Context: "Creating safe digital spaces" is an important topic for UPSC GS Paper 3.
Digital platforms must be free of cyberbullying if learners have to access quality education
Recognising that school-related violence is an infringement of children’s right to education and health and well-being, UNESCO Member States have declared the first Thursday of November as the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying often involves sending the victim threatening messages, posting compromising photos or videos of the victim on social media sites, or even creating a fake website about the victim. While bullying is not new, cyberbullying takes harassment to a frightening new level. As has often been documented in the news, the effects of cyberbullying can be devastating and even fatal.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Centre, about 34% of middle school and high school students have experienced online harassment. Several research studies have shown that cyberbullying is linked to low self-esteem, anger, frustration, and suicidal thoughts.
The aim is to raise awareness among students, parents, members of the school community, education authorities and others about the problem of online violence and cyberbullying.
In India, an estimated 71 million children aged 5-11 years access the Internet on the devices of their family members, constituting about 14% of the country’s active Internet user base of over 500 million. It should also be noted that two-thirds of Internet users in India are in the age group of 12-29 years.
Tackling all kinds of bullying
School closures as a response to the COVID-19 lockdowns have led to an unprecedented rise in unsupervised screen time for children and young people, which in turn exposed them to a greater risk of online violence.
Various reports have indicated an increased incidence of cyberbullying and online child sexual exploitation by adults.
In the same vein, there is growing scientific evidence that suggests that cyberbullying has negative consequences on the education, health and well-being of children and young people.
Published in 2019 and drawing on data from 144 countries, UNESCO’s report ‘Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying’ highlighted the extent of the problem, with almost one in three students worldwide reporting being bullied at least once in the preceding month.
Therefore, cyberbullying prevention interventions should aim at tackling all types of bullying and victimisation experiences at the same time, as opposed to each in a silo.
Effective interventions also require gender-sensitive and targeted approaches that respond to the needs of learners who are most likely to be the victims of online violence.
A 2020 study by Plan International, involving 14,000 women aged 15-25 from across 22 countries, revealed that 58% of girls in the Asia-Pacific region reported online harassment.
Globally, of the girls who were harassed, 14% who self-identified as having a disability and 37% who identified themselves as from an ethnic minority said they get harassed because of it.
The impact of online sexual harassment could have long-term negative impacts on mental health and well-being. Data on school bullying demonstrates its harmful impacts on students’ educational outcomes, mental health, and quality of life.
Children who are frequently bullied are nearly three times more likely to feel left out at school than those who are not. They are also twice more likely to miss out on school and have a higher tendency to leave formal education after finishing secondary school.
Tackling the menace
Although online violence is not limited to school premises, the education system plays a crucial role in addressing online safety. Concerted efforts must be made to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills to identify online violence so that they can protect themselves from its different forms, whether perpetrated by peers or adults.
Teachers also play a critical role by teaching students about online safety and thus supporting parental involvement.
For those looking to prevent and counter cyberbullying, the information booklet brought out by UNESCO in partnership with NCERT on Safe Online Learning in Times of COVID-19 can be a useful reference.
It supports the creation of safe digital spaces and addresses the nuances of security.
Similarly, to prevent the adverse effect of online gaming and the psycho-emotional stress that children could be undergoing, the Department of School Education and Literacy has circulated exhaustive guidelines to raise children and parental awareness.
Digital and social media platforms must be free of cyberbullying if learners have to access quality education. More importantly, confidential reporting and redress services must be established. We must encourage students, parents, schools, education authorities, members of the education community and its partners to take part in preventing online violence and promoting the safety and well-being of young people.
Common examples of cyberbullying
Unfortunately, there are many different types of cyberbullying. Here are a few common examples.
Just like the offline variety, cyber harassment encompasses a range of threatening behaviour. It especially refers to repeatedly sending insulting or demeaning messages. Cyberstalking is another form of online harassment. Mob harassment occurs when an entire group collectively cyberbullies one individual.
Sexual harassment also happens in cyberspace and can include messages with sexual content as well as the posting of compromising photos or video. Revenge porn is the posting or distributing of sexual content without consent, in an attempt to get revenge on someone such as a former partner.
Similarly others like Trolling, Outing/Doxing
Outing, or doxing, refers to sharing someone’s personal information online without their consent. For example, a cyberbully might share a private text or email with the outside world to embarrass or humiliate. Doxing can also refer to publishing someone’s private contact info, like their address, online.
Fraping means breaking into someone’s social media accounts (or even creating a fake profile under their name) to impersonate them.
Catfishing refers to creating a fictitious persona and then luring a victim into an online relationship, usually romantic.
Cyberbullying on social media
Cyberbullying can happen anywhere online, but it’s particularly likely to occur on social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok. It also occurs through games with voice or text chatting, such as Overwatch, League of Legends, and Fortnite, as well as through video-sharing sites like YouTube.
Social media, games, and video streaming are immensely popular with teens, and banning them is not a realistic solution. Rather an awareness about cyberbullying among children, teens, students and their parents can solve the rising issues.