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VietNamNews

Online bullying: a curse of our time

Update: February, 29/2012 - 09:50

by Khanh Van

 

Two weeks have passed since young high schooler Quynh Anh from HCM City appeared on Viet Nam's Got Talent season 1. Being on television, especially for a newcomer, can be nerve-racking enough, even without an embarrassing faux pas.

Unfortunately for Anh, the agony and ecstasy of appearing on the popular show turned into a nightmare when, after being voted out of the competition, her mother stormed onto the stage, snatched the mike and proceeded to enthuse about her daughter's talent to the audience while the young girl looked on mortified. To add insult to injury, the mother then berated the judges, and told them, in no uncertain terms, exactly what she thought of them.

Who hasn't felt embarrassed by one's parents at some stage of other? But it's particularly horrifying when it happens in front or your friends, or those whom you admire, or both. Now imagine what this poor lamb must have suffered at the hands of her well-meaning, if not pushy, mother. Just remember that this girl's only "crime" was to do her best in an extremely stressful situation. Not only did she have to suffer the indignity of being shown up in front of a live TV audience, but the programme is watched by hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

And to make matters worse, following the mother's regrettable antics on TV, the young teen has been the victim of a merciless and particularly nasty hate campaign on social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook and even YouTube since the show was aired on TV.

Her torment has reached such a pitch that she even sent a letter to the National Assembly several days ago in which she said that she had not been able to properly sleep or eat or concentrate on her school work since the show.

"Sometimes I feel I do not have enough strength to overcome this… I am so scared. The public criticises me and my mother every few minutes [on the internet].... The images of me and my mother and the most venomous comments have spread worldwide," she wrote, adding that the experience would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Now bullying at school is a problem throughout the world, and Viet Nam is no exception. But with the development of social networking sites it has become particularly insidious. After all, it takes a measure of courage to bully someone to their face, but it is relatively easy to do it over the Net in a bid to be popular. In fact, in the cyber world it can be even more demoralising as it flies around the world.

Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites can be great fun, as anyone who has used them can attest, but they can be a double-edged sword. Even the innocuous "unfriending" on Facebook can be painful. Imagine this 15-year-old teen's torment.

And this throwing of stones over the internet is a growing problem. In fact, internet bullying has even resulted in a number of victims committing suicide.

In one particularly disturbing incident, Natasha MaBryde, a 15-year-old school girl in England, killed herself last year after being repeated bullied about her parents' divorce – to her face and online.

Recent research in the US, the UK and China have found that between 10-55 per cent of youngsters between the ages of 13 and 20 have been victims of online abuse, and one-third of them had experienced feelings of anxiety, shame and anger.

But before these bullies post comments on the Net, they should bear in mind that defamation laws apply to cyberspace as well as the real world.

"With the rapid development of social networking sites, it is easy for internet users to harass others. However, bloggers should remember that they must get the nod from those who they want to write about on their blog or social networking sites. If not, they could be prosecuted," said lawyer Nguyen Duy Quang in Ha Noi.

Dao Kim Phu from the Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information said internet libel or slander in Viet Nam could result in a maximum fine of VND100 million (US$4,800), depending on the severity of the case.

However, victims of abuse, whether sexual or otherwise, are understandably reluctant to speak out about harassment.

"It is not popular for victims to speak out when they suffer from online bullying, and it is not easy to identify cyber bullies, most of whom are anonymous," Quang said.

However, the internet is not as anonymous as some people think, and personal computers have a unique IP address.

Quang said he hoped stiffer penalties would be imposed for online abuse. In the meantime, it ought to be borne in mind that character assassination from afar only betrays the immaturity and cowardliness of the perpetrator. Let's hope beyond hope that the vilification of Anh soon peter out, and that internet bullying will become a thing of the past. — VNS

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