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“Unless and until our society recognizes cyberbullying for what it is, the suffering of thousands of silent victims will continue.” – Anna Maria Chavez
Technology has given us a great opportunity to express our thoughts and opinions through exciting innovations such as the social media. The problem with our fascination or obsession, with social media is that we have become vulnerable to misuse and abuse and as the social media landscape explodes in growth, the ease of sharing our lives (purposely or not) with friends and strangers becomes almost flippant.
Our fondness for social media has made users, in general, more judgmental and the ease of use has promoted hate and, in turn, incidences of cyberbullying have skyrocketed. The opportunity to blame or harass acquaintances while sitting behind a keyboard, miles away, is so prevalent that the subject of diminishing humanity has become a popular discussion.
Real Purpose of Social Media
The Philippines is one of the top 10 nations globally in social media usage. It ranked first in Facebook usage, fourth on Twitter and Google+ and fifth on YouTube. Based on statistics, it’s safe to say that Filipinos are obsessed with social media.
The use of social media has several pros and cons. Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders, remarked that the misuse and abuse of social media decreases its real purpose, which is for honest interactions and connections. Using social media for narcissistic promotion also blurs its redeeming purposes, leaving us to wonder why tekkies created these platforms in the first place.
Filipinos are so fascinated with social media that they can’t help but brag about their somewhat perfect and stress-free lives. A few examples of how Filipinos have become obsessed with social media are the constant profile pic changes and status updates on Facebook among friends. There are those who brag about their lifestyles on Pinterest and of course, there are the gibberish tweets on Twitter and the picture-perfect flat-lay photos on Instagram. I wonder if posters are cognizant of how open they are to attacks and cyberbullying.
Most postings on social media are valid and even thought provoking but there are those that create make-believe or faery-tale worlds that ignite negative emotions in millions of readers. Journalist Shauna Niequist shared an honest opinion on this issue saying, “The danger of the internet is that it’s very, very easy to tell partial truths — to show a fabulous meal but not the messy clean up afterward. To display the smiling couple shot, but not the fight you had three days ago. To offer up the sparkly milestones but not the spiraling meltdowns.”
So, is this what social media portrays? Since many are manipulated by the partial truths of others, the result has been the spawn of two major social issues that most Filipinos are familiar with — the “mob or herd” culture and cyberbullying.
Filipino Mob Culture
Social media has created an environment where unleashing your hate can be executed with a mindless keystroke. According to Miggy Gimena of Chalk Magazine, “Typing harsh words” on social media is “faster than our conscience can get to us.” In Gimena’s article, he emphasizes that the so-called “mob culture or herd mentality” is very prevalent among Filipinos.
Gimena also points out how social media is abused simply because of its accessibility. When we allow users into our cyberworld – allowing them a glimpse into our lives – we become an easy target for exploitation, leading to cyberbullying.
This mentality that promotes the “all for one, all for all” attitude, describes how people are influenced by their friends to follow trends, perform certain behaviors or purchase items. The problem with this mindset is that users leave themselves open to manipulation and abuse, especially when only a few members of the large group are truly informed.
The mob or herd culture is also known as “deindividuation”, which is the process of when an individual “loses his awareness in groups or doing things he wouldn’t dare to do if he was on his own.” Mob culture is often seen among die-hard fans of celebrities who will defend their idols to the point of maligning others who write negative observations.
Because of the mob culture online gang environment, petty misunderstandings of ideas and arguments on social media turn into slanderous carnages from strangers and/or uninvited crowds of “haters”. Gimena even pointed out that “nothing really gets settled” in the online realm and this mob mentality is making adults forget about rationality and lose their depth, saying, “Social media only serves to make people age backwards — too immature to talk in person, compromise, settle, forgive and forget, and admit their faults. Like kids fighting for a new toy, nobody stops until they get what they want. Or until everyone believes one and hates the other.”
“The one who tattles first isn’t always the right one,” Gimena added. “You see, life isn’t a store with a first come first, first serve policy — yet, we treat it like it is so. Taking sides without knowing the facts, forming opinions without hearing the other version of the truth. When will we learn that life isn’t always about emotion and fact isn’t always about who gets our attention first?”
Even though freedom of speech (or expression) and bullying are two dissimilar ideas, some people are using their independence to express their sentiments as an excuse to bully others. With all that’s been said above, when are we going to learn to use social media and freedom of speech wisely?
Newton’s third law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So, let’s not wait for our mob mentality to claim or ruin a life and most especially, let’s not wait for our guilt to consume our conscience. Let’s be humans with a sense of humanity.
Another related issue to the Filipino mob culture and social media is the prevalence of cyberbullying. According to a March 2016 report from GMA News, 80 percent of young teenagers aged 13 to 16 in the Philippines have experienced cyberbullying ranging from humiliation to threats while 60 percent of children aged 7 to 12 have suffered the same ordeal.
Due to the alarming cases of cyberbullying in the Philippines, Stairway Foundation Inc., the non-profit child-care institution that made the survey, said that “we must make children understand that cyberbullying shouldn’t be ignored, and that it is never the victim’s fault… We should also know that cyberbullying is a school concern.”
With that said, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) is urging schools to establish policies and punish students for social media abuse as reported by the Manila Times. These include “cyberbullying, cybersex and plagiarism of online materials.” Camarines Sur Representative Rolando Andaya also authored an Anti-Cyberbullying bill that will help protect school children from its potential effects, news outlet, PhilStar Online, reported.
The rise of the digital age has allowed the throwing and receiving of cyber-attacks and cyberbullying to become common and the “norm”. Since cyberbullying is considered worse than bullying, a victim can report online harassment cases to the DOJ Cybercrime Division, National Bureau of Investigation Cybercrime Division and Philippine National Police Cybercrime Group.
“Cyberbullying can actually be worse than bullying, and it is a moral imperative for us as a nation to seriously deal with this phenomenon as it can take a heavy toll on individuals — specially the youth — and our society,” Gideon Lasco of Inquirer wrote.
Fortunately, there are ways to stop cyberbullying. According to the Manila Times, victims should tell someone and keep everything by taking screenshots or saving the posts and messages from the aggressor as evidence. It is also better to ignore the attacks and just report the issue. For parents and guardians, understanding the scope and recognizing the signs of the attack could also help.
Being united (during the attack) and looking for long-term solutions, as well as securing online data and holding bullies accountable are excellent ways to prevent cyberbullying. Everyone deserves to live without fear and freedom of speech does not give you the permission to attack or bully others.
Remember, cyberbullies are picking on others because of insecurity and weakness. So, never mask the power for free speech to bully others as a form of self-defence.
Albert Einstein once said the following: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Don’t let this quote become a longstanding reality.
Written by Kristine Belonio
Kristine Belonio is a registered medical laboratory scientist and DOH-trained screening drug test analyst who hopes for a drug-free Philippines. And though she loves to do all the “bloody” work and analyze other bodily fluids, she’s also an aspiring journalist with a thorough know-how on the rudiments of news, feature and editorial writing.