Toby talks about defining the term online harassment and whether it is just an extension of the already existing harassment and violence in the offline world.
When thinking of people being harassed online and of cases like Amanda Todd or Megan Meier, who committed suicide after being cyberbullied; it seems clear that there is a need for the protection, especially of young people from cyberbullies. As the internet is shaping more of our every day’s life, cyber threats are becoming a huge issue in the world and Malaysia is not spared. A Microsoft survey in 2012 discovered that 37 percent of the Malaysian adolescents between the age of eight and seventeen were bullied online and became victims of a crime which is still hardly recognised and in many cases not taken seriously. China and Singapore were leading the statistic with 70 and 58 percent respectively.
What is more often not considered is that this issue is not only limited to children and adolescents but also extends to adults; especially the minority groups, in terms of religion, sexual orientation, ideology, and women, all have become targets of bullies and harassers on the internet. As online harassment and bullying seem to be such a heterogeneous (complex) field, it leads to questions about first, defining the terms and second, whether online harassment is just an extension of the already existing harassment and violence in the offline world.
Defining the issue and looking at the terms in use seems to be problematic. Cyber harassment, cyberbullying, online mobbing, online violence and many more – are just some of the expressions which refer to quite similar things. Even when looking up for definitions, it seems that they are highly dependent on the embedded context. Following a definition from Cyber Security Malaysia, “Cyberbullying is when a child is distressed, humiliated or targeted using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile devices.” It does not include adults, who obviously are bullied as well.
On cyberbullying, the European Commission states: “Cyberbullying is repeated verbal or psychological harassment carried out by an individual or group against others. It can take many forms: mockery, insults, threats, rumours, gossip, “happy slapping”, disagreeable comments or slander. Interactive online services (e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging) and mobile phones have given bullies new opportunities and ways in which they can abuse their victims.”
It can get even more confusing when looking at definitions of cyber harassment. The European Data Protection Supervisor, Giovanni Butarelli defines it as the following: “Harassment can be understood as unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which may range from unpleasant remarks to physical violence. When ICT are used as a tool to harass individuals, it is defined as cyber-harassment.”
What is urgently needed is a common definition to handle the topic and its complexity. In summing it up, we are talking about a repeated action, which humiliate a person in any form and is executed through any digital media communication device. Here, a possible solution for more clarity would be to refer to all these forms as cyber harassment as an umbrella term, which than includes cyberbullying – or online mobbing as it is referred to in most European countries – which should be seen as a special form of cyber harassment.
Now, the question still remains as to whether these forms of violence are different and thus should be treated differently from their offline versions. Many countries do have existing laws – so as Malaysia – against insult or defamation etc. and therefore treat cases of cyber harassment within this legal scope. However, when looking at the peculiarities of the internet, the discussion remains whether cyber harassment is different and can be tackled properly by those laws.
So, let’s look at the characteristics of cyber harassment. Cyberbullies for example, can reach more people with their actions which would not have been possible without the technology of the internet. Also many of the perpetrators act anonymously, which makes it harder to take legal actions. As the internet, especially the social media channels are becoming part of our daily life, the bullying also does not stop when the affected person comes home or changes school. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to erase information from the internet. Once it is there, it stays there.
All this should lead to an understanding why it is necessary to see the issue as distinct from offline harassment and why there is a need for a definition of the topic and the terms. UndiMsia! is running an awareness campaign against cyber threats /harassment and other harmful cyber behaviour with the hashtag #TakFunny. Do check out their infographic at http://campaigns.undimsia.com/takfunny/. Follow them on facebook and twitter.