While most reports of cyberbullying and the consequences that occur from bullying via the Internet and smartphones are based in the United States, ours isn’t the only country to have experienced this trend. As far away as Singapore in southern Asia, children have become victims of cyberbullying. In fact, cyberbullying has become so common that the government has stepped in to combat cyberbullying with a newly-proposed bill. Learn about Cyberbullying in Singapore!

A Bill to End Cyberbullying in Singapore

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Last Monday, Singapore’s Ministry of Law introduced a bill into parliament that would effect real consequences against those who participate in the hurtful act of cyberbullying. The intent of the bill is to officially legalize harassment that can happen in the realm of cyberspace. In addition to this, the cyberbullying bill will provide victims of this type of bullying with ways to protect themselves and legal recourse against their aggressors. These include the ability to apply for a Protection Order, which is similar to an American restraining order.

According to the bill on cyberbullying in Singapore, the following activities can count as cyberbullying in Singapore:

  • Stalking
  • Bullying
  • Sexual harassment
  • Harassment of children

While most people think of cyberbullying as something that happens to children and teenagers, the proposed bill also discusses cyberbullying within the workplace even if the employer is unwilling to take action. The law would also put into place measures that would help citizens of Singapore who are experiencing bullying outside of their home country.

This bill is the result of efforts between groups such as AWARE, the Singapore Children’s Society, and the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth. Each of these groups has provided support for victims of cyberbullying in the past.

Statistics related to cyberbullying in Singapore

Is a bill like this really necessary in Singapore? According to the results of surveys done by companies such as Microsoft, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” In a 2012 survey, Microsoft found that this country is the leader worldwide when it comes to cyberbullying, and that’s nothing to be proud of. Except for the United States, Singapore stands alone as a hot spot for cyberbullying.

Singapore has been quick to pick up on Internet usage, with more than 80% of the country’s citizens being active online. And where do they go when they sign on? Facebook is the most popular website among these users, and it’s easy to sling insults and other types of harassment on social media.

Another pole by Touch Cyber Wellness & Sports found that two-thirds of the respondents, all of whom were school age, had experienced cyberbullying in some form. For a majority of those children, cyberbullying was simply an extension of the physical trauma they were already experiencing at school.

Types of Cyberbullying

Several years ago, much cyberbullying occurred through instant messages, which were private and, as the name suggests, instant. However, Facebook has replaced many IM programs as the de facto way to send a message to another person, and many bullies have taken to the social network to attack their victims. Because of the nature of the networking system, Facebook saves messages sent when users aren’t online, so they’ll see those messages after they sign on the next time.

Even if victims change their privacy settings so they can’t receive messages from people who aren’t on their friend’s list or block specific users completely, bullies may still rely on their personal Facebook profiles or even create groups where they can continue to hurl insults and talk about their victim.

With the popularity of YouTube and other video-sharing websites, there is a new way to bully someone. Now, bullies can upload video blogs, or blogs, where they talk about their victims in cruel ways. Bullies won’t stop there, either. Many of them will make fun of other video bloggers.

Cyberbullying videos may include photos of their victims or may simply be videos of physical harassment occurring. Bullies will share and watch these videos online to continue getting enjoyment out of bullying. However, these videos can now become state evidence against the perpetrators of cyberbullying.

Other types of cyberbullying can include using usernames or email addresses that make fun of a person, such as “JohnSmithSucks.” Cyberbullying has also involved pretending to be someone else. This might be pretending to be a crush, like the infamous cyberbullying incident in Missouri that led to a teen’s suicide or pretending to be the victim herself in an attempt to mock her.

The outing is a specific type of cyber harassment in which the bully releases personal information such as texts, email messages, photos, or videos, about the victim. Printing out this personal information allows aggressors to take their bullying from cyberspace into the “real world.”

Cyberbullying can exist in many different ways, and not all users view the definition the same. This is one way that the proposed law will help citizens of Singapore: by providing clear definitions of actions that count as bullying on the Internet.

Famous Cases

Just look at the case of Jeraldine Phneah, who became the victim of cyberbullying last year after posting on her blog about immigrants to Singapore. While the blogger didn’t say or even imply that she held harsh feelings against immigrants, one group of readers misconstrued her post and began attacking her on Facebook. Lim Jialiang, a student at NTU which Jeraldine also attends, and his friends didn’t just go after Jeraldine for what they believed she was saying. They personally attacked her by introducing sexist remarks on her blog and on Facebook.

At the time, there was little that Jeraldine could do legally. She didn’t was to be reactionary and refrained from encouraging her readers to respond to cyberbullying in a similarly negative way. But she did reach out to professors at her university to speak with the boy, whom she had never before met. The result was less than inspiring. Very little mediation occurred, and no action was taken against the boy. However, Jialiang did issue an apology to Jeraldine. While she was initially relieved, she soon realized that the apology was false as Jialiang and his comrades continued to bash her on Facebook.

If this proposed law had been on the books at the time during which these events transpired, Jeraldine would have had the law on her side. She could have sought a Protection Order against Jialiang and his friends and he could have been held responsible through the legal system.

Of course, Jeraldine’s story is just one of many, and it’s unusual because she had never even met the perpetrator. In many cases, cyberbullying occurs between people who know each other offline. Bullying simply transfers from work or school to Facebook or another avenue of communication.

The Straits Times reports a story of a girl who endured verbal taunts and online harassment via blogs for more than six months. The cyberbullying lasted more than six months, and it wasn’t until the student would fake an illness to stay in school that her mother realized the extent of the poor treatment.

Channel News Asia reports on an adult woman who experienced cyberbullying two years ago. She would receive calls, texts, and messages via social media from a so-called “admirer” who would tell her that he knew where she was and what she was doing at all times. Despite changing her phone number and contact information to end this case of bullying, the woman still worries about her safety.

The Future of Cyberbullying in Singapore

Each of these cases shows a scenario where the victim of cyberbullying experienced psychological trauma but had the little option when it came to ending the bullying. If this cyberbullying law passes in Singapore, perpetrators will finally have to take responsibility for their actions and, perhaps, see the damage they have caused to their victims. According to AWARE executive director Corinna Lim, most victims in Singapore have forgone reporting to the police because there were no laws to protect them against this sort of behaviour. When victims would reach out to the authorities, there was nothing that could be done about cyberbullying.

It’s a different story now, however. The new law can lead to mandatory counselling at the Institute of Mental Health and possibly jail time. It’s unknown whether victims will have the right to pursue financial reparation, but it’s possible that courts in Singapore will allow this. This new law plans to take into consideration children who might be perpetrators of cyberbullying by providing them with options such as psychiatric treatment, counselling, or probation instead of jail time and fines.

With so much hanging in the balance, cyberbullies will think twice about sending that mean remark because it could jeopardize their reputation and career.

We invite you to spread the word about cyberbullying in Singapore!