Modern Abuse: Cyberbullying in the Philippines
by Ana Phyllis Isla
Rose, 16 years old & currently a 3rd year high school student in Baguio city, likes posting photos of herself on Facebook. One afternoon, when she checked her profile page, she found some very offensive comments from a particular group of her classmates. She decided to brush it off as she wasn’t friends with any of them but the same thing happened again after she updated her status and again when she posted another photo. “Nagets ko kagad na hindi nila ako lulubayan” (“It didn’t take me that long to realize that they weren’t planning on stopping any time soon,”) she said.
Peter K. Smith and Sonia Sharp explained that bullying is a systematic abuse of power. It is a repetitive and aggressive behaviour carried out by a person or a group of people against an individual who cannot readily defend themselves. According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is a frequent and serious problem but the rise of technology also gave rise to a new and more potent method to the abuse – Cyberbullying.
Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center described the Cyberbullying phenomena as “wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” It has been also defined as a situation when an individual is repeatedly tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another person using text messages using the Short Messaging System (SMS), e-mails, or any other type of digital technology.
Here in the Philippines, Filipinos are definitely enjoying the perks that technology brings. In fact, we are often dubbed as the “Texting Capital of the World” as Filipinos send billions of SMS messages per year. Also, according to the report released by the SocialBakers.com, an analytics and statistics monitoring web page, as of February 2012, the Philippines ranks eighth in the most number of Facebook users in the world, with approximately 27, 720, 300 Filipino Facebook users. Facebook’s penetration in the Philippines is about 27.75% of the country’s total population, with the youth, ages 13 – 17, comprising about 20% of the Philippine Facebook population.
Technology and the Internet have improved the lives of people, communication is easier and entertainment can be achieved in just a few clicks. However, the advent of the ‘modern world’ also brings with it adverse effects. Although Social Networking sites such as Twitter & Facebook were created to ‘bridge the gaps between people’, they have been an ideal, ‘virtual playground’ for cyberbullies. According to a survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 20 percent of students from ages 11 to 18 surveyed last year said they’d been cyberbullied at some point in their lives. According to the National Crime Prevention Center, over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access have reported being bullied online on 2008.
Facebook has opened many opportunities as a communication tool, however, it also paved a new way for abusers to expand the reach and the extent of the harm they do. As many as the ‘fan pages’ that runs rampant through the Facebook groups feature are the ‘hate’ groups or the ‘Anti-’ groups of such pages. One example is 16-year-old Chienna Filomeno’s “We hate Chienna Filomeno” group. Her hate group’s posts are always derogatory to young Chienna and the comments even more so. The moderator of the hate group would post pictures of her in compromising positions and encourage the commenters to post their opinions, which are usually mean and unforgiving. Chienna Filomeno is a cosplayer from a prominent high school in Manila and sometimes people claiming to be her schoolmates would post there and say thing like, “Ay! Kilala ko yan sa school! Malandi talaga yan!” (Oh! I know her from our school! She really is promiscuous!) One of the posts on the group showed Chienna on a bed with her former boyfriend, followed by a post of her former boyfriend implying that Chienna is no longer a ‘virgin’. There were no holds barred on the virtual audience. Many were calling her names and questioning even her parent’s values, some pitied her and tried to vindicate her actions but they were soon met with malicious replies enough for them to give up.
There are many detrimental outcomes of cyberbullying. Many targets of cyberbullying report feeling depressed, sad, angry, and frustrated. And some victims who experience cyberbullying are also afraid or embarrassed to go to school. Victims of cyberbullying also tend to develop low self-esteem. Research also shows that there are links between cyberbullying and family problems, academic problems, school violence, and delinquent behaviour. And while the cyberbully rarely inflicts physical harm to their victims, the psychological damage they cause, if bad enough, can compel the cybervictims to inflict physical harm on themselves. In fact, there have already been a number of young people around the world taking their own lives due to cyberbullying.
Derrick, a 14-year-old highschool student, confessed that ever since he realized his gender preference in Elementary, he has long since accepted the fact that there would always be people who would be critical of him. However, he still gets pretty upset whenever some people call him names online. Some even text him using a number he doesn’t recognize and slams him for being a homosexual. He said that he is not sure about the identity of his attackers and that the sense of not knowing who his attackers are has developed into some sort of paranoia. “Paminsan-minsan hindi ko na kilala kung sino ang mga kaibigan ko at sino ang mga kaaway ko.” (Sometimes I don’t even know who my friends are and who my enemies are.) One time, the abuse got so bad that he refused to go to school for two days. His parents were worried but he never told his parents about what he was going through because he was afraid that they would not understand his situation. Also, he thinks that telling them won’t do anything good anyway.
