What the youths say

As one of the judges for the Golden Youth Award Innovation Challenge 2022, I got an opportunity to interact with the top 20 candidates from the 20 Dzongkhags for the award last week. The innovation challenge required talking about some of the problems that we face as a nation or society. The candidates talked about all the usual challenges that we adults normally talk about such as youth unemployment, waste issues, climate change, substance abuse, brain drain etc., but some of them also mentioned cyberbullying as an emerging issue. They said that cyberbullying is happening since youths spend a lot of time online these days, on social media or gaming platforms. 

 So what is cyberbullying? 

Cyberbullying is another form of bullying. It takes place through calls or messages over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. While physical bullying or traditional bullying happens when the victim is in physical proximity to a bully, cyberbullying can happen even when you are in the comfort of your home. The bully could threaten or degrade you by sending you text, image, video or voice messages. 

According to website stopbullying.gov run by the US Government, “Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behaviour”.

Trolling vs Cyberbullying

Troll and trolling is another common term that I hear kids use these days while taking about bad guys they meet online, especially on gaming platforms. So, what is it? Is it same as cyberbullying?

According to webwatcher.com which markets products to help parents protect their children online, trolling involves making argumentative or offensive statements in an effort to get attention and start arguments, while cyberbullying is more targeted. Cyberbullying is an attempt to inflict harm on a person or group of persons. However, sometimes, there may be very thin line separating the two. 

Examples of cyberbullying

The following are some examples of cyberbullying. Some may not seem very risky. However, if the cyberbully continues to taunt the victim for a long time, it can have grave impact on the victim’s mental health. 

a) Posting private or embarrassing photos online or sending them to others

At a school picnic, Dorji takes an embarrassing photo of a girl. He then posts the photo on Facebook and sends the photo to all of the other students. The photo then gets distributed. It can now never completely be erased from the Internet. 

b) Harassing other players in multiplayer online games

Many children, especially boys, play multiplayer online games. Bullying can take place in the form of 

c) Sending mean texts or instant messages to someone

Dorji sends a message to Pema telling her how fat she is.

d) Pranking someone’s cell phone

Dorji calls Pema from an unknown phone number and tells her that he knows a secret (made up or real) about her and he is going to tell everybody. 

e) Hacking into someone’s gaming or social networking profile

Dorji hacks into Pema’s Facebook account and sends obscene messages to some of her male friends who think it is Pema doing that.

f) Being rude or mean to someone in an online game

Dorji and Pema are playing an online game and Pema is lagging behind. Dorji calls her a dumbo with no skills. 

g) Spreading secrets or rumours about people online

Dorji makes up a story that he saw Pema with a boy late at night in the town. He shares to a group of friends on Messenger. 

h) Pretending to be someone else to spread hurtful messages online

Dorji makes a new social media account with a picture of Pema’s friend, Dawa. He chats with  Pema saying he is indeed her friend Dawa, and tries to get her personal information.

Preventative measures

a) Know that the cyber world and the real world are different

In the real world, the person you see in front of you is the person he or she is. At least, physically. But on the Internet, the other person could pretend to be anybody. Let us say, Lhamo, a 15 year girl meets a stranger named Dendup online. Dendup has a picture of a good looking boy as his profile picture and says that he is also 15 years old. Could Lhamo believe him? No, she should not. He could be a 30 year old man pretending to be her age to get her attention. 

Even in the real world, we are told not to trust strangers. In the cyber world, this is a big NO. Never trust strangers. 

b) Do not share personal information

Cyberbullies and hackers could use your personal information to harm you. So, you should never share your personal information. What constitutes personal information? Your name, age, date of birth, your home address, your family details, your citizenship ID number, your phone number, your picture etc. that can be used to identify you constitute your personal information. 

In Bhutan, people generally have no sense of online privacy. They share everything. But this can be very risky.

c) Privacy settings 

All social media platforms have privacy settings that you can tweak. Ensure that the privacy settings are set for maximum security so that unwanted strangers cannot contact you or see what you post.

d) Choice of password

Choose a strong password that is hard to guess for all your social media accounts, and change them often. Do not write it down in a place that others can see. 

e) Your own behaviour 

Your own behaviour while online should be decent and kind to everyone. Other people have feelings just like you do, even when they are online. Even if trolls try to provoke you, just ignore them and move on. If they become persistent and becomes a cyberbully, talk to your parents or teachers, or relatives you trust. 

What should you do if you are cyberbullied?

When trolled or cyberbullied, try to stay calm and do not provoke them further. Instead, take a screenshot of the messages to keep as proof of the incident. If it is voice, image or video message, save them to your phone or computer. Then, talk to your parents, teacher or another adult that you trust. Seek their advice about reporting it to the police if necessary. If the bully is from the same school, discuss about reporting it to the school principal. Even if the bully from another school, your teachers and principal could help report the same to his school. 

What does Bhutanese law say on cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying, as an offence, is covered under the Information, Communications and Media (ICM) Act of Bhutan 2018, as well as the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004. 

Clause 426 of the ICM Act 2018 says: “A person who knowingly makes, by means of an ICT device, apparatus or system, any harassing communication in any form shall be guilty of the offence of online harassment liable for offence of petty misdemeanour and may be required to pay compensation to the victim for the damage caused, as determined by the Court”. 

Clause 462 of Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 says: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of harassment, if the defendant engages in a course of conduct that places a person in reasonable fear of emotional or mental distress”.

Online resources to learn more about cyberbullying and what to do about it

There so many sites with information on Cyberbullying. But I found the following two most comprehensive and helpful. 

1. Stopbullying.gov

Lot of useful information on cyberbullying and preventive measures are there on this site run by the US Government. URL for the site is: https://www.stopbullying.gov/

2. Netsafe episode 1 to 18 from Planet Nutshell on Youtube

This contains 18 videos each of which are around 2.5 minutes long explaining important aspects of cyberbullying in detail. The videos are meant for kids of Class 3 and above. I would highly recommend that you make your kids watch them if they spend a lot of time online. 


Contributed by Tshering Cigay Dorji (PhD)