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Children aged 10 ‘victims of cyberbullying by classmates who share half naked pictures of them’, youth group warns

Community leaders meet at conference held by Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups to discuss ways to combat increasing trend of cyberbullying

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 11:02am

Hong Kong children as young as 10 are victims of cyberbullying by classmates who use WhatsApp to share half naked pictures of them sitting on the toilet, a youth service organisation has warned.

Abusers share the pictures purely to embarrass their victims by “shaming” them in front of other classmates, according to the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG).

The disturbing trend is one of a number of forms of cyberbullying to emerge in the city in recent years, the organisation said.

The HKFYG invited police officers, academics and legal experts to discuss ways to tackle cybercrime at a conference in North Point on Thursday after statistics showed a worrying rise in the number of young victims.

Cyberbullying and hacking are the most common forms of technology crime suffered by Hong Kong’s youth, the HKFYG has found.

The former only becomes a crime when it involves repeated harassment and threats, and it can be difficult to prosecute offenders.

There was a fivefold increase in cyberbullying cases between 2013 and 2014, from six to 34, according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

But HKFYG supervisor Wilson Chan Man-ho said his organisation estimated only about a quarter of cyberbullying victims were formally reporting their abuse.

He said there needed to be better legislation to combat the problem because existing harassment laws did not adequately cover some complicated technology-based cases.

He said his organisation had launched a new freephone number for both victims and abusers of cybercrime to seek support.

These victims feel like nothing can help them to solve this problem
Wilson Chan Man-ho, HKFYG supervisor

“These victims feel like nothing can help them to solve this problem,” he said. “They feel unhappy to continue using social media.”

Chan said education about all types of cybercrime in Hong Kong was needed from primary school onwards as the age children first get access to smartphones and the internet decreases.

“We need to encourage both victims and abusers to speak up,” he said. “The victims particularly have no channel to seek help at the moment.”

Detective Senior Inspector Dicky Wong, who also spoke at the HKFYG conference, has said that naked chat blackmail and sextortion are some of the most common types of cybercrime young Hongkongers fall victim to, but there have been no convictions so far because the abusers generally live outside Hong Kong.

Victims tend to be aged 25 to 35, with both young men and young women being targeted at equal rates, he said.

Why cyberbullying is so hard on teenagers, and what Hong Kong parents can do

They are often seduced by their abuser’s pictures on social media, and upload their own racy pictures in return, before a cycle of blackmail begins, Wong wrote in the autumn 2016 edition of HKFYG’s magazine. ”You would be surprised how many people fall into these traps,” he said.

Wong added that young people are also often the victims of online gaming fraud, where they will be asked to transfer money into bogus accounts by criminals who pose as computer game masters.

“It’s becoming increasingly easy to commit cybercrime,” he said.

There have been calls for new, more specific legislation to combat cyberbullying, as current laws do not properly cover the crime, but there remain concerns that this could impact the privacy of Hongkongers.

Unlike some high-profile cases in the United States and Britain, cyberbullying has not yet been explicitly cited as a primary cause of student suicide in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, last year saw a worrying rise in the number of student suicides, suggesting teenagers here are increasingly vulnerable to anxiety and depression, which could in turn put them at greater risk of manipulation online.

In October 2013, one of Hong Kong’s most high-profile instances of cyberbullying saw an 18 year old relentlessly harassed online. She was wrongly identified by a newspaper as the attacker in a viral video which showed a 20-year-old woman repeatedly slapping her kneeling boyfriend for cheating on a street in Kowloon. The teenager subsequently complained to the police that she had been bullied online. The woman was eventually freed on a good behaviour bond by Kowloon City Court.

Kenny K.S. Wong, chairman of the Intellectual Property Committee at the Law Society of Hong Kong, Dr K.P. Chow, chairman of the Information Security and Forensics Society, and Albert W.H. Luk, a barrister, also spoke at the HKFYG conference on Thursday.

HKFYG invites victims of cybercrime to call its free hotline on 8100 9669, Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 10pm

Cyberbullying around the world

Singapore

Cyberharassment and stalking became illegal in 2014. A third of children aged 13 to 18 have been victims of cyberbullying. There was a surge in online credit-for-sex scams in 2015, which saw victims lose about S$1.59 million (HK$8.64 million) in the first six months of the year.

Australia

About 75 per cent of all Australian schools reported instances of cyberbullying in 2014. It is illegal to harass or threaten someone using social media, and there have been cases in which serious abuse has been punished. Anyone who possesses a photograph of someone aged under 18 naked or partially naked could be breaking the law and face a custodial sentence.

Britain

Threatening somebody online, or using the internet to cause them harm or distress, is illegal. Depending on the nature of the crime, offenders face punishment under the 1997 Harassment Act. In recent months there has been a growing trend of “roasting”, in which teenage girls reportedly set up an online chat room on a mobile app such as WhatsApp in order to abuse a boy they all know.

Canada

In November 2013 the police were given more extensive powers to investigate cyberbullying under the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. It enables them to seize electronics in cases where they suspect someone is a victim of cyberbullying, as well as allowing them to surveil potential offenders more closely.

Source: Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups

What to do if you are a victim of cyberbullying

• Children should seek help from parents, teachers or adults that they can trust

• For minor incidents of cyberbullying, for example, a mean or nasty comment, the best response could be no response

• Use the blocking feature on social networking sites to stop receiving bullying messages

• Complain directly to the social network operator about abusive content

• In serious cases, report the abuse to the police

• In cases where there has been a misuse of data, make a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data

Source: Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data