Cyberbullying can be much worse than the ‘traditional’ bullying as it has more vicious characteristics. First, of course, is the anonymity of the cyberbully. Although in reality the victims of cyberbullying may actually know who their attacker is, it will just be lost behind the cloak of anonymous email addresses, pseudonymous screen names, or private cellphone numbers. The very small likelihood of tracing where the message came from actually encourages the negative behaviour. It strips the cyberbully of his inhibitions and frees him from the constraints of consequences. It can be very easy to be cruel with the use of technology. A study by Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly J. Mitchell, which examined youth engaging in online harassment, found that adolescents who would not act aggressively in the traditional bullying scenario might feel less constrained on-line. The “anonymity associated with online interactions may strip away many aspects of socially accepted roles, leading the Internet to act as a potential equaliser for aggressive acts”. As communication is no longer bound by time or space, a cyberbully can send an untraceable offensive message from any computer in any café or private laptop or cellphone at whatever time of day or night.
In today’s world where communication is 24/7, it is becoming more and more difficult to be separated from your own mobile device. It has come to the point where not owning one can lead to ostracism. As Hinduja & Patchin has observed, the youth has completely embraced interactions via cellphones and computers. And since the victims themselves cannot be parted from their own handheld gadget, they become more vulnerable to the abuse. They always have the option of leaving their mobile gadget off but then it isolates them from the incoming messages that are actually of some importance or relevance. Mario, a 3rd year high school student here, said, “Paano ‘pag biglang tumawag si mama? Paano ‘pag emergency? ‘Pag naiwan ko wallet ko sa bahay, ok lang sa’kin kasi pwede naman ako mangutang sa mga kaibigan ko. Pero ‘pag cellphone ko na yung naiwan…kulang na lang liparin ko yung bahay namin.” (What if my mother calls? What if there’s an emergency? I’m okay with accidentally leaving my wallet at home because I can always borrow some money from my friends but if I leave my cellphone at home…I have to go back even if I need to fly home.)
In the Philippines, we often hear celebrities like Sarah Geronimo being victims of cyberbullying. Celebrities are often the victims of identity theft as people use their names and pictures to create an account for their personal use. But even from the stars themselves, there are cyberbullies. Ampalaya Anonymous is a clique formed by popular actresses who recently gained popularity for reportedly bullying a fellow actress via Twitter. And although she has vehemently denied it, Kim Chiu and her group of friends were put on a spot for reports of cyberbullying. University of the Philippines Diliman Sociology and Anthropology professor, Dr. Virgilio Binghay, explained that the rampant identity stealing and cyber-bullying is a form of crab mentality. Cyberbullies pull other people down for their own personal agenda.
“Kasi, Ate, alam mo yung Gossip Girl? Parang ganun yun feeling,”(Ate, do you know Gossip Girl? That’s what it feels like,) Apple, a 15-year-old high school student, replied when asked why she was posting rumours about her on classmates on Facebook. She said that her classmates go to her ‘Gosssip Girl’ page to know what other people’s dirty laundry are. She said that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong because she’s just simply posting the things that everyone’s saying. “Pinaguusapan naman ng lahat sa school, nilalagay ko lang naman sa FB.” (Everyone’s talking about it at school anyway. I’m merely posting the stuff on FB.)
Gossip Girl is an American TV series that revolves around a virtual entity called ‘Gossip Girl’ who posts rumours in a blog about Manhattan’s Upper East Side. After the show launched in 2007, it also started the trend of internet ‘Gossip Blogs’ where you can find rumours about the ‘people in your neighbourhood’. Perhaps there is no single answer as to why people act as cyberbullies. As James Lehman points out, some people simply bully other people because it solves their social problems. It might satisfy their need for attention or it might be the one gaining them respect. In adolescents, bullying is a means to finding one’s identity and establishing their place in their clique. But of course, bullying is never right.
In various parts of the world, many governments are acting to criminalise cyberbullying. There are also efforts to do the same here in the Philippines. Last year, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had filed Senate Bill no. 2677, or the Anti-Bullying School Policy Act. In an explanatory note, she acknowledged the existence of cyberbullying and its long-term threats. The Anti-Bullying School Policy Act would require all schools to create policies that would address and increase the awareness on the issues of bullying and cyberbullying in their school. “A direct correlation with the reduction of bullying incidents is the increase in awareness and concern among school administrators of these incidents, and the positive action of providing venues for parents, faculty and school officials to report such incidents to authorities,” she said.
Cyberbullying here in the Philippines doesn’t get much attention as there are no official reported cases about it. But just because it remains unreported doesn’t mean that it is not happening. Interviews with the local high school students here show that the youth are aware that cyberbullying is a serious issue. However, most of them do not know how to react when faced with those kinds of situations. Majority of the students just keeps mum about it because they think that it is a ‘normal’ part of the ‘online experience’. Cyberbullying affects many adolescents on a daily basis and while it may be difficult to stop, it is not impossible. Everyone can help stop Cyberbullying by making other people, especially the youth, aware about the real deal on Cyberbullying. The first step is to educate the youth on what can be classified as cyberbullying and that cyberbullying is wrong and is not a ‘normal’ behaviour or experience. It is also good to encourage victims of cyber bullying to talk to adults or other people when they are experiencing cyberbullying instead of merely putting up with it. Of course, the youth themselves also have to be more responsible with what information they post online. As a user of a social networking site, what the content of their site would be on their own jurisdiction. However, they should be more aware on what could be considered as inappropriate content. As a campaign of a local media here in the Philippines say: Think before you click.
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