The decision to survey 3,000 students to assess the ramifications of cyberbullying and cyberspace addiction is timely, because the relevant agencies have thus far been content with superficial awareness campaigns, or piecemeal attempts at intervention and engagement. Consequently, what needs to follow – after the study concludes in 2015 – is for different government departments and other organisations to craft holistic policies collectively.
At the moment, endeavours are woefully half-hearted and disjointed. Bureaucrats have been throwing up initiatives like road-shows and workshops that do little to address the problem.
It would be naïve to think that incidents of harm and intimidation were non-existent before the advent of the Internet. Cases of bullying could have become more ubiquitous on the Internet – with the options of going anonymous and adopting pseudonyms, the accessibility of bio-data, and the convenience of republishing content – but it would be a mistake to address the problem independently. For a long time, the Media Development Agency has sought to tackle cyberbullying and cyber-wellness, but the benefits of its programmes are less precise. The Ministry of Education has surely recognised the detriments of cyberbullying among the tech-savvy youths, and has hopefully addressed them.
The message cannot be about “Ten Reasons Why Cyberbullying Is Bad, And Why You Should Not Dabble In It”, but “How Can We Be Kind To One Another”, or “We May Hold Different Opinions, But It Does Not Stop Us From Having That Basic Level Of Respect”.
Yet in schools, more often than not, pedagogies are based heavily on hypothetical what-ifs, and an over-reliance upon punitive measures when there are transgressions.
What is sorely lacking is a degree of specificity and interactions, at least within a classroom. For instance, an individual who has not experienced hate speech would find it difficult to identify with the harm or damage accrued. Instead of waxing lyrical about general recommendations against bullies, or asking a student to unquestionably approach a higher authority whenever he or she has been bullied, it would be meaningful to conduct intimate sharing sessions. Within the safe environment of the classroom, victims can speak about the attacks and insinuations they might have experienced, whereas perpetrators could be asked about their motives and thought-processes. This interaction between the parties is vital. The educator can facilitate the discussion, and explore dissimilar ways of responding to a situation.
The subjectivity of cyber-bullying can also make it easier for some to conveniently scream persecution, thereby – potentially – compromising the quality of discourse. Except in cases of blatant vitriol, laws are not sustainable strategies to combat harassment.
Essentially, the approach should not be prescriptive, but exploratory and discursive. Since the complete eradication of cyberbullying is impossible, informed education is the way to go.