How to spot cyberbullying and what to do if it’s happening to you

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Yuhan Huang
  • Bullying that happens on social media sites like Instagram can still have real-life consequences
  • Even if you think you’re anonymous, things you post can still come back to haunt you
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Yuhan Huang |

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It's painful to deal with online bullying and it can be hard to ignore trolls, but there are other things you can do if you find yourself with this problem.

Where do you go for good feels and relaxation? If you’re like most of us, it’s social media. Let’s face it – most of our downtime is spent messaging friends or scrolling through Instagram.

So, it sucks that our cosy haven is crawling with cyberbullies. In most cases, they’re a schoolmate or someone you considered a “friend”. In most cases, the best thing to do is to ignore the bully because trying to answer them will only egg them on.

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What is most worrying about cyberbullying, though, is that it can have real-life consequences. One secondary student in Hong Kong, who wasn’t even on social media, was falsely accused by her classmates of being involved in compensated dating. The rumour spread in a forum. Some of the girl’s “friends” posted her photo and phone number for “investigation”. As a result, the victim received thousands of nuisance calls from men inappropriately harassing her for sex.

Or how about students entering new relationships, who might think it’s romantic to share their personal passwords? They might not realise this opens up their entire history to their new love.

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This can cause some real problems. If your new bae is possessive, they can easily scroll through messages from past relationships. And heaven forbid that your new relationship turns sour, because then you’re an easy target. They can also impersonate you and send messages to your contacts, like your past girlfriends or boyfriends.

Be careful what you say online because it can come back to haunt you or others in your life. While you might be annoyed at your mum or dad, saying something in a forum about them abusing you – when it is not true – can cause people on that forum to worry for you. They might try to avenge you even without asking you first.

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This can happen even if you only share it with your close friends. Once you hit the publish key, you have lost control over what other people do with your content. You might not directly share it in public, but other people can – and very well may – share your information without your knowledge or permission.

So what can you do if you’re being bullied?

  • Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t respond, engage, or escalate.
  • If you’re being cyberbullied, start to keep records of dates, incidents, screencaps and so on, because if you need to report it, you need the proof.
  • If things are bad, tell an adult you trust, and show them the evidence.

When is it bad enough to go to the police? Cyberbullying becomes a crime when it involves theft and misuse of personal data, and harassing messages.

Information provided by the Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau (CSTCB)

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