that cyber-bullying can cause immature children to commit suicide.

Arguably the world's most notorious cyber-bullying case happened last September in Florida when, initially, two girls aged 12 and 14 came to blows on their school playground over a boy. Not content with luring away the younger girl's boyfriend the 14-year-old orchestrated a hate campaign against her erstwhile rival, with a group of her friends sending a torrent of hateful messages to the 12-year-old.

The victim eventually told her mother she was being harassed with hate mail via computer and texts with such messages as "You are ugly", "You should die" and "Drink bleach and kill yourself".

The mother put the girl in another school but the hate mail continued and one morning the girl went to a disused concrete plant, climbed to the top of a silo and jumped.

Police investigators found that when the 14-year-old learnt the news she gleefully e-mailed her group of fellow bullies saying, "Yes IK I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF."

Police initially charged her and her No 1 supporter with "felony activated stalking" but dropped the charges when it was obvious the victim had not been physically stalked.

Journalists and TV crews who went to the 14-year-old's home to try to interview her parents found the family lived in a trailer camp and their caravan was guarded by a ferocious pit-bull terrier, that thankfully was chained up outside the door - which remained closed.

Our computers are now churning out lots of nasty gossip about supposed "selfies" - people seen as being pushy, selfish, "me-first" egocentrics. It seems that a "selfie" quickly exposes the person at social functions, especially when a camera is produced. Like a bee heading for the hive the "selfie" elbows his/her way into the group about to be photographed, and flashes a toothy smirk.

Nobody is surprised at such obvious camera-hogging because some minutes earlier the "selfie" had found a way to slyly infiltrate the group surrounding the guest of honour, butted into the conversation and of course wangled an introduction to the celebrity who was the center of attraction.

Naturally the "selfie" has perfected the art of name-dropping, and the group quickly learns that just the other day he/she was in Las Vegas exchanging chit-chat with good friend Matt Damon.

It follows that these party-hopping gadflies also have ways of getting their pictures into those magazines covering our social scene. A plain envelope containing a HK$500 note at Lunar New Year is a welcome lai see for any struggling young snapper.

But are "selfies" really all that bad? And is all this criticism of them just a fad? After all, there's nothing new about big-noters in Hong Kong, they've been grabbing attention in the media ever since Kowloon Tong became a snooty address on Kowloon side.

We all have individual personalities. Some of us are outgoing and are seen as "the life of the party". Others are "wallflowers" who prefer to be seen but not heard.

When some nasty bit of scuttlebutt goes viral on social media, isn't it regrettable that such a wonderful method of mass communication is being dragged down to little better level than street corner gossip?

And, getting down to the basics, isn't that what high society is all about - a gathering where the juicy details of the latest scandal are joyfully ventilated, and the rumor mill grinds happily away until the last guest departs?

The author is Op-Ed editor of China Daily Hong Kong Edition.

(HK Edition 01/09/2014 page1)