Make cyberbullying a serious offence, says criminologist

PETALING JAYA: A criminologist has called for cyberbullying to be classified as a serious offence, saying it has pushed many people into self-harm and even suicide.

P Sundramoorthy, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, was responding to a recent report by security and privacy advice and comparison website, showing that Malaysia had jumped to sixth place among 28 other countries in a survey on cyberbullying.

Malaysia was ranked the second worst in Asia, better than India but worse than Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea and Japan.

Sundramoorthy said bullying itself was already a major problem in schools and among children and teenagers.

“Cyberbullying affects large segments of children and teens since most have access to internet at home, school and other outlets,” he told FMT.

This also meant that cyberbullying could occur at any time and any place in the world.

“Victims of cyberbullying feel depressed and empty because of the harassment they receive. They also feel hopeless and alienated.

“In extreme cases, victims attempt suicide and occasionally succeed.”

If classified as a serious crime, he added, cyberbullying should be punished with severe penalties.

“There are those who intentionally bully people online because they are cruel or heartless, or because they are too scared to do it in person. Either way, it is unacceptable.”

He added that many teenagers supported the call for action as cyberbullying had become a common occurrence, highlighting the need for programmes to raise awareness of the issue.

Criminologist Geshina Ayu Mat Saat agreed that education played an important role in addressing the situation, apart from enforcement of laws and visible punishment for those who violated them.

She said cyberbullying was prevalent among adults too, not just children who copied what they observed on social media.

She said cyberbullies drew support from other online bullies or so-called keyboard warriors, with the problem compounded by lack of enforcement.

Many of these people would also deny that their words or actions constituted bullying, she added.