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The Cyberbully's Playground: Open 24/7

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The cycle of cyberbullying is about more than just bullies and victims. To put a stop to it, everyone else including the bystanders needs to get involved too.

By Mai Oldgard, SVP and Head of Sustainability of Telenor Group

Picture a schoolyard, students standing in a circle around a girl or boy, being mocked for his or her clothes and possibly being shoved by some of the other students. A classic example of bullying, you might think. Now imagine this same behaviour - but happening in the devices in your children's hands, in their bedrooms and around the clock. This is bullying of the 21st century, more invasive, maybe harder to notice, unless you know where to look, and increasingly common across hyper-connected Asia - cyberbullying.

Internet gateways are swinging open across Asia, sending our children out into an exciting, interactive world of new knowledge and experiences. Today, digital skills have become crucial in not only shaping children's social life but potentially their future professional lives also. While children today need to know how to make the best of the opportunities in the online world, they should also understand and learn to deal with risks, such as online bullying.

Our children are the keenest explorers of the online world, and it is up to all of us to help them develop the skills needed to be smart online, to use their heads (and hearts) when interacting in the digital space and to know when they need to involve a parent or an authority. With June 16 marking Stop Cyberbullying Day, I encourage everyone to get educated on the new reality our children are facing, and help them deal with the risks of being online.

As more children in Asia are expected to be online in the years to come, some estimates say 500 million by 2020; the occurrence of cyberbullying is likely to increase. Cyberbullying happens through text messages, e-mails, instant messaging services like Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat, in addition to social media networks like Facebook and Instagram.

These networks have seen an immense growth in users in Asia over the last years; both Instagram and Snapchat users in the Asia-Pacific countries have doubled only from 2014 to 2016 (However, the phenomenon of cyberbullying in social media is far from new; in 2013 a report stated that 87 per cent of teenagers had witnessed cyberbullying on Facebook, and some 20 per cent on Twitter (2). Many children experience cyberbullying in some form; as victim or bully, or often as a bystander. Indeed, one can say that the schoolyard now encompasses social media.

Cyberbullying differs from "traditional" bullying in several ways; cyberbullies hide behind screens, and are more likely to say harsher things when not facing the victim in person. This perceived anonymity, combined with the permanence of potentially offensive items like photos or videos online, intensifies the psychological and emotional effects which victims of cyberbullying may suffer. Being bullied online is also sometimes very public and can be shared with a large audience in only a matter of seconds. And lastly, it's always there.  You can leave the physical schoolyard, but it's much more difficult to turn off the digital world. With that, here are some of the ways parents can help prevent or mitigate such experiences:

In recent years, many initiatives on cyberbullying have been formed by partnerships between governments, NGOs and private companies in Asia. The goals of such programmes are to educate parents and students on cyberbullying and provide them tools to act safely and empathetically online. One example is CyberSafe in Malaysia, where children and youth, their parents and organisations can access anti-digital bullying material for educational purposes. In addition it offers a programme for schools in Malaysia to create awareness and empower students and teachers with digital resilience skills to stay safe on the internet. The programme also engages teachers and parents to help the children learn about safe online practices. In the end, it is a shared responsibility to help empower children to reap the benefits of the digital word while staying safe.

Empathy is a word that we should all impart on our children, our students and our stakeholders because everyone - whether bully, victim or bystander, whether digital service provider, NGO or government - everyone has a role to play in making sure the online world is a safe place for all. And empathy and awareness are our two strongest tools.

For further reading on this topic, and other examples of Telenor's programmes and initiatives, visit Be Smart, Use Heart



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