Cyber bullying is not an exception. As it turns out, school students using social networking sites such as Facebook to humiliate and harass other students has become fairly common. Creating “hate communities” to target an unpopular student or creating fake profiles – of which girls are a primary target – are most typical. Cyber bullying is one of the least addressed forms of bullying today. It is becoming very common in India.
Hate groups, fake profiles, distorted photographs, hurtful comments. Bullying in the time of Facebook has taken on a whole new dimension and its growing incidence has become a serious worry for schools.
Recently, a Class X student slashed his classmate’s left arm with a paper cutter, angry at him for uploading a digitally altered version of a photograph that was taken at a house party.
“We had a house party at a friend’s place where we clicked a group photo. In that photo, a girl was sitting next to the victim with a baby in her arms. The other boy, in order to tease him, cropped the photograph, keeping him in focus with the girl and the baby. He then posted the picture on Facebook and wrote comments on it. This led to a fight between the two,” A fellow classmate told Newsline.
This incident of bullying is not an exception. As it turns out, school students using social networking sites such as Facebook to humiliate and harass other students has become fairly common. Creating “hate communities” to target an unpopular student or creating fake profiles – of which girls are a primary target – are most typical.
“Cyber bullying is one of the least addressed forms of bullying today. It is becoming very common in India. It is already very common outside,” says Arjan Gupta, a Class XII student from Modern School, who is part of a peer group that addresses concerns and problems faced by students.
At least one school – Delhi Public School Gurgaon – has gone to the extent of banning students from having a Facebook account. “We have a very clear policy of no Facebook for students till Class XI. Some parents felt that I was infringing on their child’s freedom. The way I see it, Facebook is a networking space and when students are meeting in school everyday, why should they be on Facebook. Secondly, I think to be on Facebook and have this kind of freedom, you have to be mature to be able to handle disagreements without it getting down to bullying,” says principal Aditi Misra.
When asked what led to such a ban, Misra does not offer any specific incidents, but notes, “Easiest thing for them to do is form a hate group. Five-six children join it and target one child. That is what made us strong and we decided to have a strong policy against Facebook.”
Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal of Springdales School, attributes this alarming trend to a new generation of students with low levels of tolerance combined with a strong sense of entitlement, which in turn contributes to such outbursts of violence. “If someone irks a student in school, instead of having the strength to connect and communicate with the other, the student logs on to Facebook. This is a faceless medium for hitting out at people. At that point, there is nothing to hold the student back. ”
Geetanjali Kumar, a school counsellor, agrees that students see it as “secretive way to take settle scores,” and adds that cyber-bullying is an example of how unsupervised learning encourages abuse of technology. “In the Bal Bharati case, for example, a photo that had eight people was cropped to isolate only two. Students have learnt how to distort images. It is important that they are taught cyber ethics before they are introduced to the computer.”
So what can students do to tackle cyber-bullying? The Modern School peer group trainers recommend preventive measures such as maintaining high privacy settings and exercising extreme caution while adding friends are must-dos.
“It has happened a few times that a girl’s photo is taken and then circulated. So we tell students not to pass around photos. Just don’t do anything controversial on public pages or spaces where you can be contacted easily,” says Arjan.
But once a fake profile is up, only Facebook can take it down. “The minute it comes to our notice, we report the profile, as there is an option to report fake profile/report abuse. Sometimes it gets immediately removed; sometimes it almost never gets removed. In that case, we tell people to delete the person from their lists and not to add the person. The account then dies out,” Arjan says. In more extreme cases, complaints have been registered with the cyber police.
In the end, the schools and peer groups can only do so much. Wattal points out those schools have firewalls and all sites are monitored, and emphasizes the need for parents to become more engaged in the lives of their children.
“Home is the first school. When it comes to children putting up things on Facebook or having house parties, parents have to be more vigilant,” says Wattal, “We keep telling parents during orientations and PTA meetings to please engage with their children so they have an understanding of what and who children are talking to, what spaces they are entering, what is the history of the Website they are visiting.”