The Hong Kong Family Welfare Society surveyed 1,500 students between Primary Four and Form Three. It found that up to 30.8 per cent of local students have been cyber-bullied - a figure much higher than the global 20 per cent.
"I do not think the high figure necessarily means that the problem is more serious in Hong Kong than in other places," says Elvis Ng Ho-hei, a social worker at the society. "Our students are aware of what it means to be cyber-bullied, so they are more willing to speak up about it. I find local students very well informed about cyber-bullying. I have talked to students [as young as in Primary One] and they are able to tell me that sending nasty messages through the internet is a form of cyber-bullying."
Ng spoke to education and social sciences students about the issue at a Cyber-Bullying Among Youth conference at the University of Hong Kong last Wednesday.
Another speaker at the conference, Marian Merritt, an internet safety advocate for Norton software, agrees that awareness is very important when dealing with the issue.
"In the United States, many children are bullied but do not talk about it," she says. "The culture there teaches children to be tough and not whiny. Sometimes this has led to cyber-bullying cases going unnoticed, and unfortunately in some cases, it has led to the victims committing suicide."
Merritt adds that it is wrong to think that cyber bullies are usually located overseas, and are therefore hard to trace. They are usually someone the victim knows in real life.
"In many cases, the bully will make fun of the victim on the internet, and schoolmates who have looked at the online post will laugh at the victim at school," she says.
Both Ng and Merritt say that teachers play an important role in preventing cyber-bullying.
"Some teachers do not have the confidence to handle cyber-bullying cases because they worry that they will not find the culprit, but that is a misunderstanding," says Ng. "Teachers do not necessarily need to catch the culprit in order to help. Simply showing the student who is being bullied that his or her problem is being taken seriously means a lot to the victim. The victim will feel safer going to school knowing that a teacher is aware of their troubles."
But teachers, too, can be cyber-bullied. "In many cases, a student will get the teacher worked up, record it on their phone, and post the video online to embarrass the teacher," says Merritt.
In the US, she says, students and teachers are discouraged from using social media websites to communicate with each other, as this could lead to inappropriate relations between the two.
The situation in Hong Kong is the opposite, says Ng. "If teachers are friends with students on social media, they can help students solve their problems."
In Hong Kong, very few schools have a policy to handle cyber-bullying. But Ng says the Education Bureau is providing training and guidelines to schools."There is very little secrecy in the cyber world, so think before you post," he advises.