Handling Cyber-bullying
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Handling Cyber-bullying
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Handling Cyber-bullying

Cyber-bullying generally refers to bullying with the use of information technology that takes place on communication platforms. It involves intentional acts that will inflict harm on a victim.

Cyber-bullying usually occurs where the communication applications allow an individual to register with an identity and then exchange messages. Such cyber-bullying could be a pure messaging application such as email. It may also be some other more advanced categories that allow a group of people to perform real-time online discussions, such as discussion forums, chatting, blogging, online gaming network or social media platforms.

Most distinctively, cyber-bullying involves sending explicit or implicit messages in different formats other than just a text, such as audiovisual material that carries information specific to the recipient. The behaviour of cyber-bullying includes harassment, denigration, doxxing, framing, impersonation, threat, trickery and exclusion.

The person who commits the bullying and the corresponding victim do not necessarily know the real identity of each other. They may just be identified by account names within a discussion forum. The likelihood of keeping anonymous is one of the factors that fuel cyber-bullying.

The undesirable events that can happen to the victim may include defamation on a social platform, and being blocked from other social activities. The victim may experience adverse impact psychologically and emotionally, such as depression, anger, annoyance or humiliation, and even physical harm. Some suicidal cases are believed to be the result of such bullying.

Pursuant to the Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, anyone who discloses the personal data of another person without consent, whether recklessly or with intent to cause specified harm to the person or his or her family, such as harassment, molestation, pestering, threat, intimidation, bodily or psychological harm or damage to property, commits the offence of doxxing.

Example of Incident

The following are some common examples.

Repeatedly sending of electronic messages, like short messages or emails, to the target victim who has already expressed explicit unwillingness to receive.
Sending threats, harassment, sexual related remarks or hate speech to the target victim through emails or during chat room dialog. The messages may also be copied to other recipients simultaneously.
Ganging up on the victim to make the person a subject of ridicule or criticism within cyber communication platforms. An example is in establishing voting / polling activities in a chat-room about typical external appearance of a victim, such as "vote for the fat girl".
Posting open messages with content that invite gossip on the victim. This causes undesirable feeling on the victim and may discourage him/her to join the platform again.
Impersonation: Steal the account of the victim and use it to create undesirable events such as sending of bullying or harassment messages to others. This makes the public wrongly think that the problems are caused by the victim.
Prevention and Protection

The principle of preventing cyber-bullying is to avoid being identified. This could include proper protection of personal information, such as avoiding the opening or responding to messages from strangers. It is vital to protect sensitive information such as passwords, which should never be disclosed. Posting personal information such as the email address and portrait photographs onto whatever websites should also be avoided.

It is equally important to avoid performing distinctive behaviour whenever in open social environment, like being rude in a discussion forum. Drawing the attention of others will more likely to make yourself a cyber-bullying target.

As a responsible Internet user, we should never participate in cyber-bullying activities such as disseminating or sharing offensive, rude, insulting or doxxing messages, photographs or videos.

The following are some guidelines for those who have encountered cyber-bullying:

Do not respond to cyber-bullies, as this may usually induce more bullying messages;
Do not erase or delete messages from cyber-bullies, as these may be used as evidence later;
Report to online service providers if the contents or messages are abusive or have violated their terms and conditions;
Report to the Hong Kong Police Force or the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data if cyber-bullying activities involve criminal offences (e.g. doxxing) or a misuse of personal data.

Parents and teachers should also provide guidance to their children and students, such as teaching them to be skeptical and cautious about the content on the Internet. Some guidelines can be obtained from the "Extended Readings and Other Resources" section.