Taking internet bullies by the horns
February 28, 2018 | 4:03 PM
by Times News Service

When one receives a friend request from an unknown person on Facebook, there are normally two options: accept the request or reject it. As far as online protocol goes, this seems pretty black and white for most...

But then there are those who choose a third kind of option. Instead of choosing to ignore these requests, they viciously belittle the other by publicly shaming them on social media.

Over the years there has been a considerable rise in social media shaming. There are times when cultures collide online and unknowingly people become victim of public humiliation for no fault of their own. What may be socially acceptable for one individual might be blasphemy for the other, thus creating room for such humiliation.

People seem to have forgotten the importance of healthy acceptance of someone’s online presence. Debates do not happen in a respectful manner and personal attacks instead of opinion sharing have become common.

While it is true that wrong practices or bad behaviour on social media should not go unpunished, it is also essential to act wisely according to the situation and not indulge in maligning anyone in public.

Raising concerns on this Times of Oman interviewed Anuya Phule, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist at Hatat Polyclinic, to dig into the minds of those who would berate others in public, whether online or offline.

“Adults do this to gain power and attention. It gives them sadistic pleasure,” she said.

People who are often new to the internet and don’t know its rules often fall prey to this kind of bullying. Most bullies attack these kind of people. To prevent this, we need to make people and the community aware, all the way from schools to colleges and universities.

Bullies prey on others and expose their insecurities to hide their own deep anxieties from the world. In keeping with this thread of thought, trolls tend to target those who are different from them, in turn displaying a highly tribal tendency to stick to what they find familiar, and deflecting their insecurities on problems they don’t understand, a far easier step as compared with actual introspection, even if the advantages are increasingly short-term.

Majid Al Sinani, Systems Engineer at The Research Council, home to Oman’s brightest minds and thinkers, said the one thing online trolls, cyber bullies and spammers had in common was the desire to unscrupulously gain at the expense of the other.

“Sometimes, entire communities are targeted due to political reasons. For example, Indians and Pakistanis may target each other, Arab countries may target each other, African nations that have political and social differences may target each other,” Al Sinani said, adding “Sometimes, this may also be due to religious differences or fights between individuals.”

“This is quite common on Facebook and people who do this feed their hunger and power. When one person does this, bystanders club with them and the main bully becomes the leader. They want to be recognised so they make jokes. When the victims say that they felt hurt, the bully would say they were joking,” added Anuya.

“This is because of the lack of empathy in them. They actually feel superior. This has nothing to do with their self-esteem. It is just a case of aggression and a lack of sensitivity towards others’ feelings,” she remarked.

“Online bullies want to show other people that they can do things like this. They want to show others that they can play this game. Others do this for money. People who troll or spam others might also be doing this just to take out their frustration. Sometimes, when a person has had a bad day at work, he will try to pass on that irritation to others by doing such things.”

“Many people do this because they think it is a game that gives them plenty of enjoyment,” added Al Sinani. “To stop this, you must be aware, attend workshops if you are a school or university student, and always follow the rules. The ITA (Information and Telecommunications Authority) and TRA (Telecom Regulatory Authority) are working to secure Oman from these sort of things,” he said.

Like a homing missile zooming towards its target, bullies and trolls are often adept at zeroing in on a person’s biggest weakness, using it to pierce their target’s mental armour and bring them down. More often than not, those who do fall prey to trolls are people who are new to the internet, and may display a naiveté.

“Bullies pick on one thing that helps them tear the other person down,” Phule revealed.

“Some bullies are also impulsive and do this just for fun. Anything that puts the other person down is bullying. It can range from mild to severe forms, but some bullies use highly personal attacks such as lies and rumours for character assassination of the other,” she added.

“Most of the children today have iPads and can access Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Gmail, and so many other social media services. But they do not care about the effects of these kind of people online, and it is very dangerous,” said Al Sinani.

“I have had clients from international schools where students belong to so many cultures. There have been cases where people have been bullied both in person and online,” added Phule in support.

“Their accent is made fun of, the way they write English could be made fun of. In fact anything that a bully can pick on can be used against the person. Physical appearance is the number one cause of bullying, apart from the way of speaking. Bullies comment on the looks and body of a person. Even something as simple as new spectacles or haircut might make a person a target,” she said.

So how does one sidestep these attacks? According to Al Sinani and Phule, the steps one can take to avoid getting bogged down by someone else’s viciousness have to be complemented by a strong national framework, which was put into effect last year.

Phule advised, “You need to wean off from the media. Persons being bullied are engaged in the process because they wonder why they are being targeted this way. The first thing to do is to inform a best friend or an adult and discuss this with them. If you’re a teen, talk to a parent or teacher. Stop putting so much information on the net, and tweak your settings, so you don’t see comments from these people. Psychologically, people are curious, so they get engaged in bullying.”

Al Sinani chipped in by saying, “This has happened with some of my friends, who received suspicious emails only to find out that somebody tricked them.

“To avoid cyberbullying, trolls and spamming, the rules in Oman were changed last year,” he said. “People who do this can go to jail for three years and face a big fine.”

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