“But the issues raised in both instances are similar – increasingly rampant cases of people’s private lives being played out very publicly, thanks to new media and technology” (What If Online Pranks Go Out Of Line Here?, Miss Sandra Leong and Mr. Tham Yuen-C).
The commentary “What If Online Pranks Go Out Of Line Here?” (October 2, 2010) by Miss Sandra Leong and Mr. Tham Yuen-C is a timely one, given that the trend of cyber-bullying has been greatly proliferated in the United States. Tyler Clementi’s decision to resort to suicide is an unfortunate one; however, not only does the incident highlight the dangers brought about by the Internet, it also reflects the insufficiency of public education programmes – both internationally and in Singapore – to constructively address the perils of on-line pranks and bullying. Furthermore, the absence of specific legislation against the invasion of privacy and cyber-abuses has empowered many to capitalise on the Internet’s anonymity for various acts of malice.
Cyber-bulling and the invasion of privacy on the Internet can have significant ramifications. Antagonists and bullies – empowered by an assortment of on-line tools and the Internet’s accessibility – will go to lengths to harass their friends or counterparts in the name of fun and enjoyment, without contemplating the consequences. From direct to proxy attacks, victims often feel helpless in the barrage of insensitivity and negativity, and even threatened by hurtful acts or messages. More significantly, hate pictures and videos posted on sites, even after they have been deleted, would remain in circulation thanks to speedy forms of dissemination and the availability of caches.
Prevention is definitely better than cure; yet so little has been done by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to educate the young about the perils of the Internet, and how on-line postings and activity should be managed. Besides engaging students in the forms of damage control – in terms of how to react appropriately when something malicious or hateful has been posted against an individual – they must be imbued with the consciousness that as in the real world, they are accountable for what they write on-line.
The administration should consider reaching out to existing voluntary organisations – such as TOUCH Cyber-Wellness – which are already engaged in cyber-wellness programmes; and empower them with greater resources and manpower. The partnerships should be a tripartite one, involving parents, educators and the community at large. Parent groups can prove to be potent forces, because as the adults update themselves with information and strategies to tackle cyber-abuses, they do not positively influence their children per se, but also subconsciously encourages them to be more cognisant of their actions on-line: on websites or on social networking avenues.
We will never know how many Singaporeans have been affected adversely through the aforementioned; but if we relish in our inertia, more lives will definitely be affected, given the rapid advent of technology day-in, day-out.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.