Almost a third of young people in Hong Kong have engaged in cyberbullying, according to a survey published on Saturday, prompting calls for early detection and preventive measures to be stepped up.
The Hong Kong Playground Association, a children and youth-focused NGO, surveyed more than 4,000 residents aged between six and 24 from March to June this year and conducted focus group interviews with 10 teenagers.
Close to one-third of respondents admitted to making harmful, mean or mocking remarks about somebody they knew on the internet.
A quarter of the respondents said they had posted altered images to make fun of or embarrass someone, and another 28 per cent used expletives to target others online.
Most respondents said they had bullied others to take revenge, while some attributed their actions to feelings of hatred or anger, but less than 10 per cent admitted they were cyberbullying.
The proportion of respondents who said they had experienced such behaviour ranged from 30 to 40 per cent, but less than 20 per cent agreed they had been cyberbullied.
They said the perpetrators were mainly strangers they had met on gaming platforms and schoolmates.
Wan Lap-man, executive director of the group, said the results showed a poor understanding of cyberbullying, despite years of efforts to educate students about online harassment, and called for measures to prevent such behaviour.
“By fostering a balanced development, for example, through extracurricular activities, they could reduce the reliance on the internet, and thus minimise the impacts of the cyber risks,” he said.
Wan added that apart from efforts to enhance people’s awareness of the risks, schools should create a strong support network to encourage early detection of cyberbullying.
Michael Fung Ho-kin, a clinical psychologist with the city’s police force, said the situation was alarming because victims of cyberbullying were two to three times more likely to commit suicide than those who were harassed in real life, citing past studies.
“The harm can be devastating because the internet is an important part of their world,” he said. “Some victims struggle to detach and will spend all day online reading the hurtful comments and reactions.”
Fung added that bullying was more common online than in person because of “moral disengagement” since perpetrators could not see the pain they had inflicted on others.
The clinical psychologist stressed that both the bullies and victims needed help and attention.
“Many students who bullied others online are indeed bullied in real life, that’s why they wanted to vent their anger and grievances,” he said. “Both parties are often in a poor mental health state and have low self-esteem, many also have signs of mental disorders like depression and anxiety.”
Wandy Wan Kit-yin, the project leader of Hong Kong Playground Association’s youth at cyber risk support service scheme, encouraged schools to rethink their approach to handling cyberbullying and allow more flexibility.
“The teachers often wished the bullied could shake hands and make peace with the bullies, but that’s almost impossible, and the victims ended up being blamed for not cooperating,” Wan said, adding that similar cases were often referred to the NGO.
“Restoring peace does not necessarily mean they have to be friends, we hope the schools could be more understanding of their feelings.”
If you have suicidal thoughts or know someone who is experiencing them, help is available. In Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services.