The fight against HK cyberbullies gets a new upgrade with Teen Angels

The fight against HK cyberbullies gets a new upgrade with Teen Angels

Tackling trolls and abuse onlinestarts with knowing your enemy, Dr Parry Aftab tells Young Post

When it comes to insults, Dr Parry Aftab has heard them all. "When you talk to 10,000 kids a month for 20 years, it's rare that you find things you haven't heard before," she laughs.

Aftab is an expert on cyberbullying. She advises Facebook and other major social media sites on how to deal with the issue, and promotes cyberbullying awareness and prevention at the United Nations.

Her Teen Angels programme trains students to offer support and guidance to their peers when confronted with cyberbullying, and has chapters across the globe to help kids.

Now Aftab is looking to expand the reach of her Teen Angels programme to Hong Kong, starting with Yew Chung International School (YCIS).

The breakdown

"Cyberbullying is using digital technology as a weapon against another minor," Aftab explains. "Minor to minor, lots of minors to one minor, one minor to lots of minors, but kids on both sides - that's cyberbullying."

And Aftab says that students across the world have identified 78 different ways to use only a mobile phone to cyberbully someone.

While cyberbullying can take many different forms, it all breaks down into four main categories: direct, indirect, cyberbullying by proxy and invasion of privacy.

Direct cyberbullying is straightforward, says Aftab. "I hate you, you're fat, you're ugly, everybody hates you," she lists as examples. "Me to you, that's direct."

Indirect means going behind the target's back to get other people against them. "Indirect is saying nasty things about you to other people," Aftab says. "Don't you hate them? I hate them, too. Don't you know she's such a slut, he's so gay, whatever."

She says that with indirect cyberbullying, sexuality is often the number one form of attack. "Boys are gay, girls are sluts," she explains. "It's just how it falls into it."

Cyberbullying by proxy involves someone pretending to be you to try to get other people to attack you. "So, they'll set it up saying you did something, whether you did or you didn't, so that other people will now attack you because they think what you did was wrong," says Aftab. "Or pretending to be you, taking over your accounts, using your digital devices, saying things to get you in trouble."

All these methods use the target's actions - whether real or fake - against them, rather than making a direct attack.

"And then there's invasion of privacy," says Aftab, which is often the form of cyberbullying that gets the most media attention. "They'll take a video of you in the bathroom … they'll take pictures of you, they'll get into your devices."

Because the invasion of privacy is often embarrassing, it gets passed around quickly and often spreads before the target even knows what's happening.

The bullies

One of the main problems in addressing the issue of cyberbullying is how different it is from the way bullying occurs in real life. One of the biggest differences comes down to who is doing the bullying.

Aftab says that about 50 per cent of cyberbullies are the same ones who bully others in real life. "The other 50 per cent are often the victims of bullying in real life," she says. Being online gives them a sense of empowerment they may not feel in real life, and a way to exert that power is by putting down others online.

The other major difference in cyberbullying comes down to gender. "Usually in real life, bullying occurs [within the] same gender," says Aftab. "Girls against girls, boys against boys."

But not when it comes to cyberbullying. "Unlike real life, you get girls and boys teaming up to cyberbully somebody," she says.

The solution

In groups of students Aftab talks to, around 80 per cent say they have been cyberbullied. Of those, only about 20 per cent will ever report the bullying.

The effects of cyberbullying can even be felt offline. Aftab says many of the Hong Kong students she has talked to may be reluctant to come to school if their peers had been bullying them online.

"I'd never heard kids raise that issue," she admits. "You hear that in bullying, but not in cyberbullying."

Aftab chose YCIS as the starting point for her Teen Angels programme in Hong Kong, and the school already has measures in place to prevent cyberbullying - at least within the classroom. Group projects are monitored by teachers to keep cyberbullying to a minimum, and school administrators offer support to students.

Aftab says the Teen Angels are the ones bringing awareness to issues surrounding cyberbullying. "They are internet safety experts," she says. "They do independent research, look at the issues, pull things apart and put them back together in a way only young people could do."

The Teen Angels stand up to cyberbullying in a very public way. "If I can't appear at the United Nations or on television, the kids fill in for me," says Aftab. "Not any of our adult experts."

Aftab and YCIS want to involve more schools and students in the Teen Angels programme, and will hold a summit against cyberbullying this autumn. Their message is clear: hurting someone online is never okay.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Upgrade against cyberbullies

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