Combating Cyberbullying in Southeast Asia: How ASEAN Can Adopt A Regional Approach

“I cried a lot as soon as I saw their comments,” said Ma Ma (name changed due to privacy reasons), in an upsetting tone. “We were not that close so I supposed they never had any grudge or hatred against me. That’s why I didn’t have an idea of being involved in this kind of situation” she continued. 

Ma Ma was a victim of cyberbullying on one of Myanmar’s most popular social media platforms, Facebook. She was insulted online by a group of her classmates who posted statuses and wrote abusive comments, targeting her implicitly. However, the bullying did not stop there;  with anonymous strangers soon joining the ridicule, by sharing the negative comments online.

“Now, I do not trust anything on social media anymore. Although I did moved on, the fear still haunts me today.”

Whilst disturbing, this incident of cyberbullying is certainly not an isolated one. With the advent of state-of-the-art communication technologies and increasing means of digital contact , cyberbullying has become one of the foremost problems on the frontier of emerging digital technologies. And to make matters  worse? Cyberbullying has the ability to transcend time and space, creating an inescapable web of despair for it’s increasing number of victims.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is, simply, a form of bullying using electronic means. In the book “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying”, cyberbullying is explained as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. 

According to the Harford County Examiner report, it is estimated around half of teens across the globe have been the victims of cyberbullying (Cyberbullying Statistics). Moreover, as technology change and development sweeps across the globe, cyberbullying  is breaking down the traditional barriers, where victims may have previously sought refuge.

  • Cyberbullying happens in different forms:
  • Harassment over the Internet
  • Cyberstalking
  • Impersonation (i.e. creating a fake account with another person’s  photos and posing as them on social media) 
  • Sharing rumors about someone online
  • Blackmailing over the  Internet
  • Making obscene and  sexual remarks towards a person on social media
  • Sharing other’s  secrets or personal information on the Internet
Figure 2. How does cyberbullying impact people? Image from: verywell family

Cyberbullying can have long lasting, and  far-reaching impacts on the lives of its victims, and will also indirectly affect friends and social connections of those subjected. The anonymous dissemination of fake news and slanderous content through an increasing array of websites is growing in popularity, and can often leave many victims feeling vulnerable and rob a person of their right to self expression and determination  in the digital age. The targeted shaming and sexual harassment of young girls is also emerging as a contentious matter, as the usage of hacking and fake accounts to access nude images continues to impact the lives of countless young women. 

Victims are likely to experience a variety of negative emotions including lower self-esteem, fear, frustration, anger, and depression after being cyberbullied. In extreme cases, those negative emotional sufferings can lead to suicide.

Cyberbullying in ASEAN

Cyberbullying poses a serious challenge to the mental wellbeing of youth today. As a region with one of the fastest-growing youth populations nearing 213 million, cyberbullying in the ASEAN context needs to be reassessed as a complicated issue that requires a comprehensive, regional approach in the coming years. While some policymakers view cyberbullying as a contingent issue, for many ASEAN member states, the repercussions are already being felt.

A 2015 study revealed that 80% of Filipino teenagers aged 13 to 16 are reported to have experienced cyberbullying. UNICEF Indonesia (2014) study found that children and adolescents aged 10 to 19 are active internet users and have experienced cyberbullying such as name-calling, being ridiculed due to physical appearance, or online threats. (Gayatri, Gati & Rusadi, Udi & Meiningsih, Siti & Mahmudah, Dede & Sari, Diana & Kautsarina, Kautsarina & Cahyo Karman, Ari & , Nugroho, 2015)

Governments acknowledged cyberbullying as a threat, especially a threat toward children and started to adopt some policies and legal instruments. However, practices and approaches within ASEAN are varied because of different social contexts and the different rates of cyberbullying. (Regina Maria Niña M. Ruiz, 2015)

In the Philippines, the Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 was enacted for curbing cyberbullying among students by making elementary and secondary schools prepare and implement guidelines over the matter. It also outlines proper actions to take once a school detected any cyberbullying situation, such as immediate response, investigation, reporting the bullying incident, documentation, disciplinary measures, and due process; and it is compulsory for schools. (REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10627, 2013)

In spite of not having an official position on  the matter, Thailand also seems active in tackling cyberbullying. Thailand has opened a chat line service known as “Stop Bullying Chat Line” which features programs where young, affected children can speak to psychologists.  Furthermore , Malaysia has launched a host of different programs, united in the aim of promoting awareness of cyberbullying. Such programs are already gaining traction, with schools moving to integrate of educational modules that aim to educate children, and serve as a guide in combating cyberbullying. (Regina Maria Niña M. Ruiz, 2015)

Suggestion: How ASEAN Can Address Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is mostly understated on agendas of ASEAN meetings. Even when it is represented in meetings, it goes under the category of violence against women and children and is rarely addressed independently. 

Nevertheless, it appears that ASEAN has started to notice the impacts of cyberbullying in recent years. To develop preventive measures against violence in cyberspace and to ensure that these measures are extended to every community, cyberbullying was addressed in the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Children (2016-2025). However, responses as a regional entity have been limited,  compared to the individual efforts of country on the matter. 

So, how can ASEAN scale up its efforts on combating cyberbullying? ASEAN Commission on the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) may provide a solution. As an established consultative body of ASEAN, ACWC has the ability to  raise awareness on the cyberbullying issue and advocate for more effective solutions in relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies; particularly the ASEAN Ministers Meeting on Social Welfare and Development, in which an annual report is submitted. In doing so, the cyberbullying issue will at worst, garner more attention and greater exposure and at best, encourage the formation of an all-inclusive, cooperative framework designed to prevent the continuation of cyberbullying in ASEAN.

ACWC can provide further technical assistance to ASEAN member states with regard to dealing with cyberbullying. As part of the group’s  function, as stated in its Terms of Reference, ACWC can equip relevant stakeholders at all levels with advice and knowledge over such matters. For instance, ACWC can organize workshops to educate teachers on cyberbullying. These kinds of actions will reinforce existing anti-cyberbullying programs (if any) and motivate new initiatives.

Right now, it is possible to observe the  emergence of non-traditional problems around the world. Modern problems require modern solutions; and ASEAN’s regional approach will provide the bedrock on which a modern, comprehensive solution to cyberbullying may be established.

References

1.Cyber Bullying Statistics. Retrieved it from www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html

2.Cyberbullying-top tips for young people. Retrieved it from www.saferinternet.org.uk/blog/cyberbullying-top-tips-young-people 

3.Cyberbullying. Retrieved it from www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/cyberbullying/

4.First ASEAN Youth Development Index in 2017

5.Curbing Cyberbullying among Students: A Comparative analysis of Existing Laws among Selected ASEAN Countries by Regina Maria Niña M. Ruiz 

6.ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Children (2016-2025).

7.ASEAN Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter Terrorism

8.REPUBLIC ACT NO. 10627

9.Terms of Reference (ASEAN COMMISSION ON THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN)

 10.Gayatri, Gati & Rusadi, Udi & Meiningsih, Siti & Mahmudah, Dede & Sari, Diana & Kautsarina, Kautsarina & Cahyo Karman, Ari & , Nugroho. (2015). Digital Citizenship Safety Among Children And Adolescents in Indonesia. 6. 2087-132